The Rookie of the Year race between Ben Simmons and Donovan Mitchell was perhaps the most contentious showdown we’ve seen in the last few years
We don’t normally witness rookies rise to stardom right off the bat, but Ben Simmons and Donovan Mitchell gave us something to argue about: Who’s really better?
Simmons already took home the hardware in the recent NBA Awards after beating his co-frontrunner Mitchell. Clearly, Mitchell was persistently involved in the Utah Jazz’s journey to the playoffs. He led them in scoring and ranked among the Top 30 in the entire league—beating the likes of Kevin Love, Carmelo Anthony, Kyle Lowry, and Eric Bledsoe. Truth be told, Mitchell did great, but Simmons did better by excelling in every aspect of the game, which made the Philly star more deserving of the Rookie of the Year (ROTY) award. Here’s why:
If scoring was the basis of the ROTY award, Mitchell could have had a better shot. The Jazz star’s scoring prowess was his best asset against Simmons as he averaged 4.7 more points per game while shooting an efficient 43.7 percent from the field. He also took a team-high 17.2 shot attempts in all of his 79 outings—this just indicates that Mitchell has been the Jazz’s primary option in delivering buckets as he can do the job in as many ways as possible. Whether he’s working off the ball, catch and shoot, off the dribble pull-up jumper or even attacking the basket, the Spider can generate offense effectively.
On the other hand, Simmons, a 6’10” floor facilitator, scores most of his points near the basket due to his lack of reliable jumpers. He took 4.9 less shot attempts than Mitchell but still regularly managed 15.8 points on a better 54.5 percent shooting average in 81 games—and he did that without his consistent jump shots.
Simmons may have an unreliable jumper that made Mitchell a more offensive threat from the outside, but his willingness to involve his teammates in their attack turned the odds in his favor. At times when Simmons struggles to produce points, he still manages to make his presence felt by being an effective floor facilitator. He operates on defense, assisting, and grabbing rebounds.
Despite Simmons’ big frame, his great court coverage and ball-handling wizardry enables him to distribute the ball so well with perfect timing and anticipation whether on a set-up offense or a transition attack. Simmons has averaged 8.2 dishes per game compared to 3.7 assists that Mitchell racks up per game.
Mitchell has proven himself to be one of the most explosive and quickest guards in the NBA. His quick hands and steady defense allow him to apply ball pressure resulting in forced turnovers. Mitchell’s 6’10” wingspan also made it a bit easier to grab rebounds.
Meanwhile, Simmons’ huge build and versatile body make him a good defender in various positions. Whoever’s in front of him—a guard, forward, or a frontcourt player—Simmons can capably extend his defense. Throughout his rookie season, Simmons averaged 1.7 steals and 0.9 blocks per game. He almost had a triple-double average last season after garnering 8.1 rebounds per game while 1.8 of those came from offensive rebounds.
Simmons is the ROTY, But That Doesn’t Mean Mitchell Failed The Jazz
Based on the statistics given above, we can clearly see why Simmons was chosen ROTY. Frankly, years from now, the award that made the two competitors bring out their A-game would not even make headlines anymore. The Philadelphia 76ers and Utah Jazz are two lucky franchises that hold two of the future stars in the league. Simmons has better teammates in Joel Embiid, Dario Saric, and Markelle Fultz. On the other hand, Mitchell once averaged at least 20 points a game on an 11-game winning streak that secured his team a slot in the playoffs. Once the Jazz has built the right pieces around the Spider, they’re not far from being a Western finals contender.