While the rivalry between Donovan Mitchell and Ben Simmons has prompted a war over the definition of “rookie” for the last eight months, it’s hard to deny that both had breakthrough efforts in the NBA this season.
Who had the bigger breakthrough? Why not add a little fuel to the debate with an award?
Both Mitchell and Simmons have been nominated for “Best Breakthrough Athlete” in this year’s ESPYs, which will be presented July 18 in Los Angeles on ABC. It’s the first time two NBA players have gone head-to-head in the category since 2005.
The two are already finalists for the NBA’s Rookie of the Year, which will be announced June 25 in Santa Monica, Calif. The mostly friendly sparring between the two — involving some custom-made sweatshirts — seems destined to continue for at least another month.
Mitchell emerged as the Jazz’s leading scorer last season (20.5 ppg) and finished with more made 3-pointers (187) than any other rookie in NBA history. Simmons showed why he was worthy of the 2016 first overall pick in his first healthy year, averaging 15.8 points, 8.2 assists and 8.1 rebounds per game for the Philadelphia 76ers.
Both players were key pieces in leading their respective teams to the second round of the playoffs, with the Jazz bowing out to the Houston Rockets and the Sixers falling to the Boston Celtics.
Mitchell and Simmons also face stiff competition from other sporting realms: Tennis star Sloane Stephens and NFL Rookie of the Year Alvin Kamara of the New Orleans Saints are also up for the award.