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Ben Simmons, Donovan Mitchell trade barbs over who should be the NBA’s Rookie of the Year

The NBA Rookie of the Year race is getting interesting, and not just on the court.

It’s basically a two-man contest between Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons (15.9 points per game, 8.2 rebounds, 8.2 assists, 1.8 steals) and Utah’s Donovan Mitchell (20.5 points, 3.7 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.5 steals).

In an interview that ESPN ran Monday, Simmons laughed when Mitchell was mentioned as his competition for Rookie of the Year and said he thought the award should go to “me, for sure, 100%.”

When asked what other rookies garnered his attention this season, Simmons quickly responded, “None.”

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The next day, Mitchell arrived at the Jazz’s game against Golden State wearing a black Adidas jersey featuring the definition of the word “rookie” (“an athlete, playing his or her first season as a member of a professional sports team”).

The implication was that Simmons shouldn’t be eligible for the award. He was drafted by the 76ers in 2016 but missed all of the following season with a broken right foot. Several others have been named Rookie of the Year under similar circumstances. Most recently, Blake Griffin received the honor in 2010-2011 after being drafted by the Clippers in 2009 and missing all of the following season with a knee injury.

After Utah’s 119-79 win over the Warriors, Mitchell said the sweatshirt wasn’t his idea, and at first, he didn’t want to wear it. “But then yesterday happened, so I was like, ‘Cool.’ ”

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Still, Mitchell said he wasn’t taking the competition too seriously.

“We just wanted to have fun with it,” he said. “That’s all it is, just having fun, just enjoying it. I’m blessed to be in this consideration. Why not have fun with it?”

Of course, Simmons had a response after Philadelphia’s 121-113 win over Atlanta.

“If his argument is that I’m not a rookie, if that’s the only argument he has, I’m in pretty good shape,” Simmons said.

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“There’s a rule in the NBA for a reason — I’m not going to wear a sweatshirt tomorrow, though.”

charles.schilken@latimes.com

Twitter: @chewkiii


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