Aussies in NBA: Ben Simmons favourite for Rookie of the Year

Nov 29, 2017; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers guard Ben Simmons (25) shoots a foul shot during the fourth quarter against the Washington Wizards at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Australia now has a genuine NBA superstar to get behind as Ben Simmons has enjoyed a magnificent debut season for the Philadelphia 76ers.

The 21-year-old point guard, from Melbourne, is the overwhelming favourite to claim the Rookie of the Year title ahead of the impressive Donovan Mitchell. Simmons has enjoyed the best rookie season since the legendary LeBron James, and he looks like a future All-Star in the making after becoming the just the second player ever to register 10 triple-doubles in his debut campaign. And he owes a lot of his success to playing footy while growing up in Victoria.

Simmons won the Best and Fairest award in the Yarra Junior Football League aged 14 when playing ruckman for Beverley Hills Junior Football Club. AFL pro Christian Petracca saw him in action and insisted he would have been a top five draft pick, had he stuck with football. But instead, he chose to focus on basketball and ended up as the number one draft pick for the NBA.

Now in his debut season, he is living up the hype, and statistically he is streets ahead of his Aussie counterparts in the league.

The 6-foot-10 point guard has a player efficiency rating of 19.4 for the season, putting him well ahead of Mitchell as the leading rookie of the year in this metric. He has recorded 16.1 points per game, 7.8 rebounds and 7.9 assists, a similar set of stats to those enjoyed by Magic Johnson in his first season in the NBA. Simmons has the talent to go on and rival Johnson as the best point guard of all time, and he believes he is on his way to the very summit of the game. “I want to be the greatest to play the game,” he said in a recent interview. “It’s going to take a lot of work, but I believe I can get there.”

He is well ahead of compatriots like Andrew Bogut, Aron Baynes and Thon Maker. This also includes fellow countryman Patty Mills, who started as point guard for the San Antonio Spurs this season. Mills has an efficiency rating of 12, with 9.6 points per game, 1.9 rebounds and 2.7 assists, statistics that pale in comparison to Simmons’. The closest Australian to him (unless you count Kyrie Irving, who moved from Melbourne to New Jersey aged two) is Joe Ingles, who plays alongside Mitchell at the ever-improving Utah Jazz. Ingles has a player efficiency rating of 14, with 11.4 points, 4.2 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game. Ingles is a good player, but he is not mentioned in the same breath as Simmons.

It is an extremely exciting time to be a 76ers fan. They have built up arguably the best young roster in the league, and it is already starting to bear fruit. Simmons has formed a dynamic partnership with 24-year-old Joel Embiid, who has already achieved All-Star status and is fast emerging as one of the best players in the world. There is also Markelle Fultz, the number one draft pick of 2017 (Simmons was drafted number one in 2016, but sat out that season with an injury), and further exciting young talent, so they should go on to potentially dominate in years to come. The Boston Celtics also have a strong young team, but Philadelphia can eclipse them.

The 76ers are starting to gel into an effective unit, and the bookmakers believe they have an outside chance of glory this year. The Sixers have gone 7-3 in their last 10 games to shoot up to fourth in the Eastern Conference, and they are now just two wins behind Cleveland, the winners of the east for the last three years. At this rate they will secure an advantageous playoff run and they could really upset the likes of Boston, Cleveland and Toronto in the post-season. Simmons will be at the heart of it all.

The instincts and combative nature required to excel at footy have served him well in the NBA, and he is a terrifying prospect to face. He is typically the longest and strongest in the scrum, he reads the movement of the game brilliantly and his vision is superb, so he often links play in virtuoso fashion. He scored a career-high 32 points as the 76ers beat the Bulls 116–115 last month, making two free throws with 5.6 seconds left to complete the Sixers’ superb rally from five points down in the final minute. He has been devastating offensively, and he is also an excellent defender.

His poise and maturity for one so young are remarkable; Simmons looks to have a very bright future ahead of him.

The Pick and Roll Team

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The Pick and Roll was founded in 2014, and continues to strive to be the best platform for you, when it comes to Australian basketball news and features.

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