The 2017-2018 NBA regular season has come to a close. It has been one of the more exciting years of recent memory. For the first time in three years, it is not a foregone conclusion that Golden State and Cleveland will meet in the NBA finals; in fact, it is the first time in seven seasons that a LeBron James team is not the clear-cut favorite to come out of the Eastern Conference.
Thanks to the Toronto Raptors and resurgent Philadelphia 76ers the East feels a little more wide open, although its still looks as though the Cavaliers are the most likely team to reach the NBA finals, but the path there will be a bit rockier than they are accustomed to.
In the Western Conference, the Houston Rockets have taken the reigns from the defending champion Warriors, at least during the regular season that is. The Warriors have looked out of sorts at times and seem to be fighting a bit of an identity crisis. But, once the playoffs begin, it is hard not to believe the Warriors will emerge as the favorite to come out of the West.
Both Conferences have seen rookies play significant roles on playoff teams. In the East, Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons and Boston Celtics’ Jayson Taytum have been integral pieces on their respective teams. In the West, Donovan Mitchell has led the Utah Jazz into the fifth seed in the conference. So, which first-year player is the most deserving of the NBA Rookie of the Year award?
Ben Simmons – 76ers
Ben Simmons and the 76ers have been the most surprising and improved team from a season ago. The 76ers have been the laughing stock of the NBA for years since Sam Hinke was named their GM and the “process” was started. But, now, no one is laughing at the city of Philadelphia’s basketball franchise. The “process” has come full circle, and the 76ers have won 52 games and positioned themselves nicely as the three seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. A lot of the praise for the 76ers unlikely season can be heaped on center Joel Embiid, but the glue and most important player on this Philadelphia team is Ben Simmons.
Technically Simmons has been in the league for two years now but sat out all last season with an injury, per NBA rules that makes the 2017-2018 season his rookie year. And boy, has Simmons put on a statistical show. He finished the year averaging 16-8-8 with 12 triple-doubles, joining Oscar Robertson as the only rookies in NBA history to complete the season with 1,200+ points, 600+ assists, and 600+ rebounds. At 6-10 he is a matchup nightmare for opposing teams at the PG position. Simmons overall game and court vision make him one of the most dynamic players in the league.
Donovan Mitchell – Jazz
The Utah Jazz has withstood injuries and trades to fight their way into the fifth seed of the grueling Western Conference. In the middle of the season, Utah sent one of their top scorers Rodney Hood to Cleveland in what turned out to be the most significant trade of the 2017-2018 NBA season. Utah was also without shut-down defender Rudy Gobert for 26 games due to injury. The Jazz in large part is heading to the playoffs because of the stellar play from rookie Donovan Mitchell.
Mitchell is the most prolific scorer in this year’s crop of rookies. He will become the first rookie to lead his team to the playoffs while being the leading scorer since Carmelo Anthony. Mitchell averaged 20.5-3.7-3.7 during his rookie campaign and produced more 20+ point games than Jazz great Karl Malone did his rookie season. Mitchell is surrounded by less talent than both of the other two candidates, Simmons and Tatum, and he plays in the much tougher Western Conference. He does not affect all aspects of the game as much as Simmons does but he is the better scorer and is arguably more valuable to his team.
Jayson Tatum – Celtics
The Boston Celtics have been injury plagued literally from the start of the season. Key offseason addition Gordon Hayward gruesomely broke his leg in the first game of the season against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Even with the injury, the Celtics found themselves hovering around the one/two seed all year long, but their hopes of a championship came to a screeching halt when PG Kyrie Irving was lost for the rest of the season due to a knee injury.
Tatum has kept the Celtics engine going all season long battling through the tough injury losses the Celtics endured. He does not have quite the numbers of Simmons and Mitchell, but they are very solid for a rookie. Tatum finished the season averaging nearly 14 points and five rebounds per game. The talent around Tatum is better than the other two candidates, so his stats are not as eye-popping having to share the spotlight with his teammates.
Who will win NBA ROY?
In all likeliness, Philadelphia 76ers Ben Simmons will take home the award. His all-around game is just too much for Donovan Mitchell to overcome. Now, the argument can be made, is this award about who is the most outstanding player or who is the most valuable to their team. If it is the former than its clearly Ben Simmons, if it is the later than Mitchell has a serious claim to the award. I believe though, in the end, the voters will and should favor Simmons.