Let’s not kid ourselves. This past week, NBA.com posted their KIA Rookie Ladder and there was a new Number 1, Donovan Mitchell. I realize that he had a big week and has had a HUGE month thus far. He started the month scoring 41 points on December 1 in a big win over the Pelicans, and has followed it up with solid efforts since. Mitchell has increased his scoring average and shooting percentages, every month of the season so far, going from 9.3ppg 32.9% fg in October to 18.1ppg 41.3% fg in November, to a ridiculous 25.8ppg 49.4% fg in December. His 3 point shooting has increased each month as well, and now sits at an impressive 37%.
Mitchell has really helped fill the void left by the departing Gordon Hayward and has been the Jazz’s top scorer this year. His play combines just scoring with great highlight reel material as well and is in contention to compete in this year’s Slam Dunk Competition. The future is very bright for Mitchell and it goes without saying that at 13, the Jazz got themselves a steal and a potential franchise player.
As great of a few weeks as Mitchell has had, has he done enough to dethrone Ben Simmons? Statistically, this has been Simmons’ worst month so far. His scoring is down to 13.9ppg, his rebounds are down to 7.6rpg, and his turnovers are up to a whopping 4.7 per game. While Simmons still shoots a good percentage and his assist numbers are actually up (9.6apg in December), he hasn’t been the same player that took the league by storm to start his rookie campaign. There may be a few things contributing to Simmons hitting the “rookie wall”. Perhaps he’s being fatigued as he’s playing over 40 minutes per game in December and physical fatigue can make a player more careless with the basketball, leading to higher turnover numbers. It can also affect a player’s drive to rebound it as effectively. Perhaps he’s hit mental fatigue, having missed an entire season and now having to be the point guard for a team that is fighting for a playoff spot (I know it’s early but Philly does not want to fall too far back). Or perhaps he’s just hitting the aforementioned rookie wall and just needs to fight through it.
It’s tough to know, but what I do know is that Simmons is still the top rookie in the league so far. I’m not saying that Donovan Mitchell can’t make a run at rookie of the year, but Simmons is still far and away the best rookie so far. He’s top 3 in rookie points, assists, rebounds, steals, field goal percentage, double-doubles, and triple-doubles. His impact on the entire game, both offensively and defensively need to be considered. Simmons is currently 8th in the entire NBA in defensive win shares (1.5) which is impressive for a rookie considering the load he carries offensively as well. Simmons has put together a great 3 month stretch to start the year and while he might not make the highlights quite as often as Mitchell, his overall play should keep him at number 1.
Maybe NBA.com is much like the average fan and looks at scoring numbers, and maybe there is a bit of Ben Simmons fatigue – similar to voter fatigue where you don’t like to vote for the same person over and over again. Either way, maybe Mitchell’s time as best rookie this season will come, but it’s still Ben Simmons’ crown, and he isn’t giving it up without a fight.