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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.'"

Sixers reportedly rebuffed in attempt to hire Rockets GM Daryl Morey

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Sixers reportedly rebuffed in attempt to hire Rockets GM Daryl Morey

Well, you can’t say the Sixers aren’t aiming high.

According to Marc Stein of the New York Times, the Sixers “have been rebuffed in their attempt to hire away Houston's Daryl Morey to take over as their new general manager.” Stein added that the team had great interest in Morey, but he couldn’t be lured away from the Rockets.

Morey, who has served as the Rockets’ general manager since 2007, was named the NBA’s Executive of the Year after Houston secured the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference with a franchise-best 65-17 record during the 2017-18 regular season.

Morey obviously fits the Sixers from a surface standpoint with his analytics background, commitment to building a pace-and-space roster and desire to chase stars. However, what makes the Sixers’ desire in him really interesting is that Morey is the mentor of former Sixers front office executive Sam Hinkie.

Bryan Colangelo, the man who replaced Hinkie in the Sixers’ front office, resigned in June after a scandal involving multiple secret Twitter accounts rocked the franchise. Head coach Brett Brown took over as interim general manager following Colangelo's resignation.

The Sixers have been patient throughout their search as managing owner Josh Harris recently said there is no timetable to select a candidate.

“We’re just getting focused on it now, given everything with free agency and the draft, and also the other GMs are in the same place. We’re looking for the right person,” Harris told NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Amy Fadool last week (see story). “One of the things that Bryan Colangelo did really well was we built a great staff, whether it be (vice president of basketball operations and chief of staff) Ned Cohen or (vice president of analytics and strategy) Alex Rucker or (vice president of player personnel) Marc Eversley or (Delaware Blue Coats general manger) Elton Brand, we have a lot of great people. It’s very consensus-oriented, there’s a lot of people in the dialogue, and we want to make sure we find the right fit for that. 

“It’s not going to be easy. My guess is it’s going to take awhile. And we’re obviously focused on doing it as quickly as possible, but at the same time I don’t want to set unrealistic expectations — it could take a little while. So we’re just starting that.”

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Sixers officially bring back Amir Johnson on 1-year contract

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Sixers officially bring back Amir Johnson on 1-year contract

The band is back together.

The Sixers are still making their offseason moves official, which is what happened on Monday when the team officially announced a one-year deal to bring back Amir Johnson. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but it is reportedly worth the veteran’s minimum, which would be $2.39 million for the center.

“Our experience with Amir last year confirms to us, on so many levels, that he is a perfect fit for our young and developing team,” Brett Brown said in a statement. “His work ethic, leadership and buy-in to team-first basketball all comes to mind when I think of his value to our ball club and his acceptance of a backup role to All-Star Joel Embiid is priceless. We are thrilled to have Amir and his family back in our program and I know this feeling is a shared by all of his teammates.”

Johnson, the last player drafted into the NBA straight from high school, spent his 13th professional season with the Sixers in 2017-18. The 31-year-old averaged 4.6 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.6 assists in 15.8 minutes a night.

However, it was the little things Johnson did that really added up for the Sixers. The big man had the highest aggregate hustle score, which measures screen assists, deflections, loose balls recovered, charges drawn and contested shots per contest, to win the league’s second-ever Hustle Award. 

“This is definitely an honor,” Johnson said after receiving the award. “I pride myself on doing the little things on the court and I just want to say thank you to my teammates and coaches. This award means a lot.”

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