As the dust continues to settle from the 2018 NBA draft, the attention of the basketball universe will now turn to the individual awards yet to be handed out from the 2017-18 regular season. For the second year running, the NBA will roll out the red carpet for a special awards ceremony to be held at Barker Hanger, in Santa Monica, California.
From an Australian perspective, the night will hold special significance, as phenomenal Melbourne local, Ben Simmons, will go in as a tentative favourite for NBA Rookie of the Year honours. Simmons, the second Australian to be selected first overall in the NBA draft after Andrew Bogut, would be the first ever Australian to receive the award. Three young stars have been nominated for Rookie of the Year, the other two being Utah's Donovan Mitchell and Boston's Jayson Tatum.
Simmons had an astonishing debut season in the NBA, averaging 15.8 points, 8.1 rebounds and 8.2 assists, leading the Sixers to their first 50-win season since 2000-01.
Those numbers certainly look good in isolation, but when placed in comparison with historical NBA records, you begin to realise how absurd Simmons' performance was. Per basketball reference, Simmons joins Michael Jordon, LeBron James, Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson, James Harden and Russell Westbrook as the only players to ever average those numbers over a full NBA campaign - pretty damn good company.
There has only ever been one before Simmons to record those numbers as rookie: Oscar Robertson.
Much has been made about Simmons eligibility for the award, as of course he has been in the NBA system for two seasons now. Rules stipulate that players retain rookie status until they hit the floor in a regular season contest, and with Simmons missing his entire first year with varying injuries, the argument becomes moot. The latest example of this situation playing out was 2011, when Los Angeles Clipper Blake Griffin took out the award despite being drafted in 2009.
Per ESPN's Chris Haynes, Simmons major rival for the award, Donovan Mitchell shared his thoughts on the rookie controversy.
"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?" Mitchell said. "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."
In his recent chat with The Pick and Roll, Andrew Bogut left absolutely no doubt as to who he believes deserves the major honour.
"People think I’m biased but there’s no doubt in my mind," Bogut said. "Unfortunately [for Donovan Mitchell] it’s voted on regular season, because he arguably had a better playoffs. Simmons almost averaged a triple-double in his rookie season so I think a lot of media people have tried to make it closer than it really is. I think it’s Ben Simmons, [then] Donovan Mitchell a couple spaces below and everybody else."
Bogut's stance comes as no surprise, as he's singled Simmons out as the most talented Australian in NBA history previously.
A constant call to arms from Simmons detractors during the season, was his lack of a jump shot in a league that is undoubtedly becoming a shooter's paradise. Simmons failed to connect on a single shot from beyond the arc in his minuscule eleven attempts. Even more incredible, is the fact that only two of those were legit 3-point attempts, as nine of those shots game from beyond 35 feet.
Bogut scoffed at those detractors, pointing to the attention Simmons attracts by simply having the ball in his possession.
"I think [a lot of] people with the best jump shot in the world would take those stats," Bogut explained. "He’s got some flaws in his game, but it’s his rookie season, you don’t want him to be a guy that is shooting jumpers all game in my opinion."
That opinion flies in the face of modern day analytics, but it's important point to note the players Philadelphia surrounded Simmons with when he was on the floor.
"All he needs to do is knock down [one three] a game then he keeps that shot respectable," Bogut continued. "His strength is putting pressure on the defense, putting them on their heels, drawing and kicking. You’ve got [Robert] Covington, JJ [Redick] and [Marco] Belinelli popping threes. If he’s all of a sudden shooting jumpers then the team balance goes out the window. I think he’ll improve it a little bit, but it’s not the end of the world if he’s not shooting ten jumpers a game."
Simmons and the Sixers are in an enviable position right now. With Simmons and superstar big man Joel Embiid, they have the cornerstone pieces required to contend for Eastern Conference supremacy. With NBA free agency set to kick off in July, Philly is expected to make a solid attempt at landing superstars LeBron James or Kawhi Leonard in the coming weeks.
If they are indeed able to make a significant free agent acquisition, the prized recruit will join Embiid and Rookie of the Year Ben Simmons. Because make no mistake, Simmons will be accepting the accolade. His debut season in the NBA was historic on a number of levels, and for the first time ever, Australia will crown its NBA Rookie of the Year.
The 2018 NBA awards show will be held on Tuesday the 26th of June, at 11am (AEST).