Rookie of the Year Debate: Ben Simmons vs. Donovan Mitchell
Arguably, the biggest debate of the 2017-2018 NBA season has become the race for Rookie of the Year between shooting guard Donovan Mitchell of the Utah Jazz and point guard Ben Simmons of the Philadelphia 76ers.
Both have had stellar years, Simmons averaged 15.8 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 8.2 assists per game helping the Sixers to their first playoff appearance since 2012. While Mitchell averaged 20.5 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game en route to a Jazz playoff birth for the second consecutive year.
When the Jazz lost Gordon Hayward to the Boston Celtics in free agency this past offseason, the notion was that the team would be headed for a rebuild. Rudy Gobert, coming fresh off his four-year contract extension worth $102 million during the 2016-17 season would be the face of the franchise during this time.
Enter Donovan Mitchell
Mitchell was the 13th overall pick to the Denver Nuggets in the 2017 draft before being traded to the Jazz for the 24th pick. He played in 79 games in his rookie year helping the Jazz to a 48-34 record and the 5th seed in the NBA Playoffs.
The Jazz were coming off an ugly 104-90 loss to the Hawks and fell to 19-28. This began a stretch in which the Jazz won 21 of 23 games, improving to 40-31. During that stretch, Mitchell played in 22 games and averaged 21.3 points.
The 6'3 shooting guard from Louisville's 20.5 points per game average was first amongst rookies and he has shown to be a leader on the court for the Jazz. In addition, he shot 34.0% from 3-point range, 19th amongst active rookies going 187-550 (308 more attempts than 3-point percentage leader, Jayson Tatum at 43.4%). Mitchell is proving he is a future piece that the team can build around alongside Gobert and his performance reflects that.
Ben Simmons Debate
On the flip side, Ben Simmons impressed this year as well. Playing in 81 games over the course of the season coming off a foot injury that held him out of his original rookie year in 2016-17. Simmons averaged 15.8 points per game and recorded 12 triple-doubles, surpassing Magic Johnson for second most triple-doubles for a rookie behind Oscar Robinson. He also recorded a rookie leading 38 double-doubles, only Kyle Kuzma was closer with 17.
He was 5th amongst rookies in field goal percentage at 54.5%, Mitchell shot 43.7%. But Simmons did lack the long ball that Mitchell possessed, shooting just 11 3-pointers during the course of his campaign without making a single one.
But lets not forget what Simmons did for his team as well. Two years removed from a 10-72 season and coming off a 28-54 campaign, the Sixers went from 14th in the Eastern Conference to 3rd at a record of 52-30.
A part of this has to do with the 76ers adding veterans like JJ Redick and Amir Johnson to add to a young nucleus. But the health of the Sixers young draft picks like Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons were crucial as well. Simmons leadership in the backcourt helped propel the Sixers to a 16 game win streak to end the regular season.
A stretch in which Simmons recorded 5 triple-doubles, 7 double-doubles, and averaged 12.8 points per game. The stretch with help from Simmons propelled the Sixers past the Cavaliers for the 3rd seed in the playoffs.
Due to the fact Simmons missed his first season after being drafted, some believe that Simmons is not a "True Rookie" and does not deserve Rookie of the Year.
Personally, I believe this should not factor into the decision for Rookie of the Year. In 2011, the Los Angeles Clippers Blake Griffin won the Rookie of the Year award over John Wall of the Washigton Wizards. He missed his first season after being drafted after breaking his kneecaps in a preseason game.
Griffin led all rookies in points, rebounds, and assists. He received all first-place votes for the award, the first time in 21 years the award had been given unanimously.
While the "True Rookie" debate can be made for Simmons, he is still technically classified as a rookie. He should be treated as such since he did not play in his first season due to injury like Griffin in the 2009-10 season. Regardless, it goes without saying he has had a strong impact on the court in his first full season in the NBA for the 76ers.
Overall, a strong case can be made for both Mitchell and Simmons for Rookie of the Year. But I ultimately believe Donovan Mitchell has proven himself as the Rookie of the Year with the Jazz. Utah was considered to be in rebuild mode after Hayward left for Boston and Mitchell stepped into a role the Jazz needed to get back to the playoffs. While the Sixers were still following through with their "Process", I believe Simmons helped speed it up by a year or two. It goes without question Simmons has dazzled in multiple categories and his impact has been felt by the Sixers. But I believe without Mitchell's impact on the Jazz, they would not have been close to a playoff team this season.
Rookie of the Year Prediction: SG Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz
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