Philadelphia 76ers: Has Ben Simmons cemented himself as ROTY?

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

With Joel Embiid sidelined, Ben Simmons has shined as the Philadelphia 76ers lone star. But has this stretch cemented him as the 2018 Rookie of the Year?

The Philadelphia 76ers have been on an absolute roll as of late and it’s coming at the best possible time.

After logging a 17-19 record in 2017, Brett Brown‘s squad has strung off one the best record in the entire NBA in 2018, going 32-11 so far this year, including an insane 14 game win streak over the month of March, and they’ve done so over the last  five game without their best player.

With Joel Embiid sidelined after suffering an orbital fracture off of the errant elbow of teammate Markelle Fultz, the 76ers have had to rely solely on their lone remaining star Ben Simmons to keep the team afloat, and so far, he’s done that, and oh so much more.

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Now firmly in the driver’s seat, Simmons’ athleticism, instincts, and seemingly boundless basketball IQ have quickly transformed the Sixers already potent offense into one of the best in the entire league.

Emphasis on quick.

After averaging the fourth fastest pace in the league over the 2017-2018 NBA season at 102.04, the Simmons lead Sixers have vaulted up the ranks to number one overall over the last 14 games, now racing at a scorching 105.11.

Without Embiid clogging up the paint, the 76ers have turned their recent outing into glorified track meets, with players zooming up and down the court, Richaun Holmes vaulting up into the air for a two-handed dunk, and seemingly endless three-point shots drained from around the court.

Simply put, the Sixers are oh so much fun to watch, and the NBA has started to take notice.

Once considered a glorified footnote by the national media during The Process-era, it’s become almost commonplace to see pundits on ESPN, FS1, and TNT debate just how far the 76ers can go in the 2018 playoffs, with many assuming that the team will end up in the Eastern Conference Finals.

And much of that success has to be awarded to Simmons.

After sitting out his ‘true’ freshman season due to a knee injury, Simmons has blossomed into a bonified star before our very eyes over his redshirt season and appears to be just scratching the surface of his potential. Leading all rookies in rebounds, assists, and steals, Simmons is among the top-five rookies in virtually every category (save three-point percentage and free throws) as a 6-foot-10 point guard, and he’s doing so without a viable outside shot.

If that isn’t enough to make Simmons the 2018 NBA Rookie of the Year, then I don’t know what is.

While some people will still point to Donovan Mitchell as the best rookie in this year’s class, as his 20.5 points per game has basically willed the Utah Jazz into contention for a playoff spot in the incredibly competitive Western Conference, with all things equal it’s hard for anyone to say that he’s had a bigger impact than Simmons over the 2017-2018 NBA season.

To put it bluntly, Simmons has balled out so far this season, and if he doesn’t win the Rookie of the Year award, you have to attribute it to an inherent bias against the team’s tanking philosophy.

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Sure, Simmons is hardly the offensive weapon that Mitchell has been so far this season, but other than a total lack of an outside shot, the Sixers’ 6-foot-10 point guard has exceeded all expectations coming out of college and has truly developed into the type of two-way player that may forever elude the former Louisville Cardinal.

At 6-foot-3, Mitchell is often tasked with covering much larger shooting guards and has at times struggled to be more than an average defender at the two position. Though he currently owns a respectable .26 defensive Real Plus-Minus, good for 28th best among shooting guards, that’s a far cry from Simmons’ 1.94 Real Plus-Minus the fourth best of any point guard in the league and he’s doing so by covering multiple positions.

In addition to his obvious abilities to drive at the basket, pull in a rebound, and dish out a no-look dime, one aspect of Simmons’ game that has often been overlooked is his defensive dominance. At 6-foot-10, it’s become almost commonplace to see Simmons predominantly cover a point guard in one game and then find himself roaming the paint against some of the league’s best big man. In the modern NBA, it’s hard for some players to enter the league and compatibly cover one position, and in less than a season, Simmons can now cover 1-4, and may even be able to take one some smaller centers if need be.

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While he may not be the flashiest player in the league from a purely offensive perspective, Simmons has transformed from the top-overall selection in the 2016 NBA Draft into a legitimate NBA star almost seamlessly, and this recent stretch of games as all but confirmed that he’s not just resting on the laurels of a strong teams. With Embiid stuck on the bench for the remainder of the regular season, the Simmons lead Sixers are on track for the longest wins streak in franchise history and a three seed in the 2018 NBA Playoffs, and that alone should award him the 2018 NBA Rookie of the Year.