by Tracy Graven
Senior NBA Analyst
Your 2018 Kia NBA Rookie of the Year?
Something that has been foreordained since losing his original rookie campaign in 2016-17 to a fractured right foot, people feel the award should be Simmons’ to lose with comparison’s to a young LeBron James.
But is that a fair comparison?
In James’ rookie season, he started and played in 79 games averaging 20.9 points, 5.9 assists, and 5.5 rebounds in 39.5 minutes per night.
Simmons’ ‘first’ rookie season was a rough one, playing only in Summer League where he went for 10.8 points, 7.7 rebounds and 5.5 assists through six games; and honestly, he only shone in three because his first three were outright disasters.
This year, through 54 games, Simmons is clocking a modest 16.4 ppg along with 7.8 rpg and 7.3 dimes.
MVP of the 76ers, maybe. But is it enough to be blessed with the Rookie of the Year Award? Just because he plays like a young LeBron? Because he has a similar physique to a young LeBron?
Lest we forget that Utah’s Donovan Mitchell is making foreordination difficult by throwing down a better ppg average at 19.6 and becoming the darling of NBA fans new and old with his domination of the Kia Slam Dunk Contest even though his shot went cold in the Rising Stars Challenge the night before.
People have such short memories when they are in love with something shiny and new. I may or may not be one of those people.
Mired in a cycle that was dubbed ‘The Process’ under former Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie, Simmons is caught in an unplanned part of that ‘process’ that seemed to have swallowed up current and former teammates in the City of Brotherly Love. Something in the water in Philly it seemed for awhile.
Former 76er Nerlens Noel tore his ACL prior to the 2013-14 season. Michael Carter-Williams backed into that year’s award. I’m still determined to find the ‘Michael Carter-Williams: Rookie of the Year’ on milk cartons strewn around Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Chicago, and Charlotte … but I don’t think anyone has seen that guy since that season.
Current Sixer center Joel Embiid was sidelined for the 2014-15 season with foot issues, essentially handing the award to Minnesota’s Andrew Wiggins. Wiggins, a guy who might get dealt by the Wolves this summer … but at least he hasn’t disappeared like MCW.
Karl-Anthony Towns deservedly took home the hardware in 2015-16. But, Embiid has made a monster comeback the last two years, averaging 22.3 ppg, 9.8 rebounds (11.1 this season - 2nd in the league this year) and 2.1 blocks in the two seasons he’s been able to play.
And then there’s former Los Angeles Clipper Blake Griffin, who - like Simmons - lost his true rookie season (to a broken left kneecap). Griffin came back man on a mission the next season to claim a 22.5 point, 12.1 rebound campaign in 2010-11 … and Rookie of the Year.
Simmons 2.0? Not as resounding a run as Blake 2.0 had.
Others like Julius Randle of the Lakers, Greg Oden of the Trailblazers, and Milwaukee’s Jabari Parker came out with promise and ended their young seasons on the injured list as well.
Not to sound heartless, but I’ve always wondered aloud whether people like Griffin and Simmons deserve to be considered for and/or win the ROY in what is arguably their sophomore campaigns in the NBA. I get the notion that they never stepped foot officially on the court in an NBA game that counted, unlike Randle who was deemed ineligible for the award because he played 13 games in his rookie year.
And, yes, Griffin’s injury allowed Tyreke Evans to win in 2010 and Simmons’ injury last year certainly spelled success for Malcolm Brogdon.
But it also cheats players like John Wall and Donovan Mitchell, in my opinion.
The argument could be had that Griffin was flying higher in Lob City (off a mended knee, mind you) that Wall was in DC. He won Western Conference Rookie of the Month all six months of the season, while Wall edged out Landry Fields for the Eastern Conference honor four months of six. Different players, different styles.
Okay, so maybe Griffin did deserve it. But does Simmons?
LSU, led by Simmons, failed to make the NCAA Tournament in 2016; Mitchell’s Louisville Cardinals at least went past Jacksonville State before bowing to Michigan last spring. And Simmons’ number this year are similar to his sole year of college while Mitchell’s improved his ppg average versus college and already surpassed NBA and Utah Jazz legend Karl Malone in number of 20+ point games with 19.
Also, Simmons and Mitchell are neck-and-neck with two ROM awards apiece in their respective conferences (February not yet tabulated) while L.A.’s Kyle Kuzma grabbed the honor in October/November in the West and Jayson Tatum of the Celtics owned December in the East.
There are those that will say that Simmons deserves it. Others will argue on behalf of Mitchell. Such a divided nation we are.
In the end, it circles back to those comparisons to LeBron James.
The court awareness. The passing ability for someone of his size and stature. Things Mitchell can’t compare with because his style of play, physique and athleticism are night and day to Simmons. Again, different players, different games.
So records? Team leadership skills?
The Philadelphia 76ers are playing at just above .500 after 56 games of Simmons’ “rookie” season at 31-25, currently seventh in the Eastern Conference and third in the Atlantic Division.
Cleveland went 35-47, finishing 5th in the Central Division in James’ rookie season under Paul Silas, in a much-less competitive Eastern Conference era than today’s East.
Maybe the best comparison is the anointing and foreordination.
After all, LeBron James went on to become The King and arguably the best basketball player in the modern era.
Since Simmons has a LeBron-esque physique, here’s hoping that he can shoulder the kind of load that this passing of the torch can bring.
But I’m betting Donovan Mitchell leaps right over those shoulders …
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