Ben Simmons Is the Runaway Rookie of the Year, and It’s Not Close


Let’s call it how it is: if voters have any courage or sense then Ben Simmons should be the runaway winner of the Rookie of the Year Award. But if last season is any indication, we can’t count on logic or common sense prevailing.

Remember when they chose Malcolm Brogdon (bum) over Joel Embiid and Dario Saric? It’s almost hard to believe, and one year later that mistake looks like nothing more than a stain on the award. Given the history, it shouldn’t surprise anybody if they snub Simmons too.

I mean no disrespect to Donovan Mitchell. He’s an incredibly gifted scorer, and in almost any given season he would be a clear cut Rookie of the Year favorite. But the fact of the matter is Ben Simmons’ rookie season stacks up with some of the most productive in league history.                

If you believe Mitchell is more deserving of this award than Simmons, then I can assume with unequivocal certainty that you’ve never actually compared the stats of each player, let alone seen them play. I’ve compiled the numbers into a few tables here (they’re even color coded).

SIMMONS 15.8 8.2 8.1 0.9 1.7 .545
MITCHELL 20.5 3.7 3.7 0.3 1.5 .437

There’s nothing particularly shocking about this basic stat line. We know that Ben Simmons is the better all-around player, but Donovan Mitchell was the more high-volume scorer.

The following slightly-more advanced stats confirm the difference between the two players, while also exposing some holes in the ‘Mitchell is a better scorer’ argument.

SIMMONS .545* 5.9 19.5 37.4 13.0
MITCHELL .506* 2.3 10.4 19.4 6.4
SIMMONS 2.5 2.1 22.3* .342
MITCHELL 2.2 0.9 29.1* .218

* EFG% — Effective Field Goal %

* USG% Usage Rate

* FTr — Free Throw Rate (how often they draw fouls)

The three numbers that deserve further scrutiny are effective field goal percentage, usage rate, and free throw rate.

Simmons higher EFG% lets us know that while Mitchell may average more points per game, Simmons still scores at a more efficient rate than Mitchell—despite Ben lacking a three-point shot. (EFG% is weighted to account for 3-point shooting).

Additionally, we see that the usage rate for Mitchell is much higher than Simmons. This makes Mitchell’s high-volume scoring (20ppg) far less impressive, while, on the other end, making Simmons’ high assist rate all the more impressive.

The less important, but still relevant stat revealed above is free throw rate. While it’s obviously not an exact correlation, it’s a solid rule of thumb that the higher the free throw rate, the more difficult the player is to guard. While I won’t dispute either player’s offensive prowess, this is just further evidence of Simmons’ ability to break down opposing defenses.

To recap, Simmons is…

… a better passer

… a better rebounder

… a better on-ball defender

… a better off-ball defender

… a more efficient scorer

… better at generating offense for his team

… less demanding of the ball

Mitchell is…

… a better high-volume, isolation scorer

… a better three-point/free-throw shooter

Those differences should be obvious, with or without the numbers listed above.

If you need further proof of the wide gap between Simmons and Mitchell then consider these “advanced” stats:

SIMMONS 20.0 4.2 5.0 9.2
MITCHELL 16.7 1.4 3.8 5.2
SIMMONS 4.6 1.0 3.6 4.6
MITCHELL 2.1 1.3 -0.2 1.1

 * WS — Win Shares (Offensive, Defensive, & Total)

* BPM — Box Plus/Minus (Offensive, Defensive, & Total)

* VORP — Value over Replacement Player

These numbers aren’t even close, and should be impossible to ignore for any reasonable observer.

I won’t go as far as saying that Mitchell’s 20ppg are “empty stats”—a la Carter-Williams—but the meager 1.4 offensive win-shares would be evidence for anyone who wants to make that argument. And while Mitchell has a higher offensive box plus-minus than Simmons (1.3 to 1.0), that is more than compensated for by the advantage Simmons has in defensive box plus-minus (3.6 to –0.2).

In fact, you could argue that the most valuable contribution either player had on either end of the floor was Simmons’ impact on defense, and we rarely hear that end of the court being included in the debate, as if basketball isn’t a two-way sport.

And if you’re one of those people who says, “Ben Simmons isn’t a rookie,” you’re an idiot, and while I shouldn’t indulge your stupidity, I can’t help myself. Ben Simmons spent one season at LSU while Mitchell spent two at Louisville. If you think it’s an advantage for him to have not played basketball for an entire year, yet, you don’t see the inherent advantage of playing an extra full season in college, then I can’t help you.

Furthermore, if you feel the need to argue that Donovan Mitchell deserves the ROY award based off of some technicality—rather than merit—then your telling me that you’re aware (even if subconsciously) that Simmons is the better basketball player.

The only thing that I find more ludicrous than suggesting that Simmons isn’t a rookie, is the suggestion that Jayson Tatum belongs in this conversation with he and Mitchell.


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