We Asked NBA Experts To Weigh In On The Rookie Of The Year Race

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Award debates have started to heat up across NBA circles. In an interesting twist, though, the debate over the league MVP doesn’t seem especially controversial — it seems like Rockets star James Harden is in line to take home the award for the first time in his wildly productive career.

But in recent weeks, the Rookie of the Year race has become fascinating. On one hand, we have Ben Simmons, who was viewed as a frontrunner coming into the season and has looked the part all year long. On the other, we have Donovan Mitchell, who has turned into the go-to offensive option for a Utah squad with postseason aspirations.

We decided to poll a number of people around the NBA — players, writers, analysts, and more — to get a sense of where the race is right now, and which player would get the award if the season ended today.

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David Griffin (@dg_riff) – Former Cleveland Cavaliers GM and current SiriusXM NBA host

I think I would go Donovan Mitchell and Ben Simmons as Jason Kidd and Grant Hill once were, co-ROY. Simmons had the benefit of a redshirt year and, at that age, getting NBA strength training and nutrition in addition to any skills development he got to do before the foot issue is just an enormous advantage.

Jorge Sedano (@SedanoESPN) – ESPN Los Angeles host, SportsCenter contributor

Donovan Mitchell. Carrying a team in a tougher conference. Not to mention he’s missed Gobert for about a third of the current season.

He came in as someone we anticipated being a defender first and he’s completely changed that narrative. His scoring numbers have been tremendous. Though, Simmons’ defensive metrics are higher. I don’t believe defensive metrics are as reliable as offensive metrics, too hard to isolate individual impact. Mitchell has held his own taking on the assignment of the best guards on the opposing team.

[Mitchell] was Rookie of Month in December and January, and his February numbers are even better. Should be three straight months, so that puts him in the lead, in my opinion.

Taylor Rooks (@TaylorRooks) – SportsNet New York anchor and host

My pick for Rookie of the Year would be Ben Simmons. It’s a bit of a no-brainer, in my opinion. Donovan Mitchell has been having a crazy year, he’s truly impressive. He’s a true talent.

But Simmons is putting up astounding numbers with his size at the point guard position. He’s carrying a team that many have doubted since the beginning of the year. He creates for this team, he’s versatile, and I just think he’s a fantastic all-around player.

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Ryan Hollins (@TheRyanHollins) – Former NBA player, ESPN personality

I’d pick Donovan Mitchell in a landslide. Mitchell has become the franchise player for the Jazz. He made Rodney Hood, who’s a baller, expendable. Simmons isn’t even the best on his own team.

Rob Perez (@World_Wide_Wob) – Co-host of Cycle and ESPN’s “Buckets”

Ben Simmons because he’s already breaking triple-double records and he hasn’t even played a full season yet. Also, that team would fall apart without him, which I can’t say the same for Donovan Mitchell or Jayson Tatum.

Unnamed Western Conference Player No. 1

I think Mitchell. Just the winning component, getting hot at the right time, them winning all those games in a row. And it feels different with him kind of “coming out of nowhere.”

Brandon Armstrong (@BDotADot5) – NBA impersonator

Simmons. It’s self explanatory, numbers don’t lie. Only way Mitchell wins is if he was able to do what [Russell Westbrook] did last year to beat Harden for MVP. He has great numbers, but not as great as Ben Simmons. Mitchell would literally have to average a triple-double and lock down the fifth seed for him to win it.

Brian Scalabrine (@Scalabrine) – Former NBA and current BIG3 player, Celtics TV and SiriusXM NBA host

Simmons, enough said.

Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) – Sports Illustrated writer

Ben Simmons. Despite his flaws as a shooter, he’s been a better and more productive all-around player than Mitchell and a key driver of Philadelphia’s team success. He makes the Sixers better on both sides of the ball, he presents match-up issues on a nightly basis, and he’s teamed with Embiid to lead a Sixers team that is younger and less talented than the Jazz to a better record to date. If you need one basket or a six-minute scoring flurry, Mitchell is the guy. If you need to win as many 48 minute games as possible in an 82 game season, the choice is Simmons.

Cassidy Hubbarth (@CassidyHubbarth) – Host and reporter for ESPN, co-host of “Buckets”

It’s really close for me. The last month and a half, no rookie has played better than Donovan Mitchell, but I’ll still go with Simmons because he has a bigger body of work this season. Plus the Sixers are a playoff team and he has a huge part to do with that.

Sopan Deb (@SopanDeb) – New York Times culture writer

Ben Simmons is Rookie of the Year and I don’t see it as that close. There’s just too much distance in the stats. Yes, Michell is scoring a few more points per game, but even the efficiency gap isn’t there. Simmons’ True Shooting percentage is .548, compared to Mitchell’s .544. Outside of that, Simmons is a significantly better passer (to be expected as a point guard) and rebounder. Even the advanced stats — VORP, BPM, DBPM, Win Shares, and PER — all favor Simmons.

And I cringe at using this metric, but the 76ers are the better team in a year when the gap between the East and West has closed. There’s just not a credible argument to make to name Mitchell as Rookie of the Year, even though he’s an incredible player with a great career ahead of him.

Unnamed NBA Executive

Before the season, I think most general managers would’ve taken Simmons over Mitchell for their team. That may still be true. But you can’t write off what Mitchell has done. He’s been tremendous for a team that lost their best player for a third of the season. If I were to give the award today, it would be tough not to do a co-ROY with these two. They’re both great in their own ways.

Xavier Silas (@XavierSilas) – Northern Arizona Suns and BIG3 Player

Donovan Mitchell. He’s doing stuff that no rookie has ever done.

Andy Bailey (@AndrewDBailey) – NBA and breaking news writer for Bleacher Report

Donovan Mitchell is closing the gap, but Ben Simmons is still my Rookie of the Year. He’s part of one of the best five-man lineups in the NBA. In fact, no lineup with as many minutes outscores opponents by more points per 100 possessions than Philly’s starters. The 76ers are surging into the playoffs. And the only players in NBA history who had seasons with at least as many points, rebounds, assists, and steals per game are Fat Lever, Magic Johnson, Russell Westbrook, and Michael Jordan. None of those guys did it as rookies.

Unnnamed NBA Assistant Coach

Donovan Mitchell. Best player on their team. Doing what he’s doing in the West. Overall, he’s had a bigger impact on his team.

Chris Broussard (@Chris_Broussard) – FS1 reporter and analyst

It’s very close. I couldn’t fault people for voting for Mitchell, but I would, at this point, vote for Simmons because he’s been consistently good all year, from day one, while quarterbacking a playoff team.

Marcus Thompson (@ThompsonScribe) – Author of GOLDEN and columnist at The Athletic Bay Area

Donovan Mitchell, only because Ben Simmons had a year to work on his body and gets to play with Joel Embiid, and Mitchell is all but carrying the Jazz into the playoffs in the West.

Coach Nick (@bballbreakdown) – BBallbreakdown

My heart wants to pick Donovan Mitchell, who’s played like a veteran and is becoming the Jazz’s go-to guy in the clutch. He’s scoring almost 20 a game and filling out the rest of the stat sheet nicely. But my brain tells me that Ben Simmons is having the better year overall. His effect on both ends of the ball is profound and the Sixers are winning. The only asterisk I’d add is that he had a lot more time to train during the year he didn’t play while Mitchell was in college.

But my brain has to win in this scenario, and I’m going with Simmons.

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Brent Barry (@barryathree) – Former NBA player and current NBATV analyst

Ben has a slight lead. He just has too many areas of impact and efficiency, but lots of important games to go.

Unnamed Western Conference player No. 2

Mitchell. He’s one of the toughest players to defend and he plays like a veteran.

Justin Termine (@TermineRadio) – SIRIRUSXM NBA Host

Simmons. I had the chance to speak to just about all the players participating in the Rising Stars Challenge over All-Star Weekend, and they overwhelmingly chose Mitchell when asked to choose between Mitchell and Simmons as their Rookie of the Year. Many of those asked pointed to Mitchell’s offensive explosion, fourth quarter heroics, and his need to be the go-to option on a team contending for the playoffs as their reasoning.

While I agree with their assessment of his strengths, I still lean slightly in the direction of Simmons. We’ve seen players like Donovan Mitchell before. We haven’t seen many like Simmons. If he maintains his current averages in points, rebounds, and assists, he’ll join Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson as the only rookies in NBA history to average at least 16.7 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 7.3 assists per game. Oscar and Magic aren’t top-50 players, or top-25 players, or top-15 players. They’re both top-10, and possibly top-5, players of all-time. When you’re in that type of company, it’s hard not to be the front-runner for Rookie of the Year.

Josh Eberley (@JoshEberley) – NBA’s HoopMag Writer

It’s a conundrum, the push for Donovan Mitchell is real. There’s a feel that people want him to win this award and as the Jazz continue to build on an excellent 2018, the narrative is caving into his actual performance, which has been superb. He’s averaging 22.1 PPG since Jan. 1 and with Rudy Gobert back in the lineup, the Jazz are looking a lot more like a legitimate playoff unit.

All that said, at this moment, I still think you have to give it to Ben Simmons. The Philadelphia 76ers are already a playoff squad. Simmons, despite owning very real flaws as a scorer, has invigorated a team that lacks secondary creators. A stat line of roughly 17-8-7 is extremely impressive for a rookie and it’s not just empty numbers chalked up during some fruitless campaign. I know that Simmons being an unnatural rookie rubs some people the wrong way, but for what it’s worth, he’s only a couple months older than Mitchell.

Final tally:

Ben Simmons: 13 votes
Donovan Mitchell: Seven votes
Co-ROY: Two votes