By Eduardo Monk Jr
The 76ers have had it ugly with the “Process” so far and their recent first round picks. In the past 3 years and with the 4 top picks (Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor) they had on their roster, only 53 games were played between them. And all 53 were from Okafor. Not to mention this year’s first overall Markelle Fultz went down with a sprained ankle in his first Summer League game. And so far, only Embiid was seriously considered for the prestigious Rookie of the Year award.
For a team with so much hype going into this season because of their young talent, it’s interesting that none of that young talent has succeeded up to now. Okafor turned out to be an average center, Fultz already suffered an injury, Noel isn’t even on the roster anymore, Embiid has played in 31 career games (albeit a brilliant 31 games) and Simmons has yet to even appear in a game.
But that’s not all we’re talking about today, folks. What we’re looking at is Ben Simmons and how he fares in his chances for the Rookie of the Year award.
Remember kids, since he hasn’t played in an NBA game yet he’s still a rookie. That means he is eligible to win the award. But after a draft so loaded with potential superstars, is he even going to be in consideration for it?
But truth be told, he has strong chances to pull this off.
Simmons came out off an underwhelming 19-14 season with LSU that ended without a March Madness bid but was still by far the best player in the 2016 draft. He possesses elite explosiveness, breathtaking athleticism and body control that few with a 6’10’’, 240-pound frame have. He has the passing and ball handling of a point guard and the post moves and shot blocking ability of a center. He’s the full package with play similar to a young LeBron James. With some more refining to his jump shot (which has obviously improved by miles over the offseason), only injury stands in his way of being a superstar.
If he played this past season and in such an incredibly weak rookie class, he would undoubtedly beat out Milwaukee’s Malcolm Brogdon for the Rookie of the Year award. With his skill set and how high of a level those skills are on, he possibly could have even been an All-Star in the East.
However coming into this year, he has a lot going against him to bring in the award. This draft is already appearing to be historically great and players who would win the award in any other year won’t even be finalists at the end of the season.
But with his talent level, I only see three players being able to win it over him- Boston’s Jayson Tatum, 76ers teammate Markelle Fultz and the Laker’s Lonzo Ball. And yes, I do not think Sacramento’s De’Aaron Fox can beat out Simmons for the award even though I am personally pretty high on him. So to really gauge his chances, let’s throw each one against Simmons and decide whether Simmons can win ROY over them or not.
Rival number 1: Jayson Tatum, Boston
Tatum is easily the most polished offensive prospect coming into this year. There’s little doubt he will lead all rookie scorers with his bag of tricks that is deeper than Santa’s bag of presents. He has already put this ability on full display in the Summer League with 18.7 points on 46.8% shooting in the three games played. He’s a player who could be able to average 30 points a night with ease one day.
Simmons may not be a volume scorer on the levels of Tatum but when Simmons wants to score, he can in any way he wants. His explosiveness, creativity and body control rival even Tatum. And with a jump shot that has grown leaps and bounds since college, Simmons has the capacity to nip at the Celtic’s heels for the scoring lead all season.
But where Simmons puts himself above his versatility. While Tatum’s impact on the court comes from his scoring touch, Simmons can take over a game in many more ways than one. He can pass and run an offense like a point guard, lock down the paint and rebound like a center and can still take on a volume scoring role if need be.
It’s Simmons stat-stuffing ability and Tatum’s lack of versatility that puts Simmons well above the Celtic in the Rookie of the Year race.
Rival number 2: Lonzo Ball, Lakers
Ball hasn’t had the best showing in the Summer League so far, however, all the talent is there to be an All-Star one day. He’s a pure point guard with some good size. He is a top-notch passer and can spark an offense through that sole talent. If an offense is an engine, Ball is the oil that makes everything run smoothly. Few rookies come into the league flaunting this ability so prevalently.
But what puts him out of the conversation against Simmons is his lack of doing anything else. His abnormal size for a point guard allows him to rebounds better than most but aside from that, he doesn’t have any other exciting features to him. Like I have been gushing about this whole article, Simmons is wickedly versatile and can run an offense almost as well as Ball while being able to score, defend and rebound. Ball was never much of a candidate for the award even without Simmons in the conversation.
Rival Number 3: Markelle Fultz, Philadelphia
This is where things get a little more difficult for Simmons. While his versatility is what puts him above all other rookies but his own teammate matches that versatility, he may even be a little better. He may not be a top-tier rebounder like Simmons but he doesn’t have to be at the point guard position. Fultz can score as well as Simmons despite the comparative size difference, he’s just as explosive and is just as athletic.
As of right now, if Fultz can make a full return to the court, Simmons may not be able to beat him out. His NBA-ready skill set and a domination trait that rookies don’t tend to possess this early and that’s where Simmons may start to crack. His versatility is more than good enough to win in almost any other year but this may be a case of not losing because he didn’t do enough but a matter of not winning because his opponent was just too good.
It’s hard to predict how a rookie coming off an entire misses season will fare, or any player for that matter, but his youth is what is going to help him fully rebound. Fultz is generational talent and even the mighty Ben Simmons may not be able to keep up.
But no matter what, it’s the 76ers who will ultimately win in the end. Having two Rookie of the Year candidates is always a great sign for a franchise going forward.
And in the end, no matter who wins, this Rookie of the Year race is going to be the best we have seen in decades. So strap in, folks. This race is probably going to be more interesting than the actual teams competing for the Finals.