Discover more from The Rose Garden Report
Anfernee Simons Out Indefinitely With Ankle Injury
The Trail Blazers will be without one of their most important players for the foreseeable future.
In the closing seconds of the third quarter of Tuesday's loss to the Washington Wizards, Anfernee Simons suffered a right ankle sprain, putting his status for the Trail Blazers' stretch run into question.
Simons underwent an MRI on Thursday morning that revealed a Grade 2 sprain, and it's going to be a while before he's back, if he is at all this season. The team announced that he would be re-evaluated "at a later date."
This news, it goes without saying, is a huge blow to the Blazers, who enter the All-Star break with a 28-30 record and sit half a game outside of the play-in. As of right now, despite changes at the trade deadline that can be described as either lateral moves or a slight step backward, the team has not made the decision to shut it down and play for the lottery.
With Damian Lillard playing at arguably the highest level of his career, they still have a chance to stick around the play-in and ultimately make a push for the postseason. But they'll have to do much of that work without Simons, who has started all 56 games he's played in and is averaging a career-high 21.4 points per game shooting 45 percent from the field and 38.1 percent from three-point range.
The Rose Garden Report is a fully independent, reader-supported publication. Purchasing a premium subscription unlocks exclusive content and helps make the coverage of the Portland Trail Blazers the best it can be.
It's unclear who will start alongside Lillard in the backcourt while Simons is out. Matisse Thybulle, who has started the last two games at small forward after coming over from Philadelphia at the trade deadline, could easily slide over to shooting guard. Shaedon Sharpe could also get the nod. The rookie has only made five starts this season, all when Lillard was out with a calf injury earlier in the season, but he's played in 57 of the 58 games this season and has seen his minutes increase in recent weeks, signaling that Chauncey Billups has begun to trust him more on a consistent basis. Given that the Blazers used the No. 7 overall pick on Sharpe in June and view him as a player they want to build around in future years, feeding him starter minutes in Simons' absence would make a good deal of sense.
Simons' ankle injury isn't the only significant absence the Blazers are dealing with. Starting center Jusuf Nurkic has missed the last seven games with a calf injury. There's no firm timetable for his return, but he's been doing on-court work in recent days and Billups said on Tuesday that he's happy with the progress Nurkic has made. Justise Winslow has been out since Dec. 21 with an ankle injury but has also ramped up his on-court activity recently.
Nurkic in particular has been tough to replace. Drew Eubanks and Trendon Watford have filled in admirably playing well above what their roles should be, but that isn't a sustainable strategy down the stretch of a tight race for one of the final play-in spots. How soon Nurkic returns could make or break their chances.
"I'm mostly just concerned with trying to get healthy," Billups said after the Wizards loss. "It's tough to even gauge what we can be and where we can go without being healthy. I thought up to this point, Nurk's absence really hurt us. We've been able to get a game here or there and outshoot people sometimes to get one or two, but it's really hurt us. And Drew is doing an incredible job. T-Wat has filled in and been incredible. So it's no knock on those two guys. But his absence has really hurt us."
Now, with Simons out for the foreseeable future, the Blazers will have to make this final playoff push shorthanded for a while longer.