Welcome to our second feature article about a career backup from guard-heavy Portland.
Meet Anfernee Simons.
His cards have been around since 2018 Rated Rookies, but he is only slightly older than Tyrese Maxey and roughly the same age as Ja Morant.
He won the 2021 NBA Dunk Contest, but few people had seen him play in an actual-televised NBA game.
He just signed a 4-year, $100 Million contract to stay in Portland.
You think you know him, but I’m telling you that you don’t. None of us do. That’s why next season is full of potential, expectation, and overall curiosity for fans in Portland and around the NBA. When I did get to watch him in early 2022, I was shocked, surprised, astounded, and yes – entertained. When Damian Lillard missed significant time this season, Simons jumped from playing 24 minutes a game to a key starting role with 36+ minutes a game. Last December, before his increase in minutes, Simons averaged a very pedestrian 10.3 points a game.
Sometimes a New Year brings New Hope. On January 3rd, Simons found himself in a shootout against none other than Trae Young. If you only read the headlines, you may have seen “Trae Young lights up the Blazers for 56 points.” Trae’s offense was a surprise to nobody. His counterpart, Simons, drained NINE 3-pointers and scored 43 points to go with 7 assists and perfect 8/8 from the charity stripe.
From that night on, Simons was just “different.” It’s like this uber-talented kid who struggled under the bright NBA lights at age 18 finally believed he could be THE Anfernee Simons.
THE Anfernee Simons who averaged 23+ points while carrying the offense and drawing the opponents’ best defensive schemes, assignments, and double-teams.
THE Anfernee Simons who outperformed Kyrie Irving head-to-head in a January win over the Nets.
THE Anfernee Simons who dropped 31 on the Bucks in a road win over Milwaukee, and then did it again two nights later in a road win over Memphis.
The Anfernee Simons who… well… click on the picture below to see what this all-grown-up version of Anfernee can do…
Meanwhile, the Blazers as a franchise were trying to figure out what to do with their MVP and team leader, Damian Lillard. Would they keep Lillard and try to add pieces and stars around him to make a run at the playoffs next season? Would they trade Lillard to the Clippers, Lakers, or Celtics and start a Jazz-like rebuild? Would they admit that, although the small but powerful backcourt experiment of Lillard and McCollum just wasn’t enough to build on for the future?
With the injury to Lillard and then the eventual trade of McCollum to New Orleans for Josh Hart and a draft pick… Portland made a clear path to the kind of role Anfernee Simons more-than-earned in January and February. At the very least, Simons will replace CJ McCollum as a taller scoring-guard next to Lillard and his eventual successor. At the most, Simons could make even Lillard expendable for a team that has stockpiled assets and draft picks for the last few years.
And it is THAT possibility that I find extremely appealing as a Basketball Card investor and fan. Any 22 year old who can play toe-to-toe with Ja Morant, Trae Young, Jrue Holiday, and Kyrie Irving in the middle of winter, on the road, with a supporting cast of guys you’ve never heard of (CJ? Elijah? TRENDON?) and come away with three wins?
Did I mention that he won the SLAM DUNK contest last year? Check out this video of “extended scenes” – I’m not sure I’ve seen a guy make flying look so easy.
WHAT ABOUT HIS BASKETBALL CARDS? Well, his cards started to rise in February, and the Blazers won more games than they should have. They were doing so well, in fact, that the draft-capital-greedy Blazers started to sit all of their good players. For real. Anfernee’s season “ended” on his last game – March 5th – when Minnesota held him to 38 points and NINE MORE three-pointers. Portland had seen enough.
He hasn’t played a minute since.
Without Simons, Portland finished the season winning just TWO of their last NINETEEN games.
Without Simons, card collectors settled for highlights and investments in guys who they could actually see playing, and we saw the values rise for Bane, Maxey, Brunson, and Bridges.
If Pascal Siakam is the best kept secret in Basketball Cards, Simons is a close second. You’re expecting me to say something here like “I think Simons is the next Maxey or Brunson, but I’m over here wondering if he’s the next Ja Morant. I’m wondering if this is Damian Lillard’s team anymore. I’m wondering if the “grown up” attitude to become a hard-working leader and floor general and walking bucket who can play anyone, anywhere will propel Simons into the spotlight sooner than later.
Card-wise, most of his stuff is cheaper than Brunson’s. But I expect that to change over the next 6-9 months, especially if Anfernee gets to run his own team.
He has that “flash factor” and his highlights are must-see TV, very much like Ja Morant. For the kid named after Penny Hardaway, the light builb went on in January, and Portland cleared the way to give him all the playing time, money and opportunity to take his game as far as it can go.
Imagine a player who could dazzle, drive, pass, and lead like Ja Morant… but also shoot like Darius Garland or Devin Booker.
Like the other two guys in this series (SGA and Siakam), Anfernee isn’t an “urgent buy” right now, but the clock is ticking.