I’m focused on my team making the playoffs, so all the other accolades and awards, they’ll come in time if I’m doing my job. —Philadelphia's Ben Simmons
LOS ANGELES — The premier young talent of the NBA was on display at Staples Center Friday night for the Rising Stars Challenge.
Although this year’s rookie class is star-studded, two names keep popping up when the Rookie of the Year award is mentioned: Donovan Mitchell and Ben Simmons.
With the Utah Jazz currently on an 11-game winning streak, Mitchell has climbed up the ladder as the top rookie as of late, even being cosigned by ESPN commentator Stephen A. Smith.
“In terms of a rookie campaign, their first year in the NBA playing basketball that is, Donovan Mitchell, as far as I’m concerned, is sensational,” Smith said recently on ESPN First Take. “He’s my Rookie of the Year right now. I don’t think there’s any question about it.”
All-Stars DeMarcus Cousins, Damian Lillard and DeMar DeRozan have also vouched for him to win the award, but Simmons said he isn’t sweating the chatter after being the early favorite.
“I’m focused on my team making the playoffs, so all the other accolades and awards, they’ll come in time if I’m doing my job,” Simmons said.
In regards to Mitchell’s play as of late, Simmons wouldn’t comment on whether he’s even been paying attention during the Rising Stars media availability.
“I’m not an individual type of guy so I watch team games,” Simmons said.
Mitchell currently averages a rookie-best 19.6 points per game and has earned Western Conference Rookie of the Month for December and January, while Simmons often draws comparisons to LeBron James for his playmaking ability at his size and is a triple-double threat every night.
Simmons is on pace to become the first rookie to average at least 16.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 7.0 assists in a season since former Los Angeles Lakers star Magic Johnson in 1979-80.
The Philadelphia star has his sights set on playing in the NBA All-Star game soon, not just being the best rookie. The game’s best players such as James, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Steph Curry and Giannis Antetokounmpo, not the first-year guys, inspire him.
“I kind of look at it like my class, but it’s not, really,” said Simmons, who suffered a season-ending, draft year foot injury last season. “It’s like I’m kind of with the other guys at the same time, but obviously I didn’t play, so I’m considered a rookie, but I think it’s a great class, great players and it’s exciting to see these guys play.”
Mitchell has confidence that Simmons will likely be the first in the bunch to make an All-Star game. He has nothing but respect for his talent and says he’s also more concerned with leading Utah to the playoffs than winning an individual award.
“He’s talented, he’s supposed to be an All-Star this year and he can do a lot of things that a lot of rookies just can’t,” Mitchell said of Simmons. “He’s instinctive, and he knows the game.”