First of all, Ben Simmions is a justifiable and worthy odds-on favorite for the Rookie of the Year award. William Hill has him at -2000 to win it, and only a season-ending injury stands between him and the Eddie Gottlieb Trophy.
The position-less Aussie has bypassed all of the usual hurdles for a player in his first season in the league to look like a 10-year veteran.
For a moment, though, let’s imagine Simmions was able to suit up last season and ran away with the 2016-17 version of the award instead.
We’d have one of the great ROY races on our hands right now.
Lonzo Ball, Jayson Tatum, Kyle Kuzma, Dennis Smith and my current clear-cut No. 2 for 2017-18, Donovan Mitchell, would be battling it out all season long.
Mitchell is on the third line of betting (along with Jayson Tatum) at +1400, although any other year he’d be a lot closer to +500 if a certain 2016 draftee wasn’t around.
The Jazz guard hasn’t always been in the conversation.
Most books didn’t even have him as an option during the preseason, but he has since worked his way into consideration on the back of an impressive six weeks of force-fed opportunities.
After a scratchy start in which he shot 1-for-7 in three of his first five games, the 21-year-old started to find his feet. A 28-point game here and a 25-point game there gave us a taste of what he was capable of over the first month of his career.
Little did we know Mitchell would be serving up remarkable performances so regularly before Christmas of his rookie year.
Drawing comparisons to a young Dwyane Wade, Mitchell has generated national attention in the last month. He’s averaged 21.5 points on 47.9 percent from the field and 41.1 percent from beyond the arc in his last 13 games. He’s shown an ability to adjust on a game-by-game basis, and plays with a gumption that verges on arrogant given how little time he’s spent in the league.
Mitchell already has a menu of scoring options at his disposal, which has allowed him to score no matter who he’s matched up against.
Here, the Joe Ingles screen switches him onto the bigger and stronger LeBron James. Unperturbed, Mitchell uses his speed to blow right by the 11-time All-NBA First Team forward.
Knowing Mitchell can get to the basket with relative ease, defenders have to sag off him. This time, he gets some separation from the Jonas Jerebko screen and shoots right over the top of the 6-foot-8 James to drain the 30-footer.
December appears to be the calendar month that will force ROY voters to make room for Mitchell in the conversation. Highlighted by a 41-point outing against the Pelicans, Mitchell is now mentioned alongside Allen Iverson, Michael Jordan and LeBron James as the only four players to post at least three 30-point games in December as a rookie.
Now 31 games into his career, we’re approaching rookie wall territory. Whether you believe in it or not, it’s always interesting to see how a young player navigates the long and drawn-out middle months of the NBA season.
Right now, Mitchell is trending upwards, and with that, opposing coaches will start scheming against him and forcing him into uncomfortable situations he might not have been exposed to before.
But if he can continue to improve and creep up and over 20 points per game while shooting close to 40 percent on 3-pointers like he has been recently, who’s to say he doesn’t steal a first-place vote or two?
He’d already be getting Chris Paul’s.
Chris Paul told me Donovan Mitchell has his vote for the Rookie of the Year! He loves his game, and told me he will have a long career. @spidadmitchell
— kristen kenney (@kristenkenney) December 19, 2017
A “vote or two” isn’t making anybody money on the futures market if Simmons is on the ballot. He’s got the award sewn up and rightly so. But like the Rockets being in the discussion as potential NBA champions against the equally as dominant Warriors, Mitchell deserves to have his name mentioned alongside Simmons.
All odds provided by William Hill as of 12/19
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