LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – With the Heisman obsession over, it’s time to fret about the next thing we cannot control.

Not traffic at the Watterson and Shelbyville Road.

The race for NBA Rookie of the Year.

If you gave me $100 to invest in Las Vegas, I would invest at least $80 on Ben Simmons of the Philadelphia 76ers. He’s the player stirring the national publicity.

He’s the guy delivering triple-doubles. He’s the guy who has made the Sixers watchable for the first time since Allen Iverson loved going to practice.

But this is what I’d do with the other $20 – put it on former Louisville star Donovan Mitchell, who is performing like a guy Karl Malone and John Stockton would hug with the Utah Jazz.

Let me amend that: I’d put $18 on Mitchell and split the final $2 on former Kentucky guard De’Aaron Fox and Indiana forward OG Anunoby.

Like Mitchell, Fox and Anunoby have the look of guys who’ll be in the league for a decade or more.

The numbers demand that I begin with Mitchell. He might not be the best rookie, but he has been the most productive player taken in the 2017 draft. (Simmons, for the record, was the first pick of the 2016 draft but missed last season with injuries.)

Go to YouTube and search for Mitchell highlights. It will be a simple and exhaustive search. He has outperformed his No. 13 draft possession that saw him taken after Frank Ntilikina (by his hometown Knicks), Zach Collins (Portland) and Luke Kennard (Detroit).


In 27 games, Mitchell has averaged 17.3 points, second to Simmons (17.5).

Breaking news: Mitchell, who plays in Chicago on Wednesday night, has averaged 21.6 in Utah’s last 10 games.

Remember when skeptics wondered if Mitchell needed extra work on his perimeter shot? He’s done the work, making a formidable 37.4 percent of his shots from distance as a pro. (Darrell Griffith, the last U of L star to play for the Jazz, made only 19.2 percent of his three-point attempts as a rookie).

It gets better. Mitchell has the best free throw percentage (84.2 percent) of any rookie, ranks 18th in rebounding, seventh in assists and second in steals.

If voters can tune out the Simmons hype (an unlikely concept, considering Simmons plays in Philadelphia and Mitchell works in Salt Lake City), the Rookie of the Year race might not be over.

Those two guys will headline the all-rookie team. They’ll likely be joined by Kyle Kuzma, who has outplayed his No. 27 draft position with the Lakers.

But do not discount Fox (Sacramento) and Anunoby (Toronto).

Fox ranks among the top 10 rookies in points (10.0), assists (3.9), steals (0.93) and minutes (26.3).  Every time Lavar Ball clears his throat or Lonzo Ball clanks a 12-footer, Lakers’ fans wonder if Magic Johnson made the right call by drafting Ball over Fox.

Less than 11 months after undergoing surgery for a torn ACL, Anunoby has also outplayed his draft position. He went 23rd. D.J. Wilson (Milwaukee), T.J. Leaf (Indiana) and Jarrett Allen (Brooklyn) were taken ahead of Anunoby, but they’ve slipped behind him on the important NBA leaderboards.

Anunoby has averaged 6.6 points per game but ranks second among rookies in three-point shooting percentage (43.3) as well as 10th in steals.

But here is a better indicator of his value. Raptors coach Dwane Casey moved Anunoby into the starting lineup for the last 13 games. Toronto has gone 10-3.

If the season ended today, Anunoby and Mitchell would be in the playoffs. Fox and the Kings have work to do.

But the three former local stars are performing as if they intend to be in the league for many years. And Mitchell is putting a full-court press on Simmons.

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