With the NBA All-Star Break coming to a close, the race for Rookie of the Year has become a fierce competition between Donovan Mitchell and Ben Simmons. Both players have put up impressive stats for rookies, but there is still plenty separating them.
Mitchell, selected by the Utah Jazz with the No. 13 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, has surpassed everyone’s expectations, currently leading the Jazz with 19.7 points per game along with 3.5 rebounds and assists per game.
The Louisville product grabbed the spotlight during All-Star Weekend by edging out Larry Nance Jr. to win the Slam Dunk Contest, — a contest he wasn’t entered in until Aaron Gordon sustained a hip injury.
Aside from his impressive slams, Mitchell put up 41 points against the New Orleans Pelicans, the first 40-point game by a rookie since Blake Griffin in 2011.
Ben Simmons, however, is chasing his own history. This year, Simmons is averaging 16.7 points, 7.7 rebounds, 7.4 assists, 0.9 blocks and 1.9 steals per game. Should he continue to average those numbers, he’ll join Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson as the third rookie to average 16/7/7.
While his overall stats are ridiculous for a rookie, shooting is his main downfall. He has yet to hit a 3-pointer and shoots a miniscule 56.7 percent from the free-throw line. He is clearly a good defensive and offensive player, but in a league that is increasingly emphasizing 3-pointers, not being able to expand beyond the paint is a major flaw.
More important than points, Mitchell has flashed his leadership potential.
The Jazz took a huge blow after losing Gordon Hayward to the Boston Celtics in the offseason and with Utah’s All-Star gone, Mitchell has stepped up. He not only leads the team in points and minutes per game, but he also has the fourth-highest usage rate of any rookie ever.
Approximately 29 percent of the Jazz’s plays involve Mitchell when he is on the court, higher than other star players who have won Rookie of the Year honors such as LeBron James, Chris Paul, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Allen Iverson.
Others, such as 2013 Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard, have noticed his ability to lead.
“I think he should be Rookie of the Year, for sure,” Lillard said in an article by The Oregonian. “Not just because of his numbers, but his impact on their team. He’s basically leading them. It’s special to see a rookie be able to do what he’s doing out there,” Lillard said in the article.
The Jazz are only two wins away from a playoff berth, so there is still time to see if Mitchell can lead the team to a playoff run and truly fill the hole left by Hayward’s departure.
Simmons and Mitchell have both been putting up stats worthy of Rookie of the Year, but Mitchell has the edge so far.
Simmons game is well-rounded and vital to the 76ers’ success despite his shooting flaws, but Mitchell has the ability to lead his team and will be the deciding factor during the remainder of the season.
Trilok Reddy writes for Bear Bytes, The Daily Californian’s sports blog. Contact him at [email protected]