I caught a re-run of NBA Gametime this morning, and Sam Mitchell was asked to choose between Donovan Mitchell and Ben Simmons for Rookie of the Year.
Here’s his paraphrased answer:
“I’d have to go with Donovan Mitchell, because everyone expected Ben Simmons to be great, but nobody expected Mitchell to be great.”
I’m pretty sure that’s not the criteria for the award. That’s a woeful take from a guy who both played and coached in the NBA.
But you’re used to seeing horrible Ben Simmons takes over the past week, month, and/or entire season. The latest rustling of feathers was in response to a quote that Simmons gave to ESPN this past weekend, selecting himself for ROTY:
“Who would I pick? Me, 100 percent,” Simmons told ESPN at the Ritz-Carlton in downtown Philadelphia on Saturday.
“I think I have been playing solid all year,” he continued. “If you look at the numbers, you will see. People who know the game know.”
When the 6-foot-10 point guard was told the Rookie of the Year race appears to be a two-man show, he buried his head down and proceeded to chuckle. Asked what rookies have caught his attention this year, he didn’t mince words.
“None,” Simmons responded promptly. “I want to be where the greats are. So, for me, I watch the guys like [Kevin Durant], [LeBron James], [Stephen] Curry, Russell [Westbrook]. Guys like that. That’s where I want to be. I think for me, that’s what I love to watch.”
See, now I read that quote and think, “this guy is focused, he’s locked in, he’s serious about his career.” Other people say, “wow, this guy comes across as an arrogant asshole.”
And so that sort of snowballed into a bunch of lukewarm social media takes:
— Donovan Mitchell (@spidadmitchell) April 9, 2018
Donovan Mitchell – “individual awards mean nothing to me, it’s all about my team winning!”
Ben Simmons – “ME ME ME ME ME!!!!”
— Mario Antonio Torrez (@xCHOLOLIFEx) April 9, 2018
“Ugh! I wanna be an all star
Ugh! I wanna be rookie of the year
Ugh! I wanna be rookie of the year so bad, no one else should be!”
-actual timeline of Ben Simmons comments in his second year in the NBA
“Me? I just want us to win”
-actual leader, actual star Donovan Mitchell
— DadBodalicious (@dailydadbod) April 9, 2018
And this one from a Utah Jazz beat writer:
Who's the Rookie of the Year?
Ben Simmons: "Who would I pick? Me, 100 percent."
Donovan Mitchell: "The biggest thing I’m worried about is being able to stay locked in and help this team win in any way possible."
— Jody Genessy (@DJJazzyJody) April 9, 2018
Alright, so people think Ben Simmons is selfish. Removing Utah folks from the equation, I’m willing to bet that a lot of anti-Process national media types are probably also favorable towards Donovan Mitchell when it comes to the ROTY conversation.
If you want to go down that road of Simmons being a narcissist, let’s look for some quotes that reveal just how self-centered he really is:
April 6th – after the Cleveland win
On if he felt he needed to have more of a presence tonight…
“I feel like every night I’ve got to play my game and step up for the team. Missing [Joel Embiid]…he’s a huge piece with this team, but we have the guys in the locker room to win games like this.”
On how the team was able to hold off LeBron James at the end…
“Just sticking with our defense, making adjustments and keeping composed.”
On how big the win was…
“I think it was big. Beating a team like that without a star, [Joel Embiid]. I think everyone is coming together as a team.”
Alright, so three mentions of the Sixers as a “team,” two shout outs for a missing teammate, and props for everyone else: “we have the guys in the locker room to win games like this.”
Sure sounds like an arrogant kid to me.
Let’s see what else we can find:
April 8th – after the Dallas win
On being able to win 50 games this year…
“For me it’s huge. For the team, it’s definitely huge. It shows how far we’ve come this season, everyone putting us lower than expected I think that we pushed through the tough times, had a tough start with the teams we played. I think we’ve just gotten a lot better over time.”
On bouncing back after the Mavs made runs in the game…
“Whenever you talk about offense I just come back to the way we play, pushing the ball, moving the ball around and finding the open man.”
On having home-court advantage in the first round…
“That’d be huge, great opportunity to play in front of the fans. They give us a loud advantage every time we step in the building so I think that’ll be huge.”
“For the team..”
“We’ve just gotten a lot better…”
“…the way we play, pushing the ball, moving the ball around and finding the open man.”
“They give us a loud advantage…”
Sure, those are canned quotes, just cliches that athletes are coached to say, but, again, look at the subject matter. He talks about his teammates, a team game, the fans, and everybody but himself. Even when the media tries to prod him a little bit about his unwillingness to shoot or his lack of a mid-range game, Ben’s responses usually involve something to the effect of, “well, I can influence a game with my passing just as much as shooting.”
Actually… wait. I found one of those quotes. This one took place after the Charlotte win back on March 19th:
On evaluating the triple-double…
“I think people get caught up in how many points I score every game. It’s not about that. It’s about the amount of points we are getting as a team and how many stops we get and how many points we allow the other team to get. People are always going to say I need to do certain things, but I know what I’m capable of and what I’m really good at.”
“It’s about the amount of points we are getting as a team…”
Again, totally selfish stuff there.
Even when we’re specifically asking Ben about parts of HIS game, or buttering him up with triple-double talk, he typically turns it around and makes it a team thing instead. He talks about helping the squad in other ways. It’s almost exactly identical to the Donovan Mitchell quotes that those people referenced above.
Now, if it seems like Simmons is very terse with the media or annoyed by some questions, don’t be surprised. I don’t blame him, not one bit. He’s the recipient of more boring and useless queries than anyone else in that locker room.
Let me try to give you some context on how his availability usually goes:
Ben is typically one of only two people who talk after every game, with Joel Embiid being the other. The Sixers staff places a backdrop at the far end of the locker room and the players walk over there, while the media gathers in a crowded semi-circle. On most nights, there are typically 4-5 cameras and 14-16 people trying to crowd around and get a spot where you can actually hear what’s going on or get a question in. The bulky television cameras often force writers to fan out and take up crappy positions along the sides. The camera folks have good positions but don’t ask questions, not unless they have a reporter alongside them (John Clark, for instance).
Ben is typically the first player who is ready to do media, and usually it’s a stampede of people trying to get into the locker room after Brett Brown finishes speaking. We have to walk down a hallway and wait outside a set of double doors for the locker room to open. Sometimes a few people get in there early (if Brett goes long) and camera men/women are sometimes still trying to set up when Ben begins speaking.
To put it nicely, there are a couple of folks who show up to every game, jostle for spots next to the backdrop, and feel the need to ask multiple questions to every single player.
And because of that, I doubt they actually think about what they’re asking. They just like to hear the sound of their own voice. There’s one person in particular, “he or she who will not be named,” who junks up the flow of every post-game availability with generic and useless horse shit. The other night, he/she cut off Simmons five words into an answer because he/she just had to get their shitty question out there. You probably don’t know who I’m talking about, because he/she is not a writer and is not active on social media.
Now, when you get Simmons at practice, or something a little more casual when there are fewer people around, or the questions are a little more thoughtful, then you get responses that are a little more complex. That’s typically the pattern. Or, in the event that there’s something Ben feels passionate about, he will spend the time answering it in the locker room. I remember a quote from a few weeks back where someone asked him about his decision to wear a “March for our Lives” shirt on the bench. This was the longest post-game quote I believe he’s given this season:
“For me, growing up in Australia, I think there was a gun ban way back in the day where they bought back the guns. There hasn’t been any major shootings or anything like, no one carries around guns. For me, I think that’s very important. Just where I come from, you want kids to feel safe going to school and the parents (too). But I just don’t believe there’s any need to really have a gun. Maybe hunting, but that’s a different conversation. But it really sticks with me. I don’t really believe anybody should have to worry about somebody coming in and shooting up a place. That’s a scary thought.”
Not to derail this article with politics, but you get the point. It’s not that he won’t open up about certain things– he’s just usually very short with his answers, most of which come in response to trite questions like, “what did you think about the home crowd tonight?” or, “what did it mean to get that third straight win?” I mean, what do we expect him to say? There needs to be some self-policing on the Sixers beat, and I think if we cleaned it up from our end, we could get Simmons to open up a bit more.
You see it in an example like this one, where he’s in a 1v1 setting, and while there’s nothing astonishing about any of the questions Rachel Nichols asks, Ben is a little more open when he doesn’t have 20 people shouting over each other:
Ben Simmons tells me why he thinks he’s Rookie of the Year, and what he thought when JJ Redick first told him he might be shooting with the wrong hand – plus what happened when he and Markelle Fultz visited Meek Mill in prison. https://t.co/1lqU8mF4b3
— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel__Nichols) April 9, 2018
I’ve written in the past about how I think Ben is incorrectly interpreting the questions about his jump-shot, but that’s sort of a sidebar. Long story short, I think Ben Simmons in his current form is the Rookie of the Year and a perennial All-Star. Ben Simmons with a jump shot is the next LeBron James, which is why he gets those questions. I think we ask about it knowing that his ceiling is very high. We’re not trying to rag the guy for a skill that remains undeveloped.
Other than that, I don’t see a single issue with the way he handles himself or deals with the media. He’s a 21-year-old who is focused on basketball and likes to chill out and play video games in his free time. I don’t even want to know what I was doing when I was 21, probably watching Big East basketball while playing Diablo 2 and listening to Carcass in my dorm room.
So, no, I don’t think Ben Simmons is a jerk. I don’t think he’s selfish. I think he’s backed up every single word with exemplary and consistent performance. There’s a very fine line between confidence and arrogance, and I don’t think he’s come close to crossing it.