Another night, another hoodie targeting Ben Simmons.
On Wednesday night, Utah Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell continued his back-and-forth with the Sixers standout over which player should be named this season’s NBA Rookie of the Year.
Mitchell, who was drafted by the Jazz with the 13th pick in the 2017 draft, took another jab at Simmons Wednesday night, ahead of the Utah’s season-ending game against the Portland Trailblazers by sporting a new sweatshirt that simply read, “Rookie?”
Donovan Mitchell has a very specific taste in hoodies 😂 pic.twitter.com/qMjQJewrLK
— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) April 12, 2018
It’s the second sweatshirt the Jazz rookie has worn in the past two days that push the idea that Simmons isn’t really a rookie. Simmons, the top pick in the 2016 draft, sat out the entire 2016-2017 season with a broken foot, thereby making him ineligible for the award. Ahead of Tuesday’s matchup between the Jazz and the Golden State Warriors, Mitchell wore a hoodie that offered the definition of the word “rookie”:
“rookie /ro͝okē/ noun /// An athlete, playing his or her first season as a member of a professional sports team.”
Donovan Mitchell’s hoodie though lmao 👀 pic.twitter.com/VFbeugz77i
— Complex Sports (@ComplexSports) April 10, 2018
Mitchell had a different tone on ESPN following the game, saying he really didn’t care about winning the award.
“If I’m worrying about individual awards, I’m giving up on my teammates and what we’re trying to build here,” Mitchell said. “Clearly, I’m not the one losing sleep over this. I don’t care.”
But according to ESPN, Mitchell had more to say off camera, implying that Simmons had an unfair advantage by sitting out a year with a broken foot.
“I’ll put it in perspective for people who obviously don’t play in the NBA and don’t know the life of the NBA. So, let’s say you have an exam to take on June 1 and you have a whole year to study for that exam, you’re going to get a pretty good grade on it, aren’t you?” Mitchell said. “But some people may not have all that time to prepare for that exam.”
Simmons has been mostly quiet about Mitchell’s taunts. But Tuesday night, the Sixers phenom responded to Mitchell’s argument that sitting out a season should make him ineligible for the Rookie of the Year award.
“If his argument is I’m not a rookie, if that’s the only argument he has, I’m in pretty good shape then,” Simmons told reporters following the Sixers’ 121-113 win over the Atlanta Hawks. “There’s a rule in the NBA for a reason. I’m not going to wear a sweatshirt tomorrow, though.”
— Kyle Neubeck (@KyleNeubeck) April 11, 2018
Of course, Simmons is right about his eligibility for Rookie of the Year. This is his first year playing in the league. That makes him eligible for the award, which is voted on by sportswriters and broadcasters from the United States and Canada. According to league rules, if he had played just one game last season, Simmons would no longer be considered a rookie, thereby making him ineligible. Joel Embiid qualified for the Rookie of the Year award last season after having sat out two years with injuries, but played too few minutes to garner serious consideration.
Even five-time NBA All-Star Blake Griffin entered into the fray. Griffin reminded Mitchell on Twitter that he had been named Rookie of the Year back in 2011, after having sat out his entire first year in the league due to an injury.
bro it was like 8 years ago…. ohhhhh i get it https://t.co/b3quTj2JvJ
— Blake Griffin (@blakegriffin23) April 11, 2018
Simmons inadvertently set off this beef during an interview with ESPN over the weekend, when he dismissed the idea that Mitchell was a serious contender to win the Rookie of the Year award.
“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. If you look at the numbers, you will see. People who know the game know.”
Asked what other rookies in the NBA caught his attention, the Sixers standout didn’t bother to mince his words.
“None,” Simmons responded.
Mitchell’s response to Simmons comments was a widely-shared subtweet directed at the No. 1 pick:
— Donovan Mitchell (@spidadmitchell) April 9, 2018
The two are really the only contenders for the award. Simmons, who had, a quiet night on Wednesday as the Sixers destroyed the Milwaukee Bucks, 130-95, ended his rookie year averaging 15.8 points, 8,1 rebounds and 8.2 assists per game. He also had 12 triple-doubles over the course of the season.
Mitchell averaged 20.5 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game this year for the Jazz. The emergence of Mitchell, a 6-foot-3 combo guard who helped push the Jazz into the fourth spot in the Western Conference heading into the playoffs, which was considered unlikely at the beginning of the year when small forward Gordon Hayward left to play in Boston.
The winner of the Rookie of the Year award (along with a host of other awards) will be announced at the 2018 NBA Awards Show on June 25 at 9 p.m. on TNT.
As for the playoffs, the Sixers will take on the Miami Heat on Saturday at 8 p.m. on ESPN, while the Jazz will face the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday at 6:30 p.m. on TNT.
For what it’s worth, the Sixers beat the Jazz in both match-ups this season, including a 107-86 win at the Wells Fargo Center that included Embiid’s memorable rejection of a Mitchell layup while yelling, “Get that [stuff] out of here!” Embiid also drew a technical foul on Mitchell after flopping on the court as the crowd chanted “MVP” and “Trust the Process.”
“He just got up and fake-shoved me and I flopped,” Embiid told my colleague Keith Pompey after the game. “Then he got a technical for it. That’s basically how it happened.