In most years, Los Angeles Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma would have a solid case for NBA Rookie of the Year. But the 2017-18 race between Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell and Philadelphia 76ers guard Ben Simmons has meant this season is far from most years.
Kuzma ranked second among rookies in scoring (16.1 points per game), with only Mitchell (20.5 points) scoring more, despite falling all the way to the No. 27 pick in the 2017 NBA draft. Simmons sat just behind Kuzma with 15.8 points per game, but helped the 76ers in multiple ways by leading the rookie class in assists (8.2) and rebounds (8.1).
While both players have put up good enough numbers to make the decision hard, Kuzma knows which way he would lean if he had a vote, and he outlined his thought process during an appearance on ESPN’s “The Jump”:
“I mean, they’re both great players at the end of the day. They both put up phenomenal numbers, triple-doubles, both teams are in the playoffs. For me, I would probably pick Mitchell. Just for the simple fact he’s in the West, it’s a lot harder, and to lead them to a fifth seed in the West… They could be [co-Rookies of the Year].”
Kuzma also made it sound like he buys into the argument that Simmons should get docked a bit of credit because he essentially got to “red shirt” his rookie year while sitting out with an injury, compared to Mitchell who is a true rookie:
“It’s a little different, at the same time I understand everybody’s debate. But, I mean, you’re in an NBA system for a whole entire year, you’re training, you’re getting paychecks, you’re adjusting to life sooner than a rookie who would have to be playing at the same time. I see both, but I’d probably say if you’re a rookie with your true class, like that.”
Kuzma knows as well as anyone just how difficult it is to make the transition to NBA life and basketball at the same time, which probably is in large part responsible for his respect for Mitchell.
Still, with how great Simmons has been in leading the Sixers back to playoff contention during his first season in the lineup and the fact that he is technically a rookie, it’s going to be hard for voters not to pick him given that he’s been a better all-around player than Mitchell.
There is still time before a Rookie of the Year will be named, but Simmons would still appear to be a heavy favorite, even if he isn’t Kuzma’s top pick.