In every friendship, there are agreements and disagreements. For Nawaaz, co-founder of Ball Takes and myself, we tend to disagree more often than we agree. We’ve been having our latest disagreement for over a month now. He’s been saying, ‘let’s not kid ourselves, it’s Ben Simmons and then the rest.’ And so, I felt compelled, on this rainy afternoon in Los Angeles, to shed some light on this ongoing debate in support of terrific Jazz SG Donovan Mitchell.
Let’s start with Ben Simmons. Every time I watch Simmons run the 76ers offense, I wonder, how much of his success can be attributed to the likes of Joel Embiid. While people often compare Lakers PG Lonzo Ball to Simmons, they quickly dismiss the idea of it being Lonzo’s rookie year and the progression he’s made since the beginning of the season. Lonzo started slow but has really started to come on, but I digress. Simmons has had a whole season to watch the game up close and to get acclimated to the NBA life. Now don’t get me wrong – Ben Simmons is averaging 16.9 Pts, 8.4 Reb and 7.5 Ast. I know he’s an elite rookie, and a great basketball player. But what so many people seem to forget is that Simmons has a great surrounding cast. When SF Robert Covington and SG JJ Redick are playing well, Ben Simmons can easily spread the ball out to two guys who are currently averaging 36% and 41.4%, respectively from 3 point range. In my opinion, it would be fairly easy to rack up assists, when your players are so skilled at making shots. When you’re playing with the likes of Joel Embiid, it makes your job that much easier. He’s got great range, great hands, and can finish from nearly anywhere. If you contrast that to the Lakers, you’re looking at a team that is dead last in three point percentage and don’t really have any threat to score at an efficient rate.
According to Ben Golliver, of SI, “If Embiid plays 27 minutes or fewer this season, the Sixers are 4–11. That’s as clear as it gets. If he’s on the court, they win games at a 70% clip. If he’s off, they basically lose no matter what. If Philly is going to make the playoffs, Embiid has to be on the court. It’s as simple as that.”
What the Sixers need is a guy who can fill the gap when Embiid is not on the court. And Ben Simmons doesn’t bring to the table what Embiid does. Sure, they play different positions, but does Simmons truly make any of his teammates that much better?
On the other hand, Donovan Mitchell, is currently averaging 18.5 Pts, 3.3 Reb, 3.4 Ast. The argument against Mitchell is that he’s a volume shooter. But I think his game is just starting to come together. Since November 1st, Mitchell is shooting 45% from the field and is averaging 20.5 Pts. Since December 1st, he’s upped that to 22.9 Pts on 49.3% shooting. He isn’t necessarily surrounded by the elite talent of an Embiid, at least offensively, but he has put the Jazz on his back and has been their primary scorer and their go-to-guy late in games. Not taking anything away from Simmons, but Simmons can’t be relied upon late in games as much because he’s not a great free throw shooter and just a poor shooter overall, though credit to him, he doesn’t take many shots he can’t make. Simmons must get into the lane or pass the ball, which can make Philly’s offense a bit more stagnant when the opposing team is really clamping down on him late. I think Mitchell is continuing to surprise everyone, and in my opinion, will overtake Simmons and become the Rookie Of the Year.