The debate around who deserves to win NBA Rookie of the Year is hotter than it has been in many years, with Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell and Philadelphia 76ers forward Ben Simmons in a dead heat for the honor. Both had outstanding seasons, not only leading their teams to the postseason but also propelling them into the second round. After Mitchell’s incredible performance in the first round to help lift the Jazz over the Thunder in six games, many fans called for him to win rookie of the year. Still, the award is supposed to be based on regular season performance, and given everything Simmons did for the 76ers on both offense and defense for the first 82 games, I think he has a slight edge and deserves to win the award.
Mitchell has not so subtlety made the case that Simmons is not a true rookie since he was a member of the 2016 draft class. Still, because Simmons couldn’t play in the 2016-2017 season due to injury, this is indeed his “rookie” year. Mitchell can wear as many snarky shirts as he wants; the best case against Simmons for ROY is not based on a technicality.
One could argue that Mitchell is more deserving because of his offensive prowess: He led his team in scoring on their way to the playoffs, a rare feat for a rookie. But Simmons wasn’t far behind in the scoring column, averaging 15.8 points per game to Mitchell’s 20.5. Additionally, Simmons was a key distributor for the 76ers offense. His 8.2 assists per game made him fifth in the league in that category, while Mitchell languished far behind. There’s more to good offense than the ability to put up a lot of points, and Simmons demonstrated that as an all-around teammate, he was the better player on that end of the floor.
On defense, Simmons’ versatility is virtually unmatched. When he plays point guard, his size and strength outmatch every other guard in the league. And when he played his more natural power forward position, he was still a force when it came to rebounds and blocks. Mitchell, a great defender in his own right, just can’t claim that kind of versatility. He’s a good option if you need to shut down smaller guards. Unlike Simmons, however, he can’t reliably switch onto larger offensive players. That doesn’t necessarily make him a liability. It just shows how valuable a player with Simmons’ size, strength and skill is on the defensive end.
Mitchell isn’t undeserving of the award; he had a remarkable rookie year, and it’s not unreasonable to say that he would be drafted inside the top couple picks if we did a 2017 re-draft. Simmons is just on a different level, displaying the kind of raw talent that made him such an enticing prospect coming out of LSU and evoked the young Lebron comparisons. It’s a shame that these two are in the same rookie class because on their own I think each would run away with the ROY award. Alas, that’s not the case. One player has to win. And for me, that player is Ben Simmons.