Simmons elevating game to Magic levels
WITH 10 days left in the NBA regular season, play-off seeding in both conferences is still very much up for grabs.
The Rookie of the Year race, however, is over.
Aussie Philadelphia 76ers star Ben Simmons and Donovan Mitchell of the Utah Jazz have been jockeying for top rookie all season. Simmons received most of the attention early on before Mitchell surged in the middle of the campaign.
Both 21-year-olds have assumed leadership on their teams, both are guiding teams to unexpected play-off berths and both appear in nightly highlights packages.
But over the last several weeks, Simmons has elevated his game to a level not seen from a rookie since perhaps Magic Johnson, nearly 40 years ago.
"It's getting a lot easier reading the plays and how guys will play with me and how they cut, where they want to get their shots from," Simmons said after collecting 20 points, 15 assists and eight rebounds in the weekend win at Charlotte.
The 76ers (46-30) have won 21 of their last 26 games, including 10 in a row during which Simmons is averaging a triple-double - 13.2 points, 11.8 assists and 10.1 rebounds - while shooting 57 per cent from the field.
In the last nine games, the Sixers have eclipsed 30 assists, the fourth-longest streak in NBA history. And they have been doing it short-handed. All-Star centre Joel Embiid has missed the last two games with a fractured orbital bone. Against the Hornets, scoring forward Dario Saric of Croatia sat out with a shoulder injury.
Sixers coach Brett Brown sees Simmons assuming more leadership for a young team that hasn't experienced much recent success.
"I think his growth is certainly expedited when he looks over and our All-Star isn't there," Brown said.
"His presence, his disposition and lately even more his voice I think reeks of leadership."
Simmons has 11 triple-doubles, third behind only LeBron James (17) and Russell Westbrook (24). Among rookies, he is third in scoring (15.8) and leads in rebounding (8.0), assists (8.2), steals (1.7) and double-doubles (35).
Mitchell leads all rookies with 20.3 points for the Jazz (44-33), who are close to clinching a play-off berth. However, he has zero double-doubles and simply does not have the same all-around skills as Simmons.
Brown said he has enjoyed watching Simmons grow into a leader.
"He isn't a man of many words and it's fine. Everybody leads in different ways," he said.
"But when he's got something to say, he says it and people hear that. And then he's able to lead through example a lot, which certainly helps the package."