The Australian has won the award over Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell and Boston Celtics Small forward Jayson Tatum.

By Daniel Herborn

Posted on June 26, 2018

Simmons was presented the award at a ceremony in Santa Monica, California on 25 June. He thanked his family, friends and his team, the Philadelphia 76ers. He finished with 90 first-place votes, easily outpacing Mitchell who received 11 first-place votes.

In a thrilling debut season, Simmons delivered on the deafening hype surrounding his entrance into the league to finish with averages of 15.8 points, 8.1 rebounds and 8.2 assists per game.

Along with centre Joel Embiid he led the Philadelphia franchise out of years in the doldrums. The team aggressively (and infamously) pursued a tactic of ‘tanking’ or deliberately racking up losses in order to stockpile high draft picks. The scheme seems to have paid off in grand style and more quickly than anyone expected; this year’s 76ers team had a 52-30 record and finished the regular season in third place in the Eastern Conference. It also reeled off a 16-game winning streak to end the season, setting a new record for the franchise.

Simmons also recorded 12 triple doubles in the season, the most of any rookie since Oscar Robertson in 1960-61.

There was a minor controversy over whether Simmons qualified as a rookie given that he was drafted prior to the 2016-17 season but missed that entire season with a foot injury. Blake Griffin had previously won the NBA Rookie of the Year Award in similar circumstances, claiming the 2010-11 season award after missing all of the previous campaign with a knee complaint.

The other two candidates for the award were Donovan and Tatum, who both performed well above expectations and were major factors during the playoffs. It was widely seen as the best crop of Rookie of the Year Award candidates in recent memory.

Ultimately, however, Simmons was a worthy winner. His rare combination of guard skills in a hulking frame makes him a matchup nightmare for any team and has drawn comparisons to some of the sport’s all-time greats in Magic Johnson and LeBron James.

The best facet of his game, however, is his visionary passing ability and elite ability to read the court. To watch Simmons in action is to see an athlete playing chess while everyone else is playing chequers.

To watch Simmons in action is to see an athlete playing chess while everyone else is playing chequers.

A win for Australian basketball

Technically Simmons is not the first Australian-born player to win the award as 2011-12 winner Kyrie Irving was born in Melbourne when his father played professionally for the Bulleen Boomers. Irving returned to the US when he was two years old.

Simmons, however, came up through the Australian system and his win is huge for Australian basketball.

NBL CEO Jeremy Loeliger previously told The CEO Magazine that Simmons “is not going to be the only instance of an extremely talented young Australian taking the NBA by storm in the next decade.

“What we need to learn from the Ben Simmons experience is how to create stronger bonds between those players and the NBL and basketball in general in Australia. We need to do this before they leave the country and become global superstars, so they become organic ambassadors for the League and the sport in Australia.

“Ben has done a fantastic job on-court raising the profile of the game.”

A one-off talent and a franchise cornerstone

Simmons has succeeded despite cutting against the grain of what makes a valuable NBA player in 2018. In a league where three-point shooting is more important than ever before, Simmons did not make a single three-pointer for the season.

Instead he relied on his strength and body control to get to the rim and his passing and off-ball movement to open up the court. If he does develop a jump shot, the only real weakness in his game, Simmons could become positively unfair for opponents.

The ahead of schedule development of Simmons, coupled with the presence of young superstar Joel Embiid and the cap space to acquire quality role players positions the 76ers as a team that could be a force in the Eastern Conference for the next decade.

The Philadephia 76ers had to navigate the 2018 NBA Draft without a General Manager after they parted ways with Bryan Colangelo following a Twitter scandal. The vacant position is one of the most coveted roles in the sport.

Other winners on the night were James Harden of the Houston Rockets (Most Valuable Player), Indiana Pacers guard Victor Oladipo (Most Improved Player) and Frenchman Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz, who won NBA Best Defensive Player of the Year.

Former Toronto Raptors coach Dwane Casey was named Coach of the Year despite being fired shortly after his team was dumped out the playoffs by LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers.