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Ben Simmons Will Beat Donovan Mitchell In Rookie Of The Year Race
But the real winners are all of us
by Kirby Garlitos | Apr 15, 2018
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Donovan Mitchell is a beast. There’s no denying that the Utah Jazz rookie is already on the road to superstardom. Anybody who says otherwise either hasn’t seen him play or just refuses to acknowledge what everybody else has seen this season. Donovan Mitchell is a flat-out stud.

But he’s unlikely to win the Rookie of the Year award because Ben Simmons is probably going to win it.

As good as Mitchell has been for the Utah Jazz this season, Simmons has been just as good, if not better, for the Philadelphia 76ers.

Mitchell is a fearless offensive savant who has shown flashes of becoming as good on the defensive end. He’s not there yet because he’s still prone to defensive lapses, but he’s well on his way. Simmons, on the other hand, is a different animal altogether. He’s nowhere near the shooter Mitchell is, but he is a one-man basketball system. His combination of ball-handling, vision, aggression, and top-level instincts are things you rarely see from a veteran All-Star, let alone a rookie playing in his first season. Both guys can dominate offensively in different ways—Simmons just does it in more ways than Mitchell.

Defensively, it’s not even a contest. Mitchell can turn himself into a very good defensive player because he has the fundamental skills to do it. But Simmons is already there. He’s already one of the top 15 defensive players in the league, a game-changing force who can guard all five positions and thrive doing it. Watch out for this year’s All-Defensive teams. At worst, Simmons will get some votes. At best, he’s included in it.

Those in Mitchell’s camp—there’s a lot of them—will point to one highly debatable caveat that has become a running narrative surrounding Simmons’ supposedly flawed candidacy: he’s not {really} a rookie. As the number one pick in the 2016 NBA draft, Simmons sat out the whole year because of a broken foot. But that hasn’t stopped the spin machine from going full-blast. We’ve all heard the comments:

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“He spent the whole year with the Sixers.”
“He learned about the nuances of Philly’s playbook.”
“He was able to practice and train his body for one season to prepare himself for the rigors of an NBA schedule.”

All of them are fair in the context of what Simmons had around him compared to what Mitchell had as a sophomore in Louisville. But it’s also not fair in the context of what Simmons wasn’t allowed to do the environment he was put in. Remember, there were reports that he could have played as early as January 2017. The Sixers, presumably because they weren’t really contending for a playoff spot, chose to shut him down for the rest of his rookie season. Ben Simmons could’ve played. It wasn’t his fault that he wasn’t able to. If anything, blame the Sixers for not letting him take the court.

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The insinuation of where their environments were last season also has the potential to open up a can of worms scenario. If Simmons’ candidacy is picked apart because he “dedicated a year of his life to basketball” compared to Mitchell, why aren’t international players subjected to the same disclaimer? Simmons own teammate, Dario Saric, was drafted in 2014 and spent the next two seasons playing overseas before jumping to the NBA last season. Why wasn’t there any uproar when he made a late run at the Rookie of the Year award last year? Mind you, Saric actually {played} in those two seasons to prepare himself for the NBA. No one made a hoot about it, but it’s taken against Simmons because he got used to the schedule and he was able to learn the Sixers playbook? That’s the argument against his rookie status? The dude didn’t play one second of NBA basketball last year. If anything, the only thing he got used to was the charter flights and five-star hotels, two perks of the NBA lifestyle that hardly manifest themselves as on-court advantages.

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None of this is a slight towards Mitchell. He’s already on his way to becoming a full-fledged superstar, a Damian Lillard-type who could turn into a more evolved version of Dame Time. But in the scope of their rookie campaigns, Simmons just had a better season. It’s a testament to the kind of players both already are today that there’s even life to this argument.

Contentious ROTY races aren’t new in the NBA. We’ve seen them before. Hakeem Olajuwon posted a 20.7 points, 11.9 rebounds, and 2.7 blocks in his rookie season. He didn’t win the Rookie of the Year award because Michael Jordan did. Alonzo Mourning averaged 21 points, 10 rebounds, and 3.5 blocks in his rookie season. He also led the Charlotte Hornets to the 1992 playoffs, capping it off with a buzzer-beater to beat the Boston Celtics in the first round. But he didn’t win the Rookie of the Year award. Shaquille O’Neal did.

There are years when a rookie class is so good that players who would’ve otherwise ran away with the Rookie of the Year award in other seasons don’t get the nod. It’s a testament to how deep this class is that studs like Jayson Tatum, Kyle Kuzma, Lauri Markkanen, Lonzo Ball, and Dennis Smith Jr. aren’t even in the conversation for Rookie of the Year. The kind of depth and quality that we’ve seen from these rookies are the same realities that Donovan Mitchell has faced this season. Regardless of the arguments from both sides, it’s not his fault that the NBA’s rules are what they are. He just happened to play his first season in the league the same year Ben Simmons did.

Years from now, we’re probably not going to remember the saltiness behind this season’s Rookie of the Year race. The NBA news cycle evolves so fast these days that yesterday’s storyline will turn into tomorrow’s back-page fodder.

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But for now, instead of arguing about who deserves what, let’s just be happy that we have Donovan Mitchell and Ben Simmons in our lives for the next 15 years. No matter who ends up hoisting that award, the real winners are all of us.

 

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