Donovan Mitchell and Ben Simmons fought it out at the end of last season in one of the best Rookie of the Year races the NBA has ever seen.
But at times, it got messy. Mitchell and sponsor Adidas attacked Simmons’ “redshirt” status — Simmons sat out the 2016-17 season due to injury — while Simmons aloofly took shots as well, including ahead of his first matchup against Mitchell and the Jazz in Salt Lake City this season, when Simmons dismissed the idea of the race.
"It wasn’t a [expletive] race,” Simmons said then. “You saw the votes, right? … Did you see the votes? So what’s the question?”
On Friday, they’ll be facing off again, as Simmons leads Team World, along with highly drafted and highly impressive rookies Luka Doncic and DeAndre Ayton. Meanwhile, Mitchell is the biggest name on Team USA, working with sophomores Jayson Tatum, Kyle Kuzma and John Collins, plus rookies Jaren Jackson Jr. and Kevin Knox.
Oddsmakers say Team USA is slightly favored to win the game, though given the scores (high) and the effort put in on defense (low), one might have to have a screw loose to bet money on this contest. The biggest priority for all involved: avoid injury.
Last year’s contest was less a showcase of Mitchell’s all-around ability than a preview of his Saturday night dunk contest exploits. Perhaps no player has ever had a more highlight-filled seven-point performance.
But sophomores do traditionally take a bigger load in their second year in the game. In 2018, Boston’s Jaylen Brown scored 35 for Team USA, while Buddy Hield and Jamal Murray led Team World with 29 and 21 points respectively. All were second-year players.
While Mitchell’s not taking part in Saturday’s dunk contest this year, nor was he selected for Sunday’s culminating All-Star Game, Mitchell is keeping his schedule busy in other ways. On Wednesday, he announced a sponsorship deal with Utah company DoTerra. On Thursday, he took part in the photo shoot for his signature shoe, the D.O.N Issue #1s, as Adidas prepares marketing for its eventual release this year. On Saturday, he’ll join TNT commentators Kevin Harlan and Kenny Smith at the dunk contest.
Meanwhile, Jazz fans will have to be sated with the dunks Mitchell pulls off in a game setting Friday.