Anfernee Simons can be forgiven if he approached Thursday’s Jazz workout with a bit of trepidation.
After all, Simons is not only the lone preps-to-pros prospect in a loaded draft class — he played for Florida-based IMG, graduating last year — he’s the first American-born player to go directly from high school to the draft since the NBA implemented age restriction rules in 2005.
But, Simons, a smooth shooting guard out of Orlando Fla., has always been prepared to think and dream big. He was named after Anfernee Hardaway because his parents were fans of the Orlando Magic. He was rated as a five-star recruit and originally committed to Louisville. He is friends with star Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell, and attended at least one Jazz game this past season.
So, Simons, who is eligible for the draft because he’s a year removed from high school, is ready to be in the NBA and for what the league has to offer. That’s why there wasn’t any trepidation on Thursday.
“It helped me a lot that I was able to come and visit [Utah] earlier,” Simons said. “Donovan was great, he showed me around and he told me what things there are to do. Utah’s a pretty nice place. So, it was comfortable, knowing where I was going. It’s exciting coming right out of high school. But I have to have a chip on my shoulder. I have to live up to it.”
JAZZ WORKOUT HIGHLIGHTS
• Rawle Alkins is a native of New York and has known Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell since his high school days.
• Anfernee Simons is named after former NBA star Anfernee Hardaway.
• Elie Okobo has a 6-foot-8 wingspan, impressive for a point guard.
On Thursday, Simons was a part of another loaded pre-draft workout field. He, along with Tulane wing Melvin Frazier and French native Elie Okobo are candidates for the Jazz when they select at No. 21.
Former University of Arizona star Rawle Alkins should be taken somewhere in the second round. Former Davidson star Peyton Aldridge and former Ohio State wing Jae’Sean Tate were also in attendance.
Frazier and Okobo are both intriguing. When asked to compare himself to a current NBA player, Frazier said he reminds himself of San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard. Indeed, Frazier won himself some fans around the league with a solid 5-on-5 performance at the NBA’s pre-draft combine.
“It was a good day, but I have to keep playing well,” Frazier said. “At the end of the day, the combine is just playing basketball. In that sense, I was just doing what I do.”
Okobo is a left-handed point guard with the athleticism and scoring ability to play in the NBA for a prolonged period. After Thursday’s workout, he sought Jazz forward Thabo Sefolosha for advice on how to handle the draft process. The Jazz were impressed with his ability to score, and the ease in which he was able to get to the basket off the dribble.
The Jazz will hold their annual free agent minicamp beginning Friday. The two-day camp, which features scrimmaging and evaluation from the Jazz, is where Utah brass first discovered Royce O’Neale last year.
“He’s a smooth scorer,” Jazz VP of Player Personnel Walt Perrin said. “It was probably tougher to figure out how much of a playmaker he is because it was only 3-on-3. But he can really score, and he’s improved since last year.”
Perrin called Simons a developmental prospect, who will probably be a project on a good team. Simons is offensively gifted, Perrin said. But, he will need to figure out the defensive side of the floor, which Perrin said is going to take some time.
The question for Perrin and the Jazz concerning Simons is this: Is the organization in a good spot to take on a prospect like Simons, knowing he could pay off in a few years? Or do the Jazz want to draft someone with the opportunity to crack coach Quin Snyder’s rotation right away?
Frazier and Okobo, and maybe even Alkins are all more equipped to do it quicker than Simons. And Okobo and Frazier both possess the athleticism and skills to improve, so the Jazz have a lot of factors to consider when they weigh Simons against the bulk of their draft big board.
“He’s got a lot of offensive skill,” Perrin said. “He’s a better competitor when people are in front of him than when he’s by himself. He’s a guy who’s going to be in the league. Will he be a rotation player next year? I doubt it, unless he goes to a team that doesn’t have a lot of players. He’s a developmental player, but he has a skillset that a lot of people in the NBA really like.”
JAZZ WORKOUT PARTICIPANTS
• Peyton Aldridge, 6-8 power forward, Davidson.
• Rawle Alkins, 6-5 small forward, Arizona.
• Melvin Frazier, 6-6 small forward, Tulane.≤br>• Elie Okobo, 6-2 point guard, France.
• Anfernee Simons, 6-4 shooting guard, IMG Academy.
• Jae’Sean Tate, 6-4 small forward, Ohio State.