Why Ben Simmons is still Rookie of the Year favorite over Donovan Mitchell

Why Ben Simmons is still Rookie of the Year favorite over Donovan Mitchell

Rookie Donovan Mitchell has led the surprising Utah Jazz to an 11-game winning streak and into the thick of the Western Conference playoff race.

Along the way, his campaign for Rookie of the Year has picked up steam. Media types and fellow NBA players have been hopping aboard the Mitchell hype wagon over past the few weeks.

After appearing to have the trophy locked up in October, it seems Ben Simmons finally has some competition. On Wednesday, he made a statement for all those ready to hand over the award to Mitchell.

During the Sixers' incredible 104-102 comeback over the Miami Heat, Simmons recorded his sixth triple-double this season with 18 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists. The only players with more triple-doubles as a rookie: some dudes named Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson. While Simmons has serious work to do to catch Robertson's record (26), he's only one behind Johnson (7) with 27 games remaining.

"I was only reminded of his triple-double about three steps before I opened the door to come out here," head coach Brett Brown said after the game. "And he just sort of quietly assumes statistics. You feel his presence but not to the level until I look at the stat sheet and you say, 'Really? 18, 10 and 12?' Those are massive numbers — in a close game."

Mitchell has been tremendous. He's averaging 21.3 points per game and shooting 40 percent from three in his last 10 games. This isn't a hit piece on Donovan Mitchell. It's a reminder of how stellar Ben Simmons has been.

Case and point:

One argument that was brought to the table was the idea that Mitchell deserves the award more because he's a "lockdown defender."

While the numbers above aren't a perfect measure, there's something to them. Another factor: Mitchell is 6-foot-3. He's a great defender but is really only capable of guarding ones and twos. At 6-10 and with unbelievable quickness, Simmons can guard all five positions on the floor. It's what allows Brown to run what he wants defensively and the Sixers to switch on everything. 

"I think his 6-10 frame, his ability to go from A to B, his reaction time from his shoulder, up above his head with deflection-type hands, is really impressive," Brown said. "He covers ground. I think there's a really big difference between being fast and being quick. He has both. That's really the place where he can impact a game the easiest at his early stages is through his defense."

The argument people seem to be making against Simmons and for Mitchell has to do with their supporting casts. There's no doubt Simmons is playing with one of the best players in the league — although not last night — in Joel Embiid. But Mitchell isn't exactly playing with the 2015-16 Sixers.

It's likely not a coincidence that the Jazz started winning when 2016-17 Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert got back in the lineup. Or that Derrick Favors and Joe Ingles are playing some of their best basketball. Or that, for a chunk of this winning streak, point guard Ricky Rubio had been playing out of his mind before succumbing to injury himself. 

Before being sidelined, Rubio outplayed Mitchell during the first seven games of the winning streak, posting 20.7 points, 7.7 assists and 5.3 rebounds a night while shooting a ridiculous 57 percent from three.

Speaking of point guards, here's another thing to think about: Simmons is playing the position at the NBA level after never playing the position in his entire life. This is a 6-10 player that was asked to guard John Wall in his NBA debut. He's now tasked with leading a team with playoff aspirations while running the point. 

"He has tremendous poise," Brown said. "It's the word that so easily comes out of my mouth when they say, 'What do you think of Ben Simmons?' Because as I've said so many times, you take a college four man and you make him an NBA point guard and you kind of say, 'good luck, figure it out and lead a team in an unbelievable city.'"

Ben Simmons' Rookie of the Year odds take a turn

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USA Today Images

Ben Simmons' Rookie of the Year odds take a turn

The race for NBA Rookie of the Year isn't as open-and-shut as it initially appeared.

Ben Simmons is still the heavy favorite but his odds have dropped substantially over the last month. On Dec. 1, Bovada listed Simmons at 1/20. As of Jan. 2, he is 2/13.

That's about a 67 percent drop for Simmons. It's related both to Simmons' slowing down a bit and the continued emergences of Donovan Mitchell and Kyle Kuzma.

When the odds came out last month, Simmons had played 20 games and was averaging 18.6 points, 9.4 rebounds, 7.2 assists and 2.3 steals.

Simmons proceeded to have a few down games — Pistons, T-Wolves, Knicks, Nuggets (to be fair, all games the Sixers won) — and he's now averaging 16.6 points, 8.6 rebounds, 7.5 assists and 1.9 steals.

Meanwhile, Mitchell and Kuzma continue to lead their teams on offense. Mitchell, who some have compared to a young Dwyane Wade, is averaging 18.2 points and making 2.2 threes per game. In the time between Bovada's Dec. 1 and Jan. 2 updates, Mitchell averaged 23.1 points, shooting 51 percent from the field and 88 percent from the line.

The ever-confident Kuzma has been much better for the Lakers than Lonzo Ball, who is currently sidelined by a shoulder injury. Kuzma is averaging 17.5 points and 6.5 rebounds, shooting 47 percent from the field and nearly 40 percent from three.

Here are the full odds:

Ben Simmons: 2/13

Donovan Mitchell: 4/1

Kyle Kuzma: 20/1

Jayson Tatum: 25/1

Lonzo Ball, Lauri Markkanen, Dennis Smith: 40/1

De'Aaron Fox: 66/1

Bogdan Bogdanovic, Josh Jackson: 80/1

John Collins: 90/1

Malik Monk: 100/1

Sixers' Markelle Fultz, Ben Simmons lag behind in NBA Rookie Survey

Sixers' Markelle Fultz, Ben Simmons lag behind in NBA Rookie Survey

The results are in … before a game has been played.

Thirty-nine rookies participated in NBA.com’s annual Rookie Survey, making their predictions for the top of their class in various categories. No. 1 picks Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz were on many ballots, while 2017 second overall pick Lonzo Ball and No. 9 pick Dennis Smith Jr. were popular among their peers.

Check out the results, with Sixers noted in bold.

Rookie of the Year:
1. Dennis Smith Jr., Mavericks: 25.7%
2. Lonzo Ball, Lakers: 20.0%
3. Markelle Fultz, Sixers: 17.1%
T-4. Ben Simmons, Sixers
/ Kyle Kuzma, Lakers / Donovan Mitchell, Jazz: 5.7%

Best career:
T-1. Lonzo Ball, Lakers / Jayson Tatum, Celtics: 18.4%
T-3. Josh Jackson, Suns / Dennis Smith Jr., Mavericks: 10.5%
5. De'Aaron Fox, Kings: 7.9%
T-6. Markelle Fultz, Sixers / Ben Simmons, Sixers / Harry Giles, Kings: 5.3%

Best playmaker?
1. Lonzo Ball, Lakers: 71.8%
2. Markelle Fultz, Sixers: 7.7%
3. Jawun Evans, Clippers / De'Aaron Fox, Kings / Dennis Smith Jr., Mavericks: 5.1%

Most athletic:
1. Dennis Smith Jr., Mavericks: 43.6%
2. Terrance Ferguson, Thunder: 12.8%
3. John Collins, Hawks: 10.4%
Fultz received votes.

Best shooter:
1. Luke Kennard, Pistons: 48.6%
2. Malik Monk, Hornets: 13.5%
3. Terrance Ferguson, Thunder: 10.8%
Fultz received votes.