The Case for Co-Rookie of the Year

In the 72-year history of the NBA, there have only been three occasions where the Rookie of the Year Award was a shared honor.

• 1970-71 Geoff Petrie, Portland Trailblazers & David Cowens, Boston Celtics

• 1994-95 Jason Kidd, Dallas Mavericks & Grant Hill, Detroit Pistons

• 1990-00 Steve Francis, Houston Rockets & Elton Brand, Chicago Bulls

I think it’s safe to say that we have such a scenario this year with Donovan Mitchell of the Utah Jazz and Ben Simmons of the Philadelphia 76ers should share the honor.  If Ben Simmons played during his actual “rookie” year, I don’t think anyone would argue that he would have won in a landslide against last year’s winner Malcolm Brogdon of the Milwaukee Bucks.  I’m sure if you’re reading this anyone outside of Wisconsin is asking “who the hell is he?” My point exactly.

Unfortunately, Simmons was sidelined all of 2017 and is now in a neck and neck battle with Mitchell for the highest acclaimed rookie honor. Even in the first week of May, commentators are constantly flip-flopping their pick for ROY with every sensational performance displayed by the two young stars during the 2018 playoffs. If we were to do this BCS style, we would be talking about “strength of schedule” which would give Mitchell a decided advantage coming out of the power-packed Western Conference (Western Conference regular season record 627-603; Eastern Conference regular season record 603-627). If we just went based on statistics, Simmons would win because of his ability to fill the stat sheet like a rotisserie league superstar.

While the 76ers posted an impressive 52-30 record this season in route to the third-best mark in the Eastern Conference, their 18-12 mark against the tougher Western Conference is far less impressive when you consider how well Utah has performed. Utah, led by stellar head coach Quin Snyder went 48-34 with a 34-18 record in-conference — all while losing their star forward Gordon Heyward to free agency last summer. In what was deemed a reset year, Utah defied the odds which are largely due to the emergence of Mitchell.

Ben Simmons (Left) and Donovan Mitchell (Right). Photo credit: The Sports Journal Fan

Entering into the 2017-2018 campaign, Utah was viewed as nothing more than a middle-of-the-pack situation. Although Utah finished 51-31 the year prior, many felt the departure of Heyward would push the Jazz into great uncertainty moving forward. ESPN’s Week 1 power rankings viewed the Jazz as nothing more than a 41-win team. In fact, the media networks predictions had very little to do with Mitchell.

“The departed Gordon Hayward will certainly be missed on the offensive side, but the Jazz should still boast a stout defense with Rudy Gobert in the middle. According to player tracking data, Gobert held opponents to 43.8 percent shooting at the rim last season, the lowest field goal percentage allowed at the rim (minimum 300 attempts at the rim).”

While the arrow pointed down for Utah, Philadelphia entered the season with great promise if their young core could finally prove they are capable of staying healthy — something that is still a major concern (*cough cough… Markelle Fultz). While the No. 1 pick in the 2017 draft Fultz has barely played this season due to injuries and shooting woes, the 76ers far exceeded modest expectations from media outlets entering into the season. Bleacher Report and ESPN had Philadelphia ranked No. 18 and No. 20 respectively during week 1 of the season. Both outlets cited injury concerns for the low placement, however, there was a theme in place that if healthy, this team could exceed expectations, which is exactly what they accomplished.

The last time a Rookie of the Year honor was shared came at the conclusion of the 1999-2000 NBA season. Chicago’s Elton Brand and Houston’s Steve Francis shared the honor, which similar to Simmons and Mitchell, was a close call. Brand averaged 20 points, 10 rebounds, and 1.9 assists. On the other hand, Francis quickly became one of the most respected guards in the Association posting 18 points, 6.6 assists, and 5.3 assists. Having the two stars share the award was clearly the right move. With Simmons and Mitchell both extremely hopeful for the honor, why overthink this? Let the future superstars share a brilliant season together!