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NBA Saturday: Simmons and Fultz Hurt One Another For Rookie of the Year

Despite two dynamic freshmen, the Sixers may again fail to bring home the Rookie of the Year award.

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When Philadelphia 76ers head coach Brett Brown proclaimed last season that the Rookie of the Year award would have to come through Philly, he assumed that either Joel Embiid or Dario Saric put on a good enough showing for the voters to award the Sixers their second such award in four seasons.

Despite having two of the three finalists for the award, Philadelphia received no such luck in one of the more boring freshman races in recent memory, as Malcolm Brogdon of the Milwaukee Bucks walked home with the crown.

With a stacked rookie class ready to hit the hardwood this fall, the Sixers sport the league’s last two top overall picks in Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz. Once again, it looks like Philadelphia should be the odds-on-favorite to bring home the Rookie of the Year hardware.

But, not so fast.

Chances are, barring a magical season that sees Philadelphia finish as a legitimate contender in the Eastern Conference, the award will land outside of the Sixers organization once again.

On the court, Simmons and Fultz should theoretically bring skill sets and production enough to warrant a victory in this race most other seasons. But the fact that they will essentially be taking votes away from each other will hurt both players in the long run.

Following last season’s race for Rookie of the Year that saw the first ever second round pick win the award and had the first overall pick sidelined by injury, this upcoming season’s race expects to be much more entertaining and hotly contested. Along with Philadelphia’s tandem, Lonzo Ball of the Los Angeles Lakers, Dennis Smith, Jr. of the Dallas Mavericks, and Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics all have potential to be the best rookie in the NBA.

All of these players should make a significant impact for their respective team over the course of the season. Ball is being handed the offense in L.A., where his flashy passes should equate to high assist totals throughout the year. Smith looked to be every bit of the explosive athlete in Summer League he was advertised as being coming out of college. Tatum should provide a sweet scoring punch from the wing for a Celtics team that will be battling for a trip to the Finals. Each player will have their own legitimate claim to the rookie throne as the season kicks off, even the two Sixers players.

Simmons, after missing all of the last season with a foot injury, is hoping to return to form as the Sixers’ primary ball-handler and playmaker. The 6-foot-10 point forward should display his unique passing ability for a player his size, and with his combination of height and athleticism, he should have little trouble getting into the paint to score. Fultz, on the other hand, was drafted by Philadelphia to play as a complement to Simmons. At 6-foot-5, Fultz can be an off-the-ball guard pairing for Simmons to dish kick-outs to and run pick-and-pops with. Possessing a sweet shooting stroke from three-point range, Fultz should have no trouble next season filling up his stat sheets with impressive point totals.

As a result of how competitive the upcoming race looks to be, even Las Vegas is indecisive on who they think will win.

William Hill’s Nevada sportsbook, Westgate SuperBook, and Bovada all have different odds and winners for next season’s Rookie of the Year. William Hill Nevada and Bovada both project Ball as their winner, with 9/5 and 5/2 odds, respectively. Westgate projects Simmons as the favorite at 5/2 odds. In each case, Ball and Simmons are given the second best odds to win with the sportsbook that doesn’t project them as the favorite.

Last season, a large contributing factor to Brogdon winning the award was his impact on a team making that was making the playoffs. Westgate assistant manager, Jeff Sherman, believes that’s the reason Simmons will edge out Ball next season.

“We expect Philadelphia to exceed the Lakers in wins and make the playoffs in the East, with Simmons having better stats [than Ball],” Sherman told ESPN. “Had Simmons come out in this loaded class, he still would have been the No 1 pick in the draft.”

However, even with Philadelphia’s higher chance at a playoff appearance than Los Angeles’, the Sixers players next season are going to face the same difficulties winning the award that their teammates faced last season.

Brogdon received 466 total points in last year’s voting, with Saric tallying 266 for second place and Embiid finishing third with 177. Along with the most overall points, Brogdon finished with the highest number of first place votes with 60. Embiid, despite finishing third, actually received the second highest amount of first place votes, with 23. Saric mainly tallied second and third place nods, garnering 59 and 24 votes in each category.

When push came to shove for voters last season, handing their vote to one Sixers player over the other essentially became a point in Brogdon’s favor. For the voters, trying to discern who from the Sixers was the better player and who was more valuable to their team ultimately became a negative against both Saric and Embiid when the final votes were cast.

In order for Philadelphia to have their most success next season, both Simmons and Fultz will need to live up to, and maybe even exceed, expectations. That will entail high scoring numbers from Fultz and all-around stat stuffed sheets from Simmons. When it comes to voting for which player is the best rookie again next season, voters may struggle to differentiate the Sixers player who has the biggest impact, and if playing with each other inflated the numbers each of them produced.

If Ball, Smith, Tatum and the other players a part of this freshman class also live up to the hype, many could have the argument that they were able to perform and put up impressive rookie numbers even without other star rookies around them.

Essentially, what it boils down to, is that Simmons and Fultz playing alongside each other next season doesn’t actually increase either player’s chance at winning Rookie of the Year.

So, for all of the Philadelphia 76ers fans that felt Saric and Embiid were snubbed for last season’s highest rookie honor, don’t expect Simmons or Fultz to get redemption, regardless of how well they play.

Dennis Chambers is an NBA writer in his first season with Basketball Insiders. Based out of Philadelphia he has previously covered NCAA basketball and high school recruiting.

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