By selecting Scoot Henderson in the 2023 NBA Draft, the Portland Trail Blazers left fans wondering about the direction of the team and Damian Lillard’s future.
Opting to use the third pick instead of trading it for an established veteran seemed to contradict the tone of general manager Joe Cronin’s April exit interviewwhere he emphasized the urgency of making win-now moves.
After the draft and again after a meeting between him, Lillard, and Lillard’s agent, Aaron Goodwin, Cronin confirmed that he still intends to win on Lillard’s timeline:
Cronin’s assurance that the Blazers’ priority remains building a contender around Lillard foreshadows a trade involving one of Portland’s young guards. Henderson and Shaedon Sharpe need minutes to develop, and Anfernee Simons has established himself as a starting-caliber guard, meaning there aren’t enough minutes to go around among the Blazers’ current roster.
A Henderson trade seems extremely unlikely, barring a legitimate superstar becoming available. That leaves Sharpe and Simons as the two options to be traded.
The reporting has indicated that Simons is the most likely player has to be moved.
The possibility of Simons being traded for a starting-caliber wing begs the questions: Is the 20-year-old Sharpe — assuming Henderson begins his rookie season in a sixth-man role — ready to take Simon’s place as the Blazers’ starting shooting guard? How would a Lillard-Sharpe backcourt compare to a Lillard-Simons pairing?
Sharpe’s rookie season was filled with the ups and downs you’d expect from an unpolished yet tantalizing prospect who didn’t play any games in college. Defensive miscues and fleeting shooting kept Sharpe’s minutes low for most of the year, despite frequent displays of eye-popping athleticism.
But after the tanking-induced benching of Lillard, Sharpe shined in the final 10 games of the season, averaging 23.7 points, 6.1 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game on 46/38/77 shooting splits.
Data from last season serves as a useful starting point for a comparison of the Lillard-Sharpe and Lillard-Simons duos.
In 1,252 minutes, lineups with Lillard and Simons produced a -0.5 net rating with an offensive rating of 115.6 and a defensive rating of 116.2 per possession. NBA.com’s advanced stats. Lillard and Sharpe shared the court for 565 minutes and participated in lineups that generated a 123.5 offensive rating and a 117.4 defensive rating, good for a 6.1 net rating.
Although the Lillard-Sharpe duo had a higher net rating, limited sample sizes and Simons’ heavier minutes against starters might account for some of the difference. Sharpe and Simons fit into similar archetypes as leaping bucket catchers, but an analysis of their differences sheds light on who projects to be a better fit with Lillard as a full-time starter.
Sharp vs. Simons: Offensive comparison
With four years behind him, Simons has had more time than Sharpe to develop a polished, well-rounded offensive game. Simons has always displayed excellent shooting ability, but in the last two seasons he has come into his own as a ball handler, decision maker and pick-and-roll operator.
At this point in both players’ development, Simons has the clear edge in playmaking. His tight handles and quickness, paired with a quick shooting release and ability to make live dribble passes, keep defenses off balance.
When the defense clears the three and the rim, he uses a strong middle game consisting of floaters, pull-ups and baby hooks.
Sharpe’s loose handle limits his playmaking abilities. Although he is vertically explosive, Sharpe’s lack of lateral shift hinders his ability to beat defenders off the bounce in one-on-one situations.
The Sharpe-Lillard duo may have produced a better net rating than the Simons-Lillard duo last year, but Simons’ playmaking allows him to carry a heavier load as the primary playmaker compared to Sharpe, making him better equipped to lead non-Lillard minutes.
Although Simons has an advantage in speed, Sharpe has a bigger, stronger body. Learning how to utilize his physicality to control pace and manipulate angles should help Sharpe develop his on-ball game and close the current game gap with Simons.
When it comes to shooting, there is less difference between the two. Sharpe posted better catch-and-shoot numbers from three last season: 45.5 percent on 154 attempts, compared to Simons’ 39.2 percent on 301 attempts.
However, Simons secured the edge in pull-up 3-point shooting, converting on 35.5 percent of his 256 attempts, compared to Sharpe’s 25.0 percent on 128 attempts.
Although his pull-up numbers trailed Simons’ last season, Sharpe showed an advanced ability to make threes off the dribble with a variety of moves — sidesteps, stepbacks and escape dribbles — that indicate his promise as a versatile jumper.
The ability to add value off the ball further strengthens Sharpe’s case. Both players have bounce, but Sharpe’s vertical explosiveness exists at a higher level.
Aided by a longer wingspan, Sharpe has more horizontal and vertical reach than Simons, making him more dangerous as a lob threat and cutter. Sharpe’s ability to chop and lob-catch pairs well with Lillard, whose gravity often draws multiple defenders, creating 4-on-3 situations that Sharpe often exploited last season with cuts along the baseline.
Sharpe’s absurd vertical also gives him the potential to become an elite finisher. He’s already shooting at a higher clip near the basket than Simon’s…62.5 percent within 10 feet compared with Simons’ 59.1 per cent— but a refined handle and improved layup package could elevate his finishing further.
Sharp vs. Simons: Defensive comparison
Building a team around an undersized offensive center like Lillard increases the need for shooting guards with length and athleticism. From a physical tool standpoint, Sharpe is better suited to the task than Simons as a natural fit alongside Lillard defensively.
Sharpe’s 6-foot-5 stature and 7-foot wingspan equip him with solid size for a shooting guard. Simons has less size, standing at 6-foot-3, but relatively decent length with a 6-foot-9 wingspan.
A bigger frame gives Sharpe the chance to be more physical as a defender, but Simons’ quicker feet give him an edge against speedy guards.
Simons’ experience also gives him the advantage of understanding how to defend within a scheme. At this point in their development, Simons is less likely to blow coverages and miss assignments, two reasons why Sharpe’s playing time remained limited through most of last season.
However, Sharpe’s leaping ability and size give him promising potential as a backup defender. Sharpe was at his best defensively last season, using his athleticism to disrupt shots at the rim, chase layup attempts in transition and block passing lanes.
In his rookie season, Sharpe also showed the ability to be a rebounder at the shooting guard position, shoot for defensive rebounds over bigs or punctuate offensive possessions with putback slams.
As one-on-one defenders, Simons currently has the edge due to a more advanced understanding of angles and timing. Sharpe’s larger frame and wider reach give him higher upside than Simon’s as a one-on-one defender, but Sharpe’s slower lateral quickness could limit his ceiling.
Both players present a compelling case for why they are worth Portland’s investment as Lillard’s backcourt partner. Sharpe’s physical profile makes him a cleaner fit with Lillard. However, Simons’ offensive game is more polished and his timeline more closely matches Lillard’s.
But two factors should convince the Blazers’ front office that the answer is Sharpe.
First, the team is best off with the ball in Lillard’s hands, so complementary skills matter more than primary creation for players who share the floor with him.
Simons has a more sophisticated offensive set than Sharpe at this point in their careers, but as long as the floor is spaced well for Lillard, having other primary creators doesn’t matter as much.
Sharpe-Lillard lineups produced higher offensive ratings than Simons-Lillard lineups offensively last year, lending credence to the idea that surrounding Lillard with more primary creators doesn’t necessarily translate to more efficient offense.
Instead, it’s important to surround Lillard with players who possess a variety of complementary skills – cutting, catch-and-shoot ability, rim pressure and rebounding. Sharpe already edges Simons in most of these departments, and he still has room to grow.
Second, Sharpe has a higher upside at both ends.
Simons’ slim frame limits his potential as a defender. In a playoff setting, it may be inevitable that Simons will be utilized as a defensive liability. Sharpe still has a lot of room to grow as a defender, but his physical tools give him the upside to make the defensive impact the Blazers would need from Lillard’s teammates to win at the highest level.
Ultimately, Sharpe’s tantalizing upside, potential synergy with Lillard and rookie-scale contract give Cronin the chance to put Simons on the trade market. Expect to see Simons’ name in trade discussions as the Blazers’ front office looks to add size next to Lillard and ready playing time for Henderson.
- Published on 27/06/2023 at 14:00
- Last updated 27/06/2023 at 1:30 p.m