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.
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:
Ben Simmons is averaging 16.4 points, 7.8 rebounds, 7.3 assists, 1.9 steals and 0.9 blocks.— Corey Seidman (@CSeidmanNBCS) February 15, 2018
Players who have averaged those numbers in a full season: Nobody ever.
One argument that was brought to the table was the idea that Mitchell deserves the award more because he's a "lockdown defender."
.@SedanoESPN just said on SportsNation that the edge Donovan Mitchell has over Ben Simmons is that “he’s a lock down defender.”— Dennis Chambers (@DennisChambers_) February 13, 2018
Simmons leads Mitchell in dRTG, DWS, and DBPM. But yeah, sure, got it.
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.'"