For a player some have criticized for taking too many shots, Donovan Mitchell wasn’t ready to pull the trigger Friday morning.
The Rook was given two opportunities to give his thoughts on an ugly Game 2 from Ben Simmons, the Philadelphia phenom who is considered his greatest challenge for Rookie of the Year. Even though the votes were cast last month, a fiery (and sometimes unsavory) debate between fans and media has continued in the case of Mitchell vs. Simmons.
But Mitchell still wouldn’t pounce after a second reporter asked what he thought about Simmons scoring just one point against the Boston Celtics on Thursday night.
“It happens to everybody,” he said. “It just so happens that it happened to him. I expect him to respond. He’s a good player. Good players respond back, and it’s a testament to his character. But it happens. You can’t play great every night. It’s not as easy as some people think.”
Perhaps the rookies themselves have lulled audiences into believing this is easy.
Simmons, the first overall draft pick in 2016, starred in the first-round series against the Miami Heat, including a triple-double in Game 4. He’s averaged 15.7 points, 9.3 rebounds and 8.3 assists per game in the playoffs, even taking his 1-point night into account.
Mitchell also has wowed for the Jazz, averaging a team-leading 26.1 points with 6.4 rebounds and 4.0 assists per contest. Only five rookies ever have averaged more points in the postseason, and four of them (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain and George Mikan) are in the Hall of Fame.
While Mitchell occasionally has stoked Rookie of the Year fires — Adidas notably produced a campaign that included sweatshirts and billboards — he declined to kick Simmons while he was down. The first time he was asked about the Celtics’ Game 2 win over the 76ers, he pivoted the question from Simmons to a fellow Louisville Cardinal, Terry Rozier, who is having his own breakout postseason.
“Terry’s been a great player,” he said. “Zero turnovers a game for, I think, the third time in the playoffs? He’s one of those guys who is overlooked. People don’t really know much about him. Y’all should get to know Terry. He’s impressive. He’s an impressive guy, and what he’s doing is great.”