As a rookie, Ben Simmons hasn’t had to handle the burden of being his teams leading scorer. He’s had the luxury of playing with Joel Embiid. At least up until the last five games. When Embiid got knocked out with an orbital bone fracture and possible concussion, Simmons became option number one for the Sixers. For the year, Simmons has been doing things that haven’t been done since Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson. (Check the stats, they’re the only two guys in NBA history to do what Ben is doing.) Yet, here we are, late in the season, with just two games left to go and there’s a debate for Rookie of the Year.
I have spent a lot of time, this past week, looking at the rookies of the league and trying to figure out who should be the Rookie of the Year. As a Sixers fan, it’s easy to just say Ben Simmons. But, I have to look at why.
Obviously, Donovan Mitchell is doing things that haven’t been done as a rookie in a long time. He’s averaging just under 21 points per game on a Utah team that’s sitting in fourth place in the Western Conference. That’s a great stat. But, there’s been no one else to help Mitchell for a good part of the year and the team didn’t start doing well until Rudy Gobert came back. They’re 26-5 since his return. Scoring is great, but we’re talking about the award for the best rookie. At 19-28, Mitchell was scoring in bunches but the team wasn’t winning. Now, if we look at Simmons, over the past five games since Embiid went down with his injury, what has Ben done?
In the last five games, Simmons has averaged 19 points per game. He’s continued to sit out large parts of the fourth quarter as the Sixers have built big leads and coach Brett Brown wants to make sure that the guys are healthy for the playoffs. It’s easy to assume that if Simmons had played a few more minutes in those games, or even over the course of the season, his scoring would be a little higher. They’re both hitting the same amount of shots per game, but Mitchell is averaging four more shots per game and of those shots six of them are three pointers. That should be expected for a shooting guard, but Simmons is a 6’10” point guard. When asked why he doesn’t shoot from the outside, Simmons replied that he doesn’t have to. He runs the offense and doesn’t look to put up points, but rather get his teammates involved. When he needs to, as evidence against the Cavs, Simmons can put up points. Against the Cavs, in a very meaningful game for the third seed in the East, Simmons put up 27 points, 15 rebounds and 13 assists to go along with 4 steals. He did that on 17 shots, which is what Mitchell is averaging per game over the whole season.
When you look at the whole game, who’s having a bigger impact? Simmons is averaging 8.2 rebounds and 8.2 assists per game compared to Mitchell’s 3.7 and 3.6. Ben also leads Mitchell in blocks and steals. So the overall game is not a question. Simmons is having a season that hasn’t been seen since Magic Johnsons rookie year and he’s already the second leading rookie for triple doubles with twelve. He could have easily had four or 5 more over the past 10 games, but he’s been sitting out as the Sixers have built big leads. He’s averaged a triple double since Embiid has gone down with an injury as the Sixers are in the midst of a 14-game win streak. Mitchell did very well, but the Jazz weren’t really winning until Gobert came back. So, without the top two defensive players in the game this year, who’s really done better? Simmons and it’s not even close.
Last year, when Joel Embiid went down with an injury, he was runaway favorite for rookie of the year. But, Dario Saric had also been producing very well for the Sixers and got even better at the end of the year, as Embiid was sitting out. But, Malcolm Brogden was given the Rookie of the Year award because he played on a playoff team, even though Saric had the better season. When the award was announced everyone said that it wasn’t just about scoring and that the whole range of stats had to be taken in to account. This year, it seems, that the media would have oyu believe that it’s all about the scoring. In addition, when you looked at team predictions for the season, the Jazz are right where everyone picked them to be. Most picked them to be around 46 wins and right now they’re sitting with what? 46. The Sixers were picked to be anywhere between 35-41 wins. A .500 season would be a huge victory for a team with a lot of health and talent questions. Right now, the Sixers have 50 wins and are in the third seed for the Eastern Conference. Ben Simmons is the reason for this. Embiid has been amazing, but even without Embiid, the Sixers have been winning games. That’s something that the Jazz weren’t doing before Gobert came back.
So, where do we sit at the end of the season and with my obvious bias pointed out in this article? Ben Simmons is your 2018 Rookie of the year and it’s not even close. The things that he’s recognized for doing are beyond what a lot of players can’t seem to do. His name is all over all of the rookie leader boards. He’s the most important player on a team that has to be the biggest surprise in the league this season. When he needs to put up points, he puts them up. When he needs to make the best play to give his team a chance to win, he does that.
Just a side note to end this, a lot of people say, “well he was in the NBA last year”. That has to be the worst argument possible. He was a member of the team and rehabbing an injury. Mitchell stayed in school and played a full year, getting better and working on his game. They’re both the same age and they’re both doing amazing things in a rookie class that’s above and beyond any that we’ve seen in the NBA in a very long time. Does sitting out and not playing but traveling with the team really help you or is playing every day and working on your game improve it? We’re seeing another once in a lifetime talent, developing in Philadelphia. The rest of the NBA and the media should take notice. When Simmons decides that he’s going to use his outside shot or he decides that he needs to score 25 points per game, do you really think that he won’t be able to? (If he took just the four more shots that Mitchell takes per game, Simmons would be averaging 20 points per game, based on his shooting percentage)
Ladies and gentlemen, your 2018 Rookie of the Year in the NBA is the point guard for the Philadelphia 76ers and it’s not even close. You can’t possibly have one of the best rookie seasons that the NBA has ever seen and not win the award for best rookie. Can you?
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports