June 25, 2018
Despite having to wait an insane amount of time to learn the result most sane people expected months ago, the inevitable has finally happened. Ben Simmons beat out Donovan Mitchell for the 2018 Rookie of the Year award, despite the
insistent complaining from Mitchell targeted marketing campaign from adidas meant to tilt the award toward the Utah rookie.
Seeing as this is a regular season award, there was really no other choice. With averages of 15.8 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 8.2 assists per game, on top of stellar defensive contributions all over the court, Simmons was one of the driving forces behind Philadelphia's massive leap this past season. Though he lagged behind Mitchell (and other peers like Jayson Tatum) as a scorer, his all-around case was ultimately tough to top.
Philadelphia's top rookie should probably feel fortunate that ballots are submitted at the end of the regular season rather than the playoffs, however, because Simmons ended his first year in rather inglorious fashion. Boston exposed the degree to which his jump shot is a problem moving forward, while Mitchell went down swinging against an elite Houston Rockets team.
Still, there's nothing for Simmons to hang his head about considering the year he had. With averages of 15.8 points, 8.1 rebounds, 8.2 assists and 1.7 steals per game — Simmons led all rookies in the final three categories — Simmons became the second rookie ever to average at least 15-8-8 over a full season, joining the great Oscar Robertson. He quickly rose up the Sixers' franchise list in triple-doubles for a career, and became just the fifth rookie in NBA history to put up a triple-double in a playoff game in a performance on April 21 against the Heat.
Simmons also took his chance to prove he was not just a product of Joel Embiid and ran with it to end the regular season. With Embiid on the shelf due to injury, Philadelphia unleased a quicker, high-flying style in the big man's absence, and that successful stretch run was empowered by the class' top rookie. The Sixers never would have succeeded to the degree they did in 2017-18 if not for Simmons' ability to adapt between styles and contribute even with his current limitations.
And really, the historic comparisons are the sort of stakes we're talking about when we discuss the work Simmons has ahead of him. The hardware and the numbers are nice, and production in a winning context at such a young age is often an indicator of sustained future success.
But because Simmons was exceptional by every definition of the word, the focus shifts on comparisons to players who tilt the league with their impact, rather than rookies who stand out only when compared to players their age.
That's a much steeper hill to climb, as we saw in the aforementioned Celtics series. With the Sixers winning in the regular season and Simmons producing, it was easy to glance past the flaw that limits him against top teams. But whether Philadelphia brings in a marquee free agent or not, he will have to prove he can perform at a high level in a playoff setting, and that will depend heavily on the progress he makes as a shooter between now and training camp.
Simmons has earned the benefit of the doubt for the time being, with his overall skill package reflecting hours upon hours of work to refine his natural gifts. But the real work lies ahead, and the fate of Philadelphia's ascent may end up hinging on his ability to expand the range. No pressure, kid.
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