Revisiting NBA Awards 2018: Why Donovan Mitchell and not Ben Simmons should have been Rookie of the Year
The 2017-18 Rookie of the Year race was one of the fiercest in recent memory between Donovan Mitchell of the Utah Jazz and Ben Simmons of the Philadelphia 76ers. In a less-than-close result, Ben Simmons won ROY with 90 of the 101 first-place votes, and 481 total points. Mitchell came in second with 323 total points. However, many fans still believe that Donovan Mitchell should have won Rookie of the Year.
Firstly, this argument has nothing to do with whether Ben Simmons was to be considered a rookie or not. Yes, Simmons was chosen in the 2016 draft but had to sit out the entire season due to a foot fracture. Not having played a single regular season game, he was considered as a rookie by the NBA last season, and rightfully so.
Blake Griffin of the LA Clippers missed out on his "actual" rookie season because of an injury and won ROY honors the next season when he played his first NBA game. Other players, such as David Robinson, or Larry Bird, did not play in the season they were drafted for, and still won Rookie of the Year honors.
The case for Donovan Mitchell goes beyond this fallacy in thinking. Mitchell averaged 20.5 points for the Jazz, leading the Jazz in scoring, while Simmons averaged 15.8 points for the 76ers. It is worth noting that Mitchell led all rookies in scoring.
Mitchell was definitely the better scorer among the two rookies, not only averaging more points but being a greater offensive threat owing to his shooting ability. Unlike Simmons, Mitchell didn't mind taking mid-rangers or three-pointers; in fact, he broke Damian Lillard's record for the most threes made in a season by a rookie with 187 made threes. Ben Simmons, in contrast, did not have a single made three in his rookie season.
In addition to being the better scorer, Mitchell is also obviously a better raw shooter than Simmons. Although Mitchell's FG% is lower than Simmons', Mitchell took tougher shots throughout the season as the primary scorer for the Jazz, while Simmons could rely on other stars in Joel Embiid and JJ Redick (who both averaged more points than Simmons).
Mitchell was also far better from the free-throw line, averaging 80.5% compared to Simmons' 56.0%. Mitchell's scoring ability is highlighted in his high-scoring games; he had 20+ points in 46 games compared to Simmons' 20 and 30+ points in 7 games compared to Simmons' 2. Mitchell also had two 40+ point games. Mitchell's 27 25-point games were good enough to be third-best in the last 20 seasons by a rookie.
Lastly, Mitchell led his team to a playoff berth, being the best player on his team. While Simmons could rely on Embiid and Redick, the Jazz rookie led his team to a playoff spot when no one expected them to make the postseason in the tougher Western Conference. Simmons is also the first rookie to lead a playoff team in scoring since Carmelo Anthony for the Nuggets in the 2003-04 season.
For the case of Simmons, though, he averaged more rebounds and assists than Mitchell by far. He put up numbers comparable to all-time greats in their rookie seasons. Simmons also looked like a triple-double machine on the floor every night, putting up extremely strong numbers. Both rookies were extremely deserving of the award, and a strong argument could be made for either to win. Had the award been about the most valuable rookie, Mitchell probably would've taken it home, but as for Rookie of the Year, it is nearly impossible to nitpick at either rookie's weaknesses.
Both had amazing rookie seasons, posting numbers that broke records throughout the season. It is truly impossible to make an argument for one over the other, but make no mistake - despite the voting results, Mitchell was incredibly deserving of the honor as well.