Earlier this week, the 76ers announced that Ben Simmons, the first-overall pick from the 2016 NBA Draft, would miss the entire 2016-17 season due to a lingering foot injury.
This isn’t the first time the Sixers have seen a no. 1 pick miss extended time. Joel Embiid (third overall in 2014) missed two full years before making his NBA debut this season. While the organization would much prefer its top prospects stay healthy, the reality is that Embiid was able to grow and develop in what amounted to two redshirt years. When he made his pro debut, he didn’t look like an ordinary rookie; he looked like a grown man.
Embiid would be a shoo-in for Rookie of the Year if he wasn’t injured again (meniscus tear in his right knee). In an admittedly weak rookie class, he’s been head-and-shoulders better than all other first-year players, averaging over 20 points, nearly eight boards, and 2.5 blocks per game. He’s been an advanced-metrics monster, as well, posting a team-best 24.2 Player Efficiency Rating (PER) and 1.1 Value Over Replacement (VORP).
Are we going to see something similar from Simmons next season when he finally suits up for Philly?
As long as his foot is fully healthy, I think the answer is yes. We won’t see a similar stat line since Embiid is a center and Simmons figures to function as a point forward in the Philly offense. But we will see the young Aussie have a similar impact on the team’s success and provide similar value. His skill set – an elite distributor who excels both in transition and in the half-court thanks to a ludicrously strong and agile 6’10 frame – will fill a hole on the Sixer roster. (A skill set that unique would fill a hole on basically any roster.) After adding Simmons to the mix, along with another high draft pick from a strong 2017 class, I expect the team to be firmly in the playoff hunt in the East next year.
For bettors, that means the time to pounce may be now. If you can find futures for 2017-18 Rookie of the Year, I wouldn’t hesitate to throw a couple bucks at Simmons. As mentioned, the incoming draft class is strong – a lot stronger than what Embiid was contending with this year. But Simmons has had the chance to learn from the sidelines for a year (something which clearly helped his teammate) and will be a focal point on a Philly team that’s ready to make the jump. Not only will he post the stats to grab voters’ attention, the narrative (“Simmons leads Sixers to respectability”) will be there as well.
Or, you know, maybe he’ll suffer a setback, miss an entire second season, and watch Markelle Fultz or Lonzo Ball grab all the headlines and hardware.
I know, I know. It’s way too early to be thinking about the 2018 Rookie of the Year. But at the same time, the value on Simmons may be at its highest in the wake of the latest injury news.
Either way, here’s how I see the odds right now.
2017-18 NBA Rookie of the Year Odds
Ben Simmons (76ers): 4/1
See the eight graphs above.
Markelle Fultz (University of Washington): 6/1
Fultz is at the top of almost every draft board. That means his most likely landing spot next season is with the abominable Nets. He wouldn’t have much to work with in Brooklyn; the cupboards are pretty barren. That hasn’t stopped him at Washington, where he’s been a one-man wrecking crew (at least on offense) all season.
Lonzo Ball (UCLA): 8/1
This is going to sound like a strange, oxymoronic statement, but Lonzo has single-handedly turned UCLA into a team. His unselfish nature has changed the team’s style of play completely. The Bruins are suddenly assist-happy and are much better off for it. It’s no secret why guys like Bryce Alford and TJ Leaf are having such phenomenal seasons. The play of their point guard is getting them open looks and causing nightmares for even Oregon’s rock-solid defense. .
Jayson Tatum (Duke): 12/1
After a slow start, Tatum is turning into the player scouts expected to see from the get-go. He’s now scored at least 19 points in four of his last five games, including dropping 28 on Virginia’s nation-leading D. The 6’8 scorer would fill a hole on a lot of NBA rosters these days as wings have gone the way of the dodo. If you defend him with size, he has the athleticism to get to the rim; if you defend him with speed, he has the size and the jumper to just shoot over top.
The likes of Josh Jackson (Kansas), Dennis Smith Jr. (NC State), Malik Monk (Kentucky), and Jonathan Isaac (Florida State) give the field pretty short odds. They all project well at the next level and their games are (mostly) trending in the right direction. I think, subconsciously, part of the reason I wanted to write this so early is because I’m so friggin’ excited to see the 2017 draft class in the pros. The 2016 crop has been such a letdown.