Yesterday was the two year anniversary of the day Sixers Point Guard Ben Simmons was named the NBA’s Rookie of the Year. Simmons earned the honor over Utah Jazz phenom Donovan Mitchell in what was considered by some to be a controversial decision. Why was his victory so divisive among NBA fans and even players (well, at least one)?
The main issue that was voiced was that Simmons was drafted the previous season and some believed that should disqualify him from the contest. History does not back that argument up though.
Simmons isn’t the first player to win the award in a year he wasn’t drafted. In 1964 Jerry Lucas won the award even though he was drafted two years earlier. Lucas had been drafted by the Cincinnati Royals in 1962 but refused to sign (though they retained his rights) opting to instead play for the Cleveland Pipers in the ABL. Not long after, the ABL folded so Lucas turned to the NBA winning ROY honors for the 1963-64 season.
In 1980 Larry Bird was named ROY even though he was drafted in 1978. Bird returned to Indiana State for his senior year before signing with the Celtics in 1979.
Ten years later, David “the Admiral” Robinson won the award though he had been drafted in 1987. Robinson served two years with the Navy before finally going the Spurs and winning the award at the age of 25.
Most recently, Blake Griffin won the award after he too missed his first eligible season in the NBA. Griffin had injured his knee cap after a dunk attempt in the Clippers final preseason game. After it was discovered his knee wasn’t healing properly, Griffin had surgery and it was announced he would miss the entire year. The following year Griffin became the first unanimous winner of the ROY award since David Robinson.
The 2017-18 NBA ROY contest was clearly a two man race. Both Ben Simmons and Donovan Mitchell had incredible rookie season performances. Both were even fantastic two-way players. However, when you look at what was accomplished, the answer was clear.
Simmons finished the season third among all rookies in points and first in both rebounds and assists. Simmons also ranked third in the entire NBA with 12 triple doubles. Perhaps most impressive of all, Simmons was the first rookie since Oscar Robinson to have at least 1200 points, 600 rebounds, and 600 assists.
There wasn’t much in terms of real competition as Simmons was the clear favorite. The only argument against him was that he was drafted the previous season. Something that clearly didn’t matter when it came to Blake Griffin, David Robinson, Larry Bird, and Jerry Lucas.
Some said the unfairness stemmed from Simmons having an opportunity to develop his body unlike other rookies. That begs the question, did it not count for Griffin? Or Robinson?
What about players coming off their senior years of college he instead of freshman? Should Malcom Brogdon (24) have won over Dario Saric (22) or Marquesse Chris (19)?
Then there’s European players, Should Luka have won over Trae Young or Deandre Ayton?
None of that matters, it’s just a weak excuse to try and take something away from the deserving athlete.
What does matter is how you perform in your rookie year whenever it comes. Whether you were drafted that year or previous, or if you were injured or serving your country. Even if you’ve played professionally overseas, the NBA is a different animal and no amount of preparation guarantees success.
Mandatory Credit – © Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports