Here in “Notable Numbers,” we attempt to unearth a plethora of interesting stats and fantasy-relevant facts each week. The topics discussed today include Ben Simmons’ unique production, Tim Hardaway Jr. startling slump, and Mario Hezonja’s emergence.
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* One of a Kind
Ben Simmons is having a phenomenal debut season. In fact, a very strong argument could be made that he is the odds-on favorite to take home the Rookie of the Year award.
He has already recorded five double-doubles, the most by a rook since Magic Johnson in 1979-80. On the season, Simmons is averaging 16.4 points, 7.7 rebounds and 7.3 assists per game. He is also shooting 52.7 percent from the floor. This places Simmons in very select company. Per the Basketball-Reference database, there have been only six players in NBA history to average at least 16 points, seven boards and seven assists while shooting over 50 percent from the field over the course of a full season. Those six players are Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, and LeBron James. Not bad company to keep.
Simmons’ season-long stat line is also extremely unique in one other respect, especially in today’s NBA, which places extreme importance on long-range marksmanship. Ben Simmons has yet to make a single 3-pointer in his NBA career, having missed all ten of his attempts from behind the arc this season.
It has been 20 years since an NBA player averaged more than six assists per game, yet failed to knock down at least one 3-pointer. The last player to do so was Brevin Knight, playing for Cleveland, back in 1997-98.
Simmons is also currently averaging 34.9 minutes per game. Remarkably, over the last three seasons, every player that has averaged over 34 minutes has made at least 25 3-pointers.
The last players to average 34-plus minutes and hit fewer than 25 triples were Joakim Noah and DeAndre Jordan in 2013-14.
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* Mitchell Making Moves
It appears Simmons’ stiffest competition for the Rookie of the Year award will be Utah’s Donovan Mitchell. The 13th overall pick in last June’s draft, Mitchell has exceeded all expectations. He’s already cracked the 40-point plateau twice, which means he is the first rookie to score at least 40 points in multiple games prior to the All-Star break since some guy named Michael Jordan did it in 1984-85.
The Jazz are scorching hot, having won 10 straight games and rocketing back into the thick of the Western Conference playoff race, and Mitchell is a major reason why. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Mitchell leads the Jazz with 189 points during its current winning streak. The last rookie to lead his team in scoring during a winning streak of 10 or more games was Wilt Chamberlain for the Philadelphia Warriors in the 1959–60 season.
In addition, Mitchell has scored at least 25 points, grabbed six rebounds and knocked down two treys in each of Utah’s last three contests. That’s tied for the longest such streak by a rookie in NBA history.
* Average Joe
Another Jazzman that has helped power Utah's run has been Joe Ingles.
During the ten-game winning streak, the perennially underrated Ingles is averaging 16.2 points, 3.2 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 3.6 triples and 1.1 steals, while shooting a scorching 57.8 percent from the field, 57.1 percent from behind the arc, and 100 percent from the charity stripe.
Over this 25-day stretch, Ingles ranks inside the top-25 overall in nine-category fantasy leagues.
He’s currently on pace to become just the fourth player in league history to attempt at least 5.5 3-pointers per game, while shooting better than 45.0 percent over the course of a full season.
* Hardaway Humbled
On the other end of the NBA spectrum, the Knicks have lost seven straight games, and Tim Hardaway Jr. struggles have coincided with New York’s losing streak.
Over this seven-game stretch, Hardaway Jr. is averaging 8.9 points, 3.6 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 0.1 blocks in 30.7 minutes. However, it is THJ’s inefficiency that has been most alarming. He is shooting just 25.8 percent from the floor, 11.4 percent from downtown (he’s missed 40 of his last 45 3-point attempts), and 64.3 percent from the free-throw line.
Dating back to January 31st, Hardaway Jr. has scored a total of 62 points on 93 field goal attempts. To put that in context, over that same timespan, Minnesota’s Jimmy Butler has scored 149 points on 92 field goal attempts. Golden State’s Kevin Durant has scored 148 points on 78 field goal attempts.
Hardaway Jr. flashed his upside earlier this season, prior to his left leg injury. Over a 15-game stretch spanning late October through late November, THJ averaged 20.5 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4.1 assists, while shooting 45.6 percent from the floor and 84.7 percent from the charity stripe.
“I wish I could make a f----ing shot,” Hardaway said after Monday’s game. “I am frustrated. Kind of in a slump right now. Just got to try to shoot my way out of it.”
Coach Jeff Hornacek encouraged him to take ball to the bucket more frequently. “Try to drive the ball. I think he drove it once (Monday),” said Hornacek. “I hate to tell a guy to quit shooting because he is a good shooter, but he’s going to have to mix it up. I think he always thinks that next one’s going in. It looks good but it’s just not going in.”
Hornacek also stated that he wanted THJ to try and get to the line more frequently. Hardaway Jr. has made a combined total of just three free throws over his last five games.
* Mario is Finally Super?
The Magic selected Mario Hezonja with the fifth overall pick in the 2015 NBA draft, right after the Knicks picked Kristaps Porzingis. Orlando had high hopes for the sharpshooter from Croatia.
However, over his first two NBA seasons, Hezonja failed to deliver on that promise. He averaged just 5.5 points, 2.2 rebounds and 1.2 assists in 16.5 minutes, while shooting below 40.0 percent from the floor. Thus, Orlando president Jeff Weltman (who wasn’t with the team when they drafted Mario) decided to decline the fourth-year option on Hezonja’s contract. The option would've guaranteed Hezonja $5.2 million in the 2018-19 season.
However, what the Orlando front office could not have anticipated was the roster being decimated by injuries this season. Aaron Gordon, who is currently sidelined by a hip injury, has missed 17 of the team’s 56 games this season due to a variety of ailments. Nikola Vucevic has missed 22 straight contests due to a fractured hand. Jonathan Isaac has appeared in just 15 games all season due to a debilitating ankle injury. Terrence Ross has played in only 22. Evan Fournier has also missed eight contests. As a result, Hezonja has been given consistent minutes and a reliable role in the rotation for the first time in his NBA career.
Mario has made the most of the increased opportunity, responding with career-highs across the board. In the 15 games he has started this season, Hezonja is averaging 15.3 points, 5.4 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 2.1 treys, while shooting 49.4 percent from the floor, including 39.7 percent from downtown, and 82.9 percent from the free throw line.
Coming into this season, Mario had scored more than 21 points just once in his career. Yet, he’s scored 20-plus points in three of the Magic’s last five games, including at least 23 points in each of their previous two.
However, Mario may see his minutes and production decrease once the Magic return from the All-Star break. Nikola Vucevic has already stated he will play next Thursday in Orlando’ first game back. Aaron Gordon has chance to play in that first contest as well. Coach Frank Vogel said that Terrence Ross and Jonathan Isaac are also inching closer to a return. “We’ll be a different team,” Vogel said on Tuesday. Thus, it’s safe to assume Hezonja won’t be able to match his January/February production in March and April.