After looking at some of the best rookie debuts of 2018, it’s hard to forget the rookie seasons of Jayson Tatum and Ben Simmons. Despite their short time in the league Tatum and Simmons already created a decent amount of history. Tatum knocked off Simmon’s 76ers in the 2nd round of the playoffs in just 5 games. This series set the stage for a great rivalry between the teams and the players. And, their rivalry causes fans to constantly ask one question. Which young star is better?
The Case for Jayson Tatum
There is no doubt that Jayson Tatum is the way better scorer of the two. Even though Ben Simmons has a very well-rounded game the gap between him and Tatum in scoring is so significant that Tatum has a valid argument as the better player. In last season’s playoffs Tatum averaged 18.5 PPG including a 28 point performance against Simmons’ 76ers. Also, Tatum has not slowed down at all this season. Through the first 3 games of the season, Tatum is averaging 21 PPG on a 59% true shooting percentage. His ability to step up in the big moments and carry his team’s offense adds a lot of value to his game.
Additionally, Tatum is a very well-rounded scorer. One of the biggest knocks on Simmons’ game is that he can only score 2 feet away from the basket. While, on the other hand, Tatum can score from anywhere. He shot over 42% from all spots on the court excluding 3-10 feet, but less than 10% of his shots come from that distance. His midrange and 3-point shooting ability make him extremely valuable to the Celtics’ offensive system. He is able to play effectively with other stars because Tatum doesn’t need the ball in his hands to be an offensive threat. On the contrary, when Simmons doesn’t have the ball he hurts his team’s spacing and limits what they can do. Although Tatum is clearly a better scorer, it’s very possible to argue Simmons is still better.
The Case for Ben Simmons
Even though Tatum is the better scorer, Ben Simmons can do so much more on the court. Last season, Simmons averaged 8.7 rebounds and 8.7 assists per game in addition to 1.8 steals and nearly 1 block a game. His passing ability is reminiscent of Magic Johnson and he is possibly the best fast break player in the NBA. The combination of size and speed makes Simmons almost impossible to guard despite his lack of a jump shot. Without a jump shot, he still averaged 15.8 PPG on an extremely efficient 55% from the field. This included a 32-point performance, which surpasses Tatum’s game-high of 28. Although Tatum is a much better shooter from distance, Simmons can still score a lot of points while being extremely efficient.
It is also very easy to build a team around Simmons. Similar to LeBron James, surrounding him with shooters immediately creates an elite offense. In fact with Simmons on the court, Philadelphia had a top 7 offense despite not being loaded with talent. Also, due to Simmons’ elite court-vision, rebounding, and speed he is able to single-handedly lead fast breaks and get great shots for himself or teammates constantly. This led to a top 4 pace in the NBA last season. Overall, Simmons is already one of the most versatile players in the NBA and can do anything on the court (except make a three).
In my personal opinion, he edges out Jayson Tatum as a better player. That being said, things change very quickly and with Tatum’s role growing on the Celtics this debate may be revisited at the end of the season. Both have extremely bright futures and it will be entertaining to watch them dominate the NBA for years to come.