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The Ben Simmons-Donovan Mitchell Rookie of the Year beef, explained

The two Rookie of the Year candidates have a little bit of beef, and we’re here for it. Here’s how it started and escalated.

NBA: Utah Jazz at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

There’s beef escalating between Ben Simmons and Donovan Mitchell, the two 21-year-olds unanimously considered frontrunners for the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award this season. That beef exploded over the final week of the season, and it’s featured subtweets, clothing statements, and plenty of thinly veiled shots in interviews.

Here’s how it all happened.

Ben Simmons ignores Mitchell

On Monday, Simmons answered questions about who he felt should win the award, and his response was as straight forward as possible.

“Who would I pick? Me, 100 percent,” Simmons told ESPN’s Chris Haynes.

That answer is completely fine and expected, and players should have full belief in themselves. It would be weird if either rookie felt like they didn’t deserve the award.

The beef part comes from another thing Simmons said, when asked if there were any fellow rookies who had “caught his attention.” Here’s how Simmons answered:

“None,” Simmons responded promptly. “I want to be where the greats are. So, for me, I watch the guys like [Kevin Durant], [LeBron James], [Stephen] Curry, Russell [Westbrook]. Guys like that. That’s where I want to be. I think for me, that’s what I love to watch.”

Mitchell immediately noticed

Mitchell tweeted this shortly after this story. We all can guess what he’s talking about.

Which led to this good exchange with teammate Joe Ingles, where Mitchell eventually just says, “Who cares.”

Mitchell used the dictionary to fire another shot

I don’t know how else to describe the sweatshirt that Mitchell wore to the arena before Tuesday’s game against the Warriors.

The sweatshirt featured this dictionary definition of the word “rookie.”

An athlete, playing his or her first season as a member of a professional sports team.

Mitchell’s peers — and the official Twitter account — noticed.

This is an obvious nod to Simmons missing the entire 2016 season with a broken foot. The implication is that he’s not really a rookie because he’s been around the team for a year, unlike Mitchell, who was drafted last June.

Mitchell elaborated on the point in an interview with ESPN after the sweatshirt surfaced:

“I’ll say this. 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? But some people may not have all that time to prepare for that exam. So, that’s how I look at it and I hope that puts it in perspective for people. But at the end of the day, we’re in the fourth seed. I got the Defensive Player of the Year and the Coach of the Year on my team, so I’m happy.”

Blake Griffin — who won the 2011 Rookie of the Year award after missing the entire 2010 season with a knee injury — also noticed.

Both players pulled the “I’m not mad. This is funny to me” act afterwards

Here’s Simmons:

“What was the definition? If his argument is that I’m not a rookie, if that’s the only argument he has, I’m in pretty good shape then. There’s a rule in the NBA for a reason. I’m not going to wear a sweatshirt tomorrow, though.”

Simmons then said it was “all love.”

Mitchell, meanwhile, also said he didn’t really care.

“I really don’t care,” Mitchell told ESPN. “The biggest thing for me is that we’re in the fourth seed and fighting for the third seed. If I’m worrying about individual awards, I’m giving up on my teammates and what we’re trying to build here. Clearly, I’m not the one losing sleep over this. I don’t care.”

This is a perfect escalation for a silly beef that had previously existed only between two fanbases.

Philadelphia and Utah fans have both struggled to assign any credit to the other team’s player while stumping for their own guy, when in reality this is a close race with deserving arguments to be made for both sides.

It’s been a lot of this, especially from Philadelphia fans. (I’m just calling it how I’ve seen it.)

For what it’s worth, Mitchell demurred when asked about Rookie of the Year, although the context of the question may have been slightly different than the ESPN interview.

Still, let’s not act like there’s any problem with this. Simmons probably should have acknowledge’s Mitchell’s incredible year, and it’s a bit petty that he didn’t. Sixers fans have been through hell, so you can be annoyed and also acknowledge they’re partly only lashing out because so many people used them as laughingstock during the peak days of The Process. Mitchell, meanwhile, was being a little dense pulling the “true rookie” card, and Jazz fans are projecting some level of vindication on this because of their success after Gordon Hayward left this summer.

At the same time, these small beefs that get blown up on social media fuel the NBA off the court and have turned the sport into 12 months of entertainment. We all love them, and they aren’t going anywhere.

Who should win, Simmons or Mitchell?

The case for Simmons is his incredible production on both sides of the ball. He’s averaging 16 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 8.2 assists per game, all while having a 56 percent True Shooting mark despite basically avoiding any shot longer than 20 feet all season.

Only six players have put up averages like that for an entire year — Wilt Chamberlain, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, LeBron James, Magic Johnson, and Oscar Robertson. Only Robertson did it as a rookie.

Simmons has also had an incredible defensive year, being able to switch between quicker ball handlers and stronger big men. That has given Philadelphia the flexibility to start him at point guard and adjust their defensive assignments accordingly.

No rookie has led a playoff team in scoring since Carmelo Anthony, however, and Mitchell will do just that. He’s averaging 20.5 points on a 54.2 True Shooting Percentage, which is worse than Simmons’, but also comes with tougher shots. Utah is an elite defensive team, but they have heavily leaned on Mitchell to score. Much of their offense comes from well-run sets, but only Mitchell stands out on their roster as a shot creator who can take on anyone one-on-one.

Mitchell also averages 3.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists, and his defense has also been impressive, though arguably less so than Simmons’. Utah’s second-half surge — they’re 29-7 since Rudy Gobert returned from a second injury in mid-January — also stands out when examining Mitchell’s case. He has a number of clutch moments and key shots that helped Utah win close games during that stretch.

Simmons will likely win; he’s been slightly productive in more areas. Even SLC Dunk, SB Nation’s Utah Jazz site, agrees, kinda. But your pick probably depends on your criteria for the award. It’s the classic award voting conundrum: should the most outstanding player win, or the most valuable? There’s no doubt that both candidates have serious merit, even if Simmons is ultimately just a bit better.

Will this beef continue?

I hope so! The Jazz and 76ers won’t play again this season — no, they won’t meet in the Finals — and the actual Rookie of the Year voting won’t be announced until the NBA’s awards ceremony in late June, so there’s plenty of time before a media narrative easily presents itself. We’ll see if Mitchell says something, but it seems unlikely that he would start a war of words.

But let’s hope there’s a friendly (or not!) rivalry between the two going forwards, because that’s what makes the sport fun.

This story was originally published on April 9.