There are currently two rookies who have separated themselves from the rest of the first-year players in the NBA. There is Donovan Mitchell, who has been absolute dynamite for the Utah Jazz this year. There is also Ben Simmons, who in a few months should be named the 2017-18 NBA Rookie of the Year in a race that isn’t especially close.
To be 100 percent clear, this is not meant to be an indictment against Mitchell at all. It cannot be stressed enough just how good he is — if we did a 2017 redraft, Mitchell is a top-3 pick and you can make a case that he deserves to go No. 1 overall. He is also, depending on how you view Rudy Gobert, the best player on a Jazz squad that is likely going to make the postseason.
This is ultimately what the ROY race comes down to: Should Mitchell’s status as the No. 1 option on the 44-33 Jazz squad be viewed as more important than Simmons’ status as, basically, the No. 1A option on the 46-30 Sixers?
The answer, of course, is “this argument is dishonest.” Obviously the Jazz are not in the position they are in without Mitchell going supernova this season, especially with Gobert missing 26 games this year. Utah also went 11-15 in those games, and 10-14 in the Gobert-less games where Mitchell played (12-15 if you want to say he missed essentially 27 games when Gobert played two minutes against Boston on Dec. 15 before getting hurt, which is fair).
You can make an strong argument that, in the wake of Gordon Hayward leaving in free agency, the Jazz should have been worse than 10-14 in games he played without Gobert, which is a feather in the Rookie of the Year cap Mitchell is wearing. You also cannot with any certainty say that would have happened. All we know are the facts of the matter, and the facts indicate that the Jazz would have been about a 34-win team over the course of a full season if we extrapolate that 24-game sample out over a full year.
The Sixers, meanwhile, have been 4-8 without their No. 1 option, Joel Embiid. All of those games have been played with Simmons in the lineup. The Sixers would have been a 27-win team if that happened over the course of a full year, although with Embiid sidelined until the postseason, that is going to change one way or the other. Besides, Philly has learned how to play like a playoff team with Simmons while Embiid is resting or sidelined.