Now that the regular season is winding down, players, coaches and fans are shifting their focus towards the 2018 postseason. But before the playoffs tip off, there are a few unresolved issues and debates from the 2017-18 NBA season that need to be put to bed.
One of the most intriguing discussions over the last few weeks has focused on the Rookie of the Year race. If you were to ask most fans at the halfway point of the season who would win, 76ers point-forward Ben Simmons was the clear choice. In his official rookie season, the Auzzie has averaged 16 points, 8.1 rebounds, 8.2 assists and 1.7 steals per game.
Looking very similar to a rookie Magic Johnson (who averaged 18 points, 7.7 rebounds, 7.3 assists and 2.4 steals in 1979-80), Simmons comes from a rare breed of players in league history. At 6’10, not many players in the current or past NBA that can thread the needle with their passes like Simmons, get to the lane as easily as he does and have such an impact on the defensive end.
For a player who knows his weakness — he’s missed all 11 three pointers he has attempted this year — Simmons sole focus is to get within 10-feet of the rim and allow his playmaking ability to do the rest. He also lets his advanced stats speak for themselves as well.
In terms of win shares, Simmons rookie year (9.2) would have him tied for 19th all time, and only behind Chris Paul (10.4) and Blake Griffin (9.8) as the best w/s since 2000. As part of the nucleus who makes the 76ers tick on offense, Simmons is also a selfless player, assisting on 37.3 percent of his teammates field goals.
What’s often forgotten about Simmons is his defensive play. Since everyone is focused on his eye-catching assist and highlight reel plays, fans forget how integral he is to the 76ers defense. When he’s on the court, the 76ers allow 101.4 points per 100 possessions; a number that declines to 105.3 when he’s on the bench.
Opposite to Simmons in this discussion has been Utah Jazz guard Donavan Mitchell. Already known as the best steal in the 2017 NBA Draft, Mitchell went 13th overall, the former Louisville scoring machine has turned the Jazz from a predicted tanking favourite into a team that could make some legitimate noise in the Western Conference playoffs.
As the Jazz’s lead scoring option, Mitchell has taken the NBA by a storm in his first season. Averaging 20.5 points, 3.7 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.8 steals, Mitchell has developed into a legitimate first-scoring option for the Jazz this year. With a 29.1 usage percentage — a stat that shows a percentage of team plays used by a player while on the floor — Mitchell has proven this year that he can shoulder a larger proportion of a team’s possessions with only a relatively small drop in efficiency.
Over the last month, Mitchell has also been on a mission. Over his last 10 games, he has averaged 24.2 points, 4.3 assists, 3.9 rebounds and 1.8 steals. Last night, he set the NBA rookie record for three-pointers in a season with 186. Following the team’s 45th win, Mitchell joined NBA legends Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and David Robinson as the only rookies who have led a 45-win team in scoring.
The backstory to Mitchell’s run has been great, but it shouldn’t be enough to dethrone Simmons from the Rookie of the Year award. Although Mitchell has been fantastic, the truth is, we haven’t seen a player with a mix of talent and potential like Simmons in a long time.
No matter who wins, these two are a part of the league’s next generation of superstars. Stop debating, sit back and enjoy the highlights and awards these two will rake in over their careers.