A storyline to follow in this year’s draft is IMG Academy guard Anfernee Simons who declared, on March 22nd, to forego college and enter the NBA Draft.
“After discussing the matter with my parents, I have decided to forgo the opportunity to play in the NCAA and to instead enter the NBA draft…I am very thankful for the support I received at IMG Academy and from the NCAA coaches who recruited me. I am ready and excited to pursue my dream of playing in the NBA.”
In a nutshell, Simons, a combo guard coming out of IMG Academy, seeks to join an exclusive group of prep-to-pro by exploiting a loophole in the NBA eligibility rules. A player must be at least nineteen years old and one year removed from high school to be eligible for the draft as dictated by CBA rules. Simons technically graduate from Edgewater High School in Orlando, FL before joining IMG for a post-graduate year. He also turns 19 by June, which checks off all the eligibility requirements.
Simons originally planned to take the traditional college path where he would play under Rick Pitino’s Louisville team. But after de-committing amidst FBI investigations, Simons has been able to firmly put his name in first round discussions.
Historically, gauging the potential of high schoolers can have mixed results due to the wide talent disparity between players and varying levels of competition in the state, district or league. Often times, bigger, stronger, and older athletes can dominate their opponents with sheer physicality, despite erratic play and shaky fundamentals. But there have been many instances where a player’s skill set in high school has failed to translate to the pros or even at the college level. Many of the nation’s top prospects have seen their stocks plummet just after one down year of college competition (Think Cliff Alexander) because they were unable to adjust to the high-stakes, high-intensity atmosphere of high-level competition. As such, the production of a high school player can be largely theoretical and unreliable, but it’s not always a bad thing if you want to get drafted.
The NBA never shies away from risk-reward scenarios and Anfernee Simons oozes reward. He is a silky smooth athlete with great body control and ability to play above the rim. He plays with confidence and a scorer’s mentality.
“Really my shooting ability to come off ball screens and ability to read ball screens,” Simons told Draft Express when asked about his most transferable skill to the NBA. No doubt, what separates Simons from the pack is his jump shot and lightning quick release. He is capable of spotting up behind the three-point line, using screens and dribble moves to free himself for easy pull-ups. He also has a strong driving game, where he can use his body control, balance, and surprising leaping ability for floaters and acrobatic finishes around the rim.
On defense, he has shown promise with his lateral quickness and athleticism. Simons does not always play consistently with his heavy offensive duties but has shown enough effort where it does not project to be a big issue. “His strength is his weakness right now—he needs to get [physically] stronger, which will come in time.” Says IMG coach John Mahoney to The Front Office.
The biggest question, however, is how he will transition into a point guard, Simon’s projected position to play NBA. He has always played off-guard at IMG alongside Maryland Commit, Eric Ayala and has never been known for his ability to facilitate for others. At 6’4 with good but not great measurables, it would be hard to sell him as a shooting guard, especially with how much he has the ball in his hand. He also has a tendency to over-dribble and pass off easy passes for tough floaters or pull-ups, which could also just be due to inexperience. His playing style is vaguely reminiscent of Jamal Murray: A score-first point guard who has had difficulty adjusting to point guard but still starts for a great Nuggets team. The only difference is that Murray spent a year under coach Calipari at Kentucky.
“Really just see [what] more I can do,” says Simons to Draft Express when asked about what he wanted to show to scouts. “They know I can shoot, they’ve seen that a lot, so maybe just show different dimensions of my game. See if I’m a good passer, PnR passer, stuff like that.” Without notable point guard instincts and no refinement at the college level, it’s hard to say how much time he needs to adjust or if he can ever fully adapt to a different role at all.
What makes Anfernee Simons so unique, if not mysterious, is that he is perhaps the only real legitimate high school prospect to be drafted since Amir Johnson in 2005. Thon Maker was more of an international prospect and Satnam Singh Bhamara was never considered a high-level talent, at least not the way Simons is. How Simons produces at the next level can be the start of a new and exciting age of prep-to-pro players.