The NBA benefits
The NBA is in a great position as three gifted young talents become stars. As gifted as they are, Ben Simmons, Donovan Mitchell, and Jayson Tatum are at nuanced stages in their developing careers. Who is your favorite? How do they rank when factoring in awards, team success and individual prominence? There was much debate about who should have won the 2017-2018 Rookie of the Year award. Will that debate continue as these three stars mature?
#3 Ben Simmons
Where do we start with Ben Simmons? The triple-double phenom, an all-world defender, was the first overall pick in the 2016-17 NBA draft, and is as much an enigma as any sport has ever seen. Yet the 2018 Rookie of the Year and three time all-star is so tremendously talented he could shift the balance of the NBA with a potential departure from Philadelphia. In that rookie season, Ben Simmons was the 1st rookie since Oscar Robertson to amass 1200 points, 600 boards and 600 dimes. He added 15 points, eight boards, eight dimes, two steals and a block on the season. He was third among rookies in points, first in steals, rebounds and assists. With 12, Ben Simmons was third in the entire NBA in triple doubles. The biggest question in Simmons winning the award is the debate around him being a second year player technically; that having NBA resources to work on his body while sitting out the entire year factors into more preparation. The same debate happened with Blake Griffin.
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Ben Simmons has been mentioned as arguably the NBA's best defender or definitively its best defender. Not many possess the ability to guard 1 through 5 with such size at 6'10', speed, strength and agility. Ben Simmons, as a ball handler in the open floor, has to be scary for any defense, and his passing on the break is even more stellar than most. Unfortunately, his 60% (52% in playoffs) foul shooting as a primary ball handler, and a very pronounced inability to lead as a scorer to stretch defenses off Joel Embiid in clutch moments is his biggest flaw, and until he fixes himself in ways that only he can, he will be number three on this list where he should be number one.
#2 Donovan Mitchell
Not many expected Donovan Mitchell to roar onto the NBA scene as fast and electrifying as he did in 2018. His array of step-backs, fall-away jumpers and leap out of your chair dunks was clutch for NBA fans. The unexpected rookie year performance from Mitchell was grand for the NBA as well. Mitchell, along with Simmons, and the to-be mentioned Jayson Tatum, gave the NBA a great light for the future.
With a rookie-year average of 20.5 points, 3.7 dimes and 3.7 boards, Donovan Mitchell was worthy of winning NBA Rookie of the Year. He was spectacular at times in winning games and consistent appearances on highlight packages. Spida, as he's known, and like his peers here, was on an NBA climb into stardom in the uncommon city of Utah. The 13th pick in the draft out of Louisville by way of a trade with Denver impacted the NBA regular season as well as the NBA playoffs in his rookie season before exiting the playoffs with an injury.
#1 Jayson Tatum
The irony of it all is that Jayson Tatum and Ben Simmons could have been teammates had the Sixers selected Tatum over Markelle Fultz. Tatum's rookie year saw him post averages of 13.9 points, 5.0 rebounds and 1.6 assists. Though those numbers don't jump off the page, the flashes shown that season put Tatum in the eyes of many in the NBA. He is the closest Kobe Bryant clone that we've seen, and he could be the best of these three when it's all said and done.
After missing out on almost 33 million in bonuses for not placing on any of the All-NBA teams (Tatum was named to the third team last season), after a career year of 26 points, seven rebounds and four assists, look for Jayson Tatum to be mentioned amongst NBA MVP candidates this season.
Boston, Philadelphia and Utah have all figured prominently in the NBA playoffs since each player entered the league, and all have big responsibilities -- being each team is a playoff contender. The Sixers have won 195 games, Utah 194 and Boston 191 since Mitchell, Simmons and Tatum were rookies. Donovan Mitchell has made the biggest scoring impact in the playoffs of the three: 28.8 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4.6 assists in 33 games. Jayson Tatum over same span: 21.6 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists in 50 games. Ben Simmons the most versatile: 13.9 points, 8.0 rebounds and 7.5 assists in 34 games. Utah has two Western Conference semifinal appearances during Mitchell's time on the Jazz, and has been incredible in many of the playoff games Utah competed. The Sixers have been to three second round series and lost all three -- rather dubiously this season in part because of Simmons. Boston has been to two Eastern Conference Finals -- losing to the Cavaliers and the Heat since 2018.
I would say the gap between each player regarding team and individual accomplishments is small. It would appear that Utah, given their best record in the West last season, has the best chance to repeat the success of the year before. Boston is seemingly in flux, and Philadelphia is uncertain of what its roster will resemble this upcoming year. Mitchell and Tatum look to cement moves into the upper echelon of NBA talent, while Ben Simmons looks to attain a semblance of NBA peace. We'll see how it all shakes out in 2021-22.