Say this much for Ben Simmons and Donovan Mitchell: Their basketball game isn’t the only thing on point. Their troll game is pretty solid, too. At the moment, they’re engaged in a rather entertaining back-and-forth over just which player should be the NBA’s rookie of the year. (Other applicants need not apply.)
Evidently, each thinks he’s The One, with the debate continuing Tuesday night. That’s when Mitchell threw significant shade at Simmons by arriving for the Utah Jazz’s game against the Golden State Warriors bedecked in an Adidas hoodie that blared the definition of the word: “rookie /ro͝okē/ noun /// An athlete, playing his or her first season as a member of a professional sports team.”
That, to no one’s surprise, was brought to the attention of Simmons after the Philadelphia 76ers’ game, and he poo-pooed the effort. “If his argument is I’m not a rookie, if that’s the only argument he has,” he said, “I’m in pretty good shape then. There’s a rule in the NBA for a reason. I’m not going to wear a sweatshirt tomorrow, though.”
Simmons tried to keep his comment light — but edgy — after the game. “No, it’s funny, it’s all love. He’s a great player,” he said (via ESPN). “If I wasn’t a rookie this year, he would’ve definitely had it. But I’m not, so …”
At issue, as Mitchell pointed out after Utah’s game, is what constitutes a rookie. Simmons was the top draft pick in the summer of 2016, but a broken foot sidelined him for the entirety of his first season in the league.
“I’ll put it in perspective for people who obviously don’t play in the NBA and don’t know the life of the NBA,” Mitchell said (via ESPN). “So, let’s say you have an exam to take on June 1 and you have a whole year to study for that exam, you’re going to get a pretty good grade on it, aren’t you? But some people may not have all that time to prepare for that exam. So, that’s how I look at it and I hope that puts it in perspective for people. But at the end of the day, we’re in the fourth seed [in the Western Conference for the playoffs]. I got the defensive player of the year and the coach of the year on my team, so I’m happy.”
Still, his wardrobe choice wasn’t lost on the Los Angeles Lakers’ Kyle Kuzma, another candidate for the award.
Early Wednesday, Mitchell had one little reply, a tweet with two emoji, a happy face with zipped lips and a shrug.
Watching with amusement from afar was Blake Griffin, who was rookie of the year after the 2010-11 season after missing all of his first NBA season with a knee injury.
This entertaining little pas de deux between Simmons and Mitchell all started when Simmons assessed his qualifications for the postseason award and dismissed all comers, like the Boston Celtics’ Jayson Tatum, the Dallas Mavericks’ Dennis Smith Jr., Kuzma and Mitchell.
“Who would I pick?” Simmons said in reply to a question from ESPN’s Chris Haynes. “Me, 100 percent. … I think I have been playing solid all year. If you look at the numbers, you will see. People who know the game know.”
Mitchell’s response to that was a tweet with a GIF that spoke volumes.
Let’s go to the numbers, not that we really want to settle this. Simmons, the No. 1 pick in the 2016 draft, is averaging 15.9 points, 8.2 rebounds and 8.2 assists per game and has had 12 triple-doubles; Mitchell, the 13th pick in the 2017 draft, is averaging 20.5 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists.
Their teams have met twice, so let’s go there. Simmons had 16 points, 13 rebounds and six assists in Philadelphia’s victory in Utah on Nov. 7; Mitchell had eight points coming in off the bench. Less than two weeks later, Mitchell was starting and he scored 17 points in Utah’s loss in Philadelphia; Simmons had 27 points, 10 rebounds and two assists.
So who’s the rookie of the year? We’ll know June 25.
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