Utah Jazz

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.'"

Mitchell scores 40 in blowout Jazz win

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Mitchell scores 40 in blowout Jazz win

PHOENIX — Donovan Mitchell scored 40 points, one shy of his career high, and the Utah Jazz won their fourth in a row with a 129-97 rout of the Phoenix Suns on Friday night.

The Jazz rookie sensation made 14 of 19 shots and a career-best seven 3s in nine attempts. It was the sixth game of at least 30 points in his young NBA career.

Ricky Rubio had 14 points, nine assists and six rebounds for the Jazz. Joe Ingles added 16 points, including 4-of-6 3s, and Derrick Favors had 12 points and 10 rebounds.

Josh Jackson led the Suns with 20 points. Devin Booker, still bothered by bruised ribs, scored 18 points for Phoenix but on 7-of-24 shooting. He missed all seven of his 3s. Dragan Bender added 16 points and nine rebounds.

The Jazz, who hadn't played since their 30-point home win over Golden State on Tuesday night, opened a four-game trip in dominating fashion (see full recap).

Antetokounmpo scores game-winner in Parker's return to Bucks
MILWAUKEE — Giannis Antetokounmpo made a driving layup with 1.9 seconds remaining after Jabari Parker chipped in with 12 points in his first game in nearly a year, lifting the Milwaukee Bucks over the New York Knicks 92-90 on Friday night.

Antetokounmpo, who sprained his left ankle late in Thursday night's loss to Minnesota, showed no ill effects and led all scorers with 29 points.

Parker hadn't played since tearing his left ACL on Feb. 8, 2017, in a game against Miami. He made 4 of 7 shots over nearly 15 minutes as a reserve.

Enes Kanter had 17 points and 18 rebounds to lead the Knicks, who were coming off a 103-73 loss to Boston on Wednesday night. Kristaps Porzingis also had 17 points (see full recap).

Walker's 41 points lead Hornets over Pacers
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Kemba Walker had that look in the fourth quarter. Charlotte coach Steve Clifford has seen it before, and he knows not to question it or argue with his point guard when he sees it.

"He just had that look like, `I ain't coming out,'" Clifford said. "I thought it was a good idea and we went with it."

Walker played the entire fourth quarter, scoring 13 of his game-high 41 points in the final period as the Hornets rode a record-setting start to a 133-126 victory over the Indiana Pacers on Friday night.

Walker made 11-of-22 attempts and helped fend off the Pacers' final rally after they had whittled away at what had been an 18-point Charlotte lead. Cory Joseph's free throws cut Indiana's deficit to 128-124 with 40 seconds left, but Charlotte hit five free throws after that to ice it (see full recap).

Davis scores 43 in Pelicans' win
OKLAHOMA CITY — Anthony Davis scored 43 points to help the New Orleans Pelicans beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 114-100 on Friday night.

Davis made 17 of 34 shots and had 10 rebounds, and E'Twaun Moore added 26 points for the Pelicans.

New Orleans had lost two straight since All-Star DeMarcus Cousins was lost for the season with a left Achilles tendon rupture. They righted the ship by shooting 51 percent from the field against the Thunder.

Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook had 16 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds for his 16th triple-double of the season. Steven Adams had 23 points and 12 rebounds for the Thunder, who lost their third straight after an eight-game winning streak (see full recap).

Josh Richardson's game-winner extends Heat's win streak

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Josh Richardson's game-winner extends Heat's win streak

MIAMI -- Josh Richardson's layup with 5.1 seconds left capped a Miami rally from eight points down in the fourth, Donovan Mitchell missed what would have been the winner at the buzzer and the Heat beat the Utah Jazz 103-102 on Sunday.

Tyler Johnson and Goran Dragic each scored 16 points for Miami, which has won four straight -- all by single digits, the Heat's longest stretch of such games since November 2012.

Richardson and Hassan Whiteside each had 14 points, and Kelly Olynyk had 12.

Mitchell scored 19 of his 27 points in the second half, but couldn't save Utah from dropping its seventh straight on the road. He went into the backcourt to take the final inbounds pass and wound up taking a jumper from the right side that missed as time expired.

Rodney Hood scored 17 points, Thabo Sefolosha added 13 and Derrick Favors 11 for the Jazz. Utah was up eight with 6:59 left, and was still up by five in the final 2 minutes before Miami closed on an 8-2 spurt.

Richardson's winner came after the Heat called a timeout with 7.8 seconds left, after corralling the rebound off of Hood's miss. Richardson got to the rim with ease, laid it in and Miami moved back to fifth in the Eastern Conference.

Miami improved to 2-14 when trailing after three quarters.

The Heat led for 20 of the 24 first-half minutes, but their lead was only 49-47 at the break.

Mitchell was 3 for 12 in the opening half, after going 5 for 14 against the Heat when the teams met in November. It was like he was due to break out -- and did just that, needing only 3 minutes to score Utah's first 11 points of the second half.

He made his first five shots of the third, ended up 6-for-8 for 13 points in the quarter and Utah took a 75-74 lead into the fourth (see full recap).

Porzingis, Jack help Knicks snap skid
DALLAS -- Kristaps Porzingis scored 29 points and Jarrett Jack made the tiebreaking basket with 31.2 seconds left as the New York Knicks beat the Dallas Mavericks 100-96 on Sunday night.

Kyle O'Quinn had 15 points and 11 rebounds, and Enes Kanter added 13 points and 18 boards for the Knicks, who ended a three-game losing streak and sent the Mavericks to their third straight loss -- all at home.

Harrison Barnes scored 25 points and Devin Harris had nine of his 11 in the fourth quarter as the Mavericks made yet another rally on the night they honored their long-time point guard Derek Harper by retiring his jersey.

Dallas never led in the game, and after coming up just short in furious fourth-quarter rallies against Golden State and Chicago earlier in their homestand, the Mavericks made another run after falling behind 90-77 with 4:48 to go.

Harris hit 3-pointers to start and end a 15-2 run over a 2:20 span to tie the score at 92. After Porzingis made two free throws and Barnes hit a short jumper, Jack used a screen to penetrate into the lane and drop in a floater.

J.J. Barea missed a long 3 that would have given Dallas the lead, and Courtney Lee hit four free throws in the final 16.6 seconds to seal it.

Kanter and Porzingis combined for 24 points in the first half. New York took a 56-52 halftime lead on the strength of 56 percent shooting, despite a sequence where Kanter missed a short hook shot and then four consecutive tips.

New York built its lead to 73-63 midway through the third quarter before the Mavericks closed the quarter on an 8-2 run.

But after Harris' three-point play cut the lead to 77-74 with 11:27 to play, Dallas did not score again for five minutes as the Knicks built the lead to 13.