The NBA playoffs are creeping up on us rather quickly, with the majority of the teams having close to twenty games left in the regular season. This season has thrown up a bunch of surprises, with trades playing havoc with a ton of team lineups. This season has seen the rise of a Laker we didn’t expect, the delayed hype of an Australian come to fruition, and a Utah player send the basketball world into a spin over the last few months.
There are others that are now just starting to live up to the hype of their draft pick, and some who have downright flunked so far. These are the names that everyone has thrown out, so let’s have a look at the players who are firmly in the running for the NBA Rookie of the Year.
Ben Simmons- Philadelphia 76ers
The first article of 2018 for The Athletes Hub saw a prediction that said Ben Simmons would win the NBA Rookie of the Year award, and he is most definitely in the running. The Australian is having a fantastic rookie season after sitting out the 2016-17 campaign with injuries, teaming up with Joel Embiid to pull the 76ers to a record of 35-28.
Simmons himself is having a fantastic year, averaging 16.5 points per game, as well as 7.7 rebounds and 7.6 assists. His impact has been undeniable, attacking the net when he gets a chance, as well as having key defensive plays throughout the season. Teams have tried to get him to shoot from outside the arc, yet he still manages to get to the net. His only attempts from beyond the arc have been buzzer beaters, if that says anything.
Philadelphia has a rather good chance to make it to the playoffs for the first time since the 2011-12 season. If they manage to do that, you should be able to pencil in Simmons for the award.
Kyle Kuzma- Los Angeles Lakers
When Lonzo Ball was not firing, guess who was? Kyle Kuzma. During the months of December and January, Kuzma was averaging close to 19 points per game, as well as 7 rebounds. It was around this time that the “forgotten rookie” of the Lakers started to throw himself into the race, and he has not been forgotten about since.
He has cooled off a little bit in terms of output, but he is still averaging close to 12 points per game over the last few months. He has also hit eleven double-doubles, with almost two-thirds of his game time coming off the bench. His yearly average of 15.3 points and 6 rebounds per game, which almost makes it impossible to ignore him.
Jayson Tatum- Boston Celtics
Boston managed to nab Tatum with the third overall pick of the 2017 Draft, and he has been a charmer for the Celtics. His incredible start to the season had Tatum going neck-for-neck with Simmons after ten weeks, and while he has eased off the accelerator a touch, he is still a force to be reckoned with in the title race.
Tatum is still shooting at over 40% from beyond the arc, as well as close to 50% from the field and over 80% from the foul line. That’s pretty solid for any player, let alone a rookie. Tatum recently celebrated his 20th birthday on March 3, and while it isn’t expected, some wouldn’t be surprised if this was the candidate that knocked Simmons off.
Donovan Mitchell- Utah Jazz
It was a slow start for Mitchell, but he has exploded from December onward to put his name firmly in the race. The Jazz are only one game outside the playoff picture, and if they are able to get that game back off the Nuggets and Clippers, Mitchell will have a very interesting case.
The Louisville draftee has averaged almost 20 points per game this season, and that includes October, in which he averaged a paltry 9 points per game. In fact, since the start of November, Mitchell has scored single digits in only six games out of the fifty-four he has been named in.
Let’s add in the fact that he is 84% from the foul line and 44% from the field, and Donovan is the guy that will dethrone Simmons, if Simmons somehow flunks out.
Lonzo Ball- Los Angeles Lakers
Lonzo Ball has been more relevant this season with the Lakers since Kobe Bryant retired, mainly in part to some of the outlandish comments from his father. In saying that, you can’t deny that after a slow start to the season, Lonzo Ball has come back in leaps and bounds to put his name in the hat for Rookie of the Year.
The Lakers took Ball at the second spot in the draft this year, and he proved his worth by becoming the Summer League MVP. As he got over his slow regular season start and a few injuries, he has managed to hit eleven double-doubles, as well as two triple-doubles in just forty-one games. There is no denying his impact either, with the Lakers having a 9-13 record when Ball is off the court.
His two go-ahead threes against San Antonio showed that his range is increasing, and that he is adapting to the style of the NBA play. While it might be a long shot to say his is in the running, his name is definitely worth mentioning.