Anfernee Simons among 5 must-see players to catch on NBA League Pass



Anfernee Simons: One of the 5 Must-See NBA League Pass Players

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Following an exciting opening-night doubleheader to kickstart the 2023-24 season, Wednesday marks the official commencement of NBA League Pass Season. While two compelling games will be broadcast on ESPN, featuring the highly-anticipated debut of Victor Wembanyama at 9:30 ET, the real action can be found in the 10 games available on NBA League Pass. These games promise debuts from promising talents such as Chet Holmgren (last year’s No. 2 pick), Scoot Henderson, and Brandon Miller. Additionally, fans can eagerly anticipate the return of NBA stars Zion Williamson and Ben Simmons.

To celebrate this occasion, we’ve selected five players who deserve your undivided attention as you dive into the NBA League Pass experience over the next six months. Although every player, including legends like Stephen Curry and LeBron James, will have more than half of their games accessible via League Pass, this list is dedicated to the players on the 10 teams with fewer than 10 national TV appearances, including those on NBA TV. These teams are Charlotte, Chicago, Detroit, Houston, Indiana, Orlando, Portland, Toronto, Utah, and Washington.

For this list, we’ll exclude players featured on our All-League Pass Team from the previous year and some notable acquisitions, such as Bruce Brown and John Collins, who were highlighted in our preseason Film Study series.

  1. Future Top-10 Player? — Paolo Banchero

Breaking news: Size matters in basketball.

Paolo Banchero stands at an imposing 6-foot-10 and weighs 250 pounds. Notably, he’s a big man with skills that set him apart from the rest.

There are few players of his size and weight who excel as ball-handlers in pick-and-roll situations. Most of those who do (think names like Giannis Antetokounmpo, LeBron James, and Nikola Jokic) are multiple-time Kia MVPs.

Banchero possesses exceptional ball-handling abilities, allowing him to leave even the most formidable defenders, including the Kia Defensive Player of the Year, stumbling in his wake…

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And he can finish with strength or finesse…

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In the world of the NBA, two young talents are making waves and leaving fans eager for their next moves. Here’s a closer look at their potential impact.

  1. Paolo Banchero’s Rising Star With his remarkable size, Paolo Banchero showcases his versatility by effectively surveying the court from various positions. Whether he’s stationed on the perimeter, in the post, or on the move, his basketball IQ allows him to deceive defenders mid-air.

Last season, Banchero’s stellar performance earned him the title of Kia Rookie of the Year, a feat almost unanimously agreed upon with 98 out of 100 first-place votes in his favor. As he enters his second season armed with invaluable experience and a summer of dedicated training, the expectations for his growth are high. Furthermore, the Orlando Magic’s roster boasts another promising 6’10” forward, Franz Wagner, adding to the anticipation of a significant leap in the team’s performance this season.

Their season kicks off with a home game against the Rockets on Wednesday at 7 ET, followed by a four-game road trip commencing in Portland on Friday at 10 ET.

  1. Anfernee Simons: The Scoring Machine With Damian Lillard now in Milwaukee, the Portland Trail Blazers are entrusting their offense to a rising star, Anfernee Simons. What makes this transition smooth is the fact that Simons doesn’t need to carry an enormous scoring load, as he has already proven himself by averaging 21.1 points per game last season, particularly excelling with 27.9 ppg in the 11 games played without Lillard.

Simons is a scoring dynamo with a versatile arsenal. He can confidently launch deep three-pointers when given space, boasting a 35.5% success rate on pull-up triples last season. Although he doesn’t frequently attack the paint, his finishing abilities have steadily improved in recent years.

Simons doesn’t shy away from challenging rim protectors and keeps defenders guessing with his unique wrong-foot takeoffs and the occasional left-handed finish. His presence ensures that the Trail Blazers remain an exciting and competitive team even without their star guard, Lillard.

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In the preseason, Anfernee Simons showcased his scoring prowess, averaging an impressive 32.6 points per 36 minutes. This remarkable performance placed him sixth among all players who logged at least 50 total minutes during the exhibition games.

Simons faces an intriguing challenge in the upcoming NBA season as the Portland Trail Blazers kick off their campaign with a road game against the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday at 10:30 PM ET. This contest may see him matched up against an elite defender. Following their matchup with the Clippers, the Blazers will return home to host the Orlando Magic on Friday at 10 PM ET before embarking on a three-game road trip.

Defensive enthusiasts will also have their eyes on another player, Alex Caruso, who is known for his tenacity on the defensive end. In a play from a previous Bulls game against the Clippers, Caruso’s defensive skills shine. With Patrick Williams initially guarding Kawhi Leonard, and Norman Powell defended by DeMar DeRozan, the play unfolds with Powell moving up to set a screen. Caruso, displaying his high basketball IQ, swiftly calls off DeRozan and pre-switches onto Powell, positioning himself to be the primary defender against Leonard. This level of defensive versatility and anticipation makes Caruso a valuable asset to any team in need of a lockdown defender.

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Leonard backs Caruso down and tries to get to his step-back, only to have Caruso strip him on the way up…

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In a fleeting contest of strength, Leonard prevails, for he seldom concedes such battles. However, Caruso manages to challenge Leonard’s quick, step-back jumper. Just as it seems that Ivica Zubac secures the rebound, Caruso summons one last surge of effort, tipping the ball to a teammate.

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In the previous season, Alex Caruso showcased his prowess as a defensive juggernaut, averaging a remarkable 5.2 deflections per 36 minutes. This statistic placed him at the top among 263 players who saw action for at least 1,000 minutes. The Chicago Bulls, ranking fifth in overall defensive performance, notably allowed a substantial 6.0 fewer points per 100 possessions when Caruso was on the court, registering an impressive 106.5, in contrast to 112.5 points when he was absent.

As the Bulls kick off their season against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Caruso is expected to take on the formidable challenge of guarding Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in the opening game scheduled for Wednesday at 8 ET. Following this, the Bulls will embark on a three-game journey after hosting the Toronto Raptors on Friday.

Meanwhile, there are high hopes for Jabari Smith Jr.’s sophomore season in the NBA. Despite being the third overall pick in the 2022 Draft, Smith received only one All-Rookie first team vote after averaging 12.8 points per game and 7.2 rebounds per game in his debut season. His efficiency as a scorer was lacking, with a true shooting percentage of 51.4% that ranked him 172nd out of 180 players, and 11th among rookies, who attempted at least 500 field goals.

To unlock his offensive potential, Smith must address two key areas:

  1. Shot Selection: Smith should aim to take more shots close to the basket. Last season, he settled for just 37% of his attempts in the paint, a rate similar to those of smaller guards like CJ McCollum and Monte Morris.
  2. Outside Shooting: Smith must improve his shooting from beyond the arc since his 37.7% shooting from mid-range and 30.7% from the three-point range fall short of the mark, particularly for a player who relies heavily on jump shots.

The outlook is optimistic for Smith’s improvement in the latter category. He possesses a silky-smooth mid-range jumper, and his three-point shooting displayed promise during the preseason. However, it’s worth noting that during the preseason, only 35% of his 51 shot attempts occurred in the paint. Smith typically shares the court with Alperen Sengun, the primary screen-setter and roll man for the Houston Rockets. This positioning often relegates Smith to the role of a floor-spacer, as Sengun set 48 ball-screens per 100 possessions in the previous season, while Smith only managed 14.

Furthermore, Smith should exercise better shot selection, avoiding hurried step-back mid-range jumpers with ample time on the shot clock. Developing these aspects of his game could lead to a significant second-year breakthrough for the talented young player.

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Looking to attack more would be preferable…

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The Houston Rockets appear poised for a significant improvement this season. Their transformation isn’t solely attributed to the addition of seasoned players and a new coach; their young talents harbor tremendous growth potential, with Jalen Smith emerging as a standout on both ends of the court.

The Rockets kick off their season with matchups against two other teams boasting captivating young rosters. First, they face the Orlando Magic on Wednesday at 7 PM ET, followed by a game against the San Antonio Spurs on Friday at 8 PM ET.

  1. The All-Star on the Rise: Lauri Markkanen

Lauri Markkanen made waves last season, securing the Kia Most Improved Player award as he transitioned from the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Utah Jazz. His stats saw substantial improvements, both on a per-game and per-36-minute basis.

Markkanen showcased his scoring prowess by averaging 25.6 points per game, doing so efficiently and employing a diverse array of scoring techniques. While he may not possess the ball-handling skills of someone like Paolo Banchero, Markkanen’s ability to move without the ball, especially for a seven-foot-tall player, is truly remarkable.

Additionally, Markkanen willingly sets screens, understanding that doing so can create scoring opportunities for himself and his teammates.

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Markkanen quickly flaring to the perimeter after setting a screen is a go-to action for the Jazz. And if he’s not open on the catch, the 26-year-old can attack with size and strength…

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Lauri Markkanen’s performance in the 2022-23 NBA season has been nothing short of remarkable. His effective field goal percentage from beyond the paint has seen a significant improvement compared to the previous season. Surprisingly, it’s outside the paint where he made the most significant strides.

However, despite the improvement in his perimeter shooting, Markkanen’s work in the paint remains valuable. The data shows that his shots in the paint continue to be worth more, and his percentage of shots taken in the paint has surged from 40% during his lone season with the Cavaliers to an impressive 49% in the last season. This development underscores his ability as a finisher around the rim.

The upcoming schedule for the Utah Jazz presents an early challenge as they face off against each of the top-five seeds from the Western Conference in the previous season. The first two matchups are home games against the Kings on Wednesday at 9 PM ET and the Clippers on Friday at 9:30 PM ET.

In conclusion, Lauri Markkanen’s growth in shooting efficiency is a significant talking point this season, and the Utah Jazz face a tough start to their campaign against some formidable opponents.


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