The Utah Jazz’ Donovan Mitchell, the former Louisville guard selected 13th overall in the 2017 NBA draft, is gaining a lot of momentum in the Rookie of the Year race. After starting 19-28 due to battling injuries, the Jazz have ripped off 10 straight wins and now sit just 1.5 games behind the New Orleans Pelicans for the 8 seed in the Western Conference. Mitchell, who leads the Jazz in points (19.5) and minutes (32.0), has been a crucial part of his team’s success.
Mitchell’s play is giving Ben Simmons’ Rookie of the Year pursuit some competition. More than some, actually, with many in NBA media circles beginning to declare Mitchell the leader in the clubhouse for the award.
Here’s USA Today Sports’ Jason McIntyre:
This is not a slight to Ben Simmons of the 76ers, who has been tremendous. But Simmons has a wingman in Joel Embiid, who leads Philadelphia in points (23.8 ppg) and rebounding (11.2 rpg). Mitchell is a one-man show. And for a rookie to carry his team to the playoffs in the West – well, that’s vaulted Mitchell over Simmons with about 25 games to play.
Sure, Mitchell has the advantage in points, his 19.5 to Simmons 16.4. Mitchell also best Simmons in USG%, TOV, FT%, 3PT% and 3PA. But Ben’s all around contributions are superior to those of Mitchell. Simmons is averaging about 4 more rebounds AND assists a game than Mitchell. And despite Ben’s lack of a deep threat, his EFG% is 1.7 points higher than Mitchell’s. Most importantly, Simmons has been stellar defensively on a Sixers team that ranks 3rd in defensive efficiency.
The case to be made for Donovan Mitchell over Ben Simmons is that Mitchell is the “go-to scorer” on a team which appears to be playoff bound. Points are nice. When a player scores lots of points, it makes his team’s points go up. If Team A’s points go up higher than Team B’s points, Team A wins. But if scoring is all that matters in the context of an award, let’s agree to rename the award “Rookie Scorer of the Year.”
Donovan Mitchell stans proclaim him to be the driving force in the Utah Jazz’ resurgence, ignoring the fact that during Rudy Gobert’s most recent absence, the team accumulated a record of 4-11. Since Gobert’s return, the Jazz are 11-2. Mitchell has been pretty incredible during the Jazz’ win streak, and they would not have won 10 straight without him. Mitchell, however, is not solely responsible for the team’s success and using the streak as evidence of his superiority to Simmons is faulty at best.
Simmons is not the go-to scorer for the Sixers. And Joel Embiid is typically the most important factor in the Sixers winning or losing a game. Of course the team performs better when Simmons is on the court with Embiid, versus just Simmons. (Similar to the way that the Jazz perform better with Mitchell and Gobert, rather than just Mitchell.) However, Simmons also elevates Joel Embiid’s game, enabling Embiid and the team, to perform at a higher level. Simply put, in no way is Simmons’ performance less impressive or valuable because he isn’t Option #1.
I like Donovan Mitchell. I really like Donovan Mitchell. He’s exactly what I hope Markelle Fultz becomes. And in comparing Simmons and Mitchell, it’s easy to see that Mitchell is a more reliable scorer than Simmons. However, overall, Simmons has been the superior player on a team that would make the playoffs if the playoffs started today. Mitchell’s Jazz? On the outside looking in.
Look, ultimately, I don’t give a damn about the Rookie of the Year award. (I’m aware of the stupidity of that statement following a few paragraphs bitching about the Rookie of the Year award.) It isn’t indicative of future success. See: Michael Carter-Williams. And the best rookie doesn’t always take the crown. See: Malcolm Brogdon. But anyone proclaiming Mitchell as the favorite at this point is a victim of recency bias. Ben Simmons is the best rookie in the NBA.