The Battle For ROY
A guy who wasn't even in the 2017 NBA Draft, and a guy who was barely considered a lottery selection in the early stages of said draft process, have separated themselves in the race for the NBA's 2017-2018 Rookie of the Year award: Ben Simmons of the Philadelphia 76ers, and Donovan Mitchell of the Utah Jazz.
Halfway through January, the Jazz looked like one of the most disappointing teams in the NBA, with an outside chance of landing an early pick in the 2018 NBA Draft lottery. But since January 24, the Jazz are riding an 11-game winning streak, putting them right back in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race. Over that span, Mitchell has scored at least 20 points in seven of 10 games he played in, including a 40-point outburst on February 2nd (his second 40 point game of the season) four-straight games with at least 24 points heading into All-Star break. He's the first rookie in NBA history to lead a team in scoring during such a lengthy winning streak.
Meanwhile, Simmons has paired with fellow All-Star Joel Embiid to led the young 76ers to the seventh spot in the Eastern Conference at the All-Star break. Entering All-Star break, Simmons is averaging 16.4 points, 7.8 rebounds, 7.3 assists, 1.9 steals and 0.9 blocks per game. Those numbers might not blow you away, until you consider the fact that he's on pace to become the first rookie to average at least 16.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 7.0 assists in a season since Magic Johnson did it close to 40 years ago. In fact, there has never been a rookie in NBA history who finished the season averaging more than 16 points, seven rebounds, and seven assists, along with two steals and one block per game. In other words: what Simmons is doing each night, from an all-around perspective, is literally unprecedented.
Donovan Mitchell has no shortage of backers, both in the media, as well as in the league. All-Star players like Damian Lillard of the Portland Trailblazers, DeMarr DeRozan of the Toronto Raptors and Demarcus Cousins of the New Orleans Pelicans have publicly stated their belief that Mitchell should be rookie of the year. The numbers back them up, too. Donovan Mitchell accounts for nearly 30 percent of the offense of a team projected to finish with the fifth-best point differential in the league. He has that "clutch" factor, where he's not afraid to take the last shot of the game. Simply put: after watching All-Star Gordon Hayward walk away from the Jazz this past offseason, Mitchell's play is getting to the point where Utah fans might start saying "Gordon who?". And it's not just the fact that he can put the ball through the hoop, though. He has the skillset of a combo-guard -- meaning he can facilitate just as much as he can score -- and can legitimately guard three positions on the floor. Some people around the league have already began calling Donovan a "lockdown defender."
Of course, the "all-around" argument might be better suited for Ben Simmons. Remember, Russell Westbrook won the NBA's MVP award last year, largely in part because he set the NBA record with 42 triple-doubles in a single season. Simmons is obviously nowhere close to that number, but he's one of only three players in NBA history to record triple-doubles six times in his rookie year; the only other two guys to do so were some guys named Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson.
While Simmons is shooting 52.7% from the field, it's obvious that his jump shot is still very much a work in progress. That being said, as of Valentine’s Day, the 76ers have an offensive rating of 106.2 points per 100 possessions with Simmons on the court; when he's not playing, it drops to 103.2 pints. Defensively, they allow 101.7 points per 100 possessions when he's on the court, and when he's off, they’re at 105.6.
To some people, it really comes down to your preference of what you're looking for in a player. Just like some people like their coffee black while other people like their coffee with cream and sugar, some people might prefer the guy who takes pride in making his whole team better, while others might prefer the guy who walks in and assumes the "alpha-dog" role on his team.
If you think the guy who is the best scorer should win the award, then you're rooting for Donovan Mitchell. But if you want the guy who might be the better all-around player, then you should root for Ben Simmons.