Position: Point guard
Status for 2018-2019: Third year of rookie contract at $6,434,520
Simmons in 2017-18
Simmons didn't have a very good series against the Celtics. He can be too passive offensively. His jumper is somewhere between non-existent and poor, and he’s not much better than Shaq at the foul line.
All of those things can be true and Ben Simmons can still be a special player who had a historically great rookie season.
With 12 triple-doubles in the regular season, Simmons had the second-most triple-doubles ever by a rookie, ahead of Magic Johnson and behind only Oscar Robertson. His poise, passing and ball handling skills all evoked memories of Johnson. He averaged 18.2 points, 10.6 assists and 9 rebounds per game in his first playoff series.
Remember when some people thought it was crazy for Brett Brown to make a 6-10 rookie his point guard? That feels like a long time ago.
Did Simmons do enough to earn Rookie of the Year? If you think Utah’s Donovan Mitchell deserves the award over Simmons, you have to point to his scoring (20.1 points per game vs. 15.8 points per game for Simmons). Outside of that, it’s hard to find an area where Mitchell has an edge other than his playoff performances, which don’t factor into Rookie of the Year consideration.
Even without making a single three-pointer, Simmons had a better effective shooting percentage (54.5 vs. 50.6). And, besides scoring, he had the advantage in every other traditional statistic — he had more than twice as many assists and rebounds per game than Mitchell, more steals and more blocks.
The advanced stats also resoundingly point to Simmons. Net rating, win shares, VORP, PER — whatever metric you think best measures a player’s value, Simmons comes out on top.
If you really believe Mitchell should be Rookie of the Year, you could go down the “but Simmons isn’t really a rookie” road or claim Simmons’ production wasn’t as impressive because he had a better supporting cast.
To be blunt, those are not great arguments. Even if you feel he gained some sort of advantage over Mitchell by sitting out the 2016-17 season with a broken right foot, this was Simmons’ first year in the NBA. He was a rookie, and as good as Donovan Mitchell was, Simmons was the best rookie in the league. It’s just that simple.
With Joel Embiid sidelined with a left eye orbital fracture, Simmons carried the Sixers to a massive 132-130 win over the Cavs on Apr. 6. Simmons showed off his raw speed and strength, his open-court improvisation, and his poise in beating his mentor, LeBron James. Though James had an insane 44 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists, almost carrying Cleveland back from a 30-point deficit, Simmons looked like a star in his own right. He posted 27 points, 15 rebounds, 13 assists and four steals.
Looking ahead to 2018-19
The one big question looming for Simmons is whether he can develop a serviceable shot (see story). He certainly has a lot of room for improvement. Shooting 25 percent from 10 feet and out is abysmal for a point guard, and 56 percent from the free throw line isn’t very good either.
He probably won’t start knocking down threes in his second year, but if he could even become somewhat reliable from 10 to 12 feet, his game would be so much more dangerous. Teams wouldn’t be able to successfully sag off him all the time like the Celtics did in the postseason, which would make attacking the paint easier and also open up plenty of passing lanes.
“I think offensively, it’s going to be tough to stop me. And then obviously the team, we have another guy who can knock down shots and score, and a guy who can make plays. So I think it’s going to be scary.”
-Simmons on how difficult he’ll be to guard if he improves his jumper