A ROY named Ben
Ben Simmons has become the only player in NBA history to score at least 170 points, 100 rebounds and 80 assists in his first 10 career games. AP

CHICAGO - Like a poet's imagination, the ongoing 2017-18 NBA season is bursting with story lines, intriguing plots that convey varying degrees of melodrama which inevitably holds us all captive.

And just like any good story, one that is illuminated by several colorful characters and compelled by countless twists and turns, the dilemma rests in where to begin to tell the tale.

Ben Simmons of the Philadelphia 76ers is a great place to start. He is a rookie in his second NBA season, a sort of contradiction, perhaps even an oxymoron is you want to stretch its definition. 

Because he hasn't played a single NBA regular season game since being drafted as the top overall pick in June 2016, Simmons, the rules mandate, is a rookie and thus eligible to become Rookie of the Year.

Sidelined by a broken foot for the entirety of last season, the 6-foot-10, 230-pound big took his medicine and waited patiently, unperturbed by the noise questioning his toughness and dependability.

When Sixers team doctors finally green lighted him to play, Simmons immediately showed the stuff No.1 draft picks are made of and became the only player in NBA history to score at least 170 points, 100 rebounds and 80 assists in his first 10 games.

Long and athletic, smart and sure-handed, Simmons is averaging 18.7 points, 9.2 rebounds and 7.6 assists per game, helping the Sixers make a bleep in the playoffs radar with a 9-7 record.

But everything pretty almost always has a wrinkle. For Simmons, the ugly spot lies at the free throw line, a nightmare that commonly plagues giants including, most notably, his fellow LSU alum - Shaquille O'Neal.

Through 16 games in his young career, Simmons, an Australian-born American, has dutifully clunked 44 of 81 free throws, a grim 58 percent rate. 

However, this palpable weakness, whether temporary or lingering, should not hinder the 21-year old from becoming Rookie of the Year, assuming of course he maintains his lofty averages and plays enough games to be eligible for voting.

Being a ROY doesn't guarantee success in the NBA but it sure is a portent of greater things to come.

Since its inception following the 1952-53 season, 14 former Rookie of the Year winners have gone on to win the MVP award while 19 had been elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall-of-Fame.

If Simmons indeed captures the award he will be the 21st to do so as the No. 1 overall pick.

A CROWDED MVP RACE. Giannis Antetokounmpo needs a new moniker. The Greek Freak doesn't ring true anymore. 

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Why? Because Giannis is not a freak or aberration. He is as real as a vivid strip of sunset. After four years of steady progression, Giannis has exploded into a full-blown superstar this season, emphatically throwing himself into MVP contention.

Through 16 games, the Milwaukee Bucks juggernaut is norming 29.7 points per, second only to James Harden of the Houston Rockets who is turning in 31.6 points a contest.

But unlike Harden, who is confined mostly to scoring and playmaking, Giannis can play all five positions, if warranted. He is a utility whose all-around output includes 10.3 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.9 blocks a game.

Actually winning the MVP honors, however, is easier said than done. The Bucks, you see, are a .500 team with an 8-8 record and stuck at ninth place in the Eastern Conference. 

Besides, the NBA regular season is a long race and the usual suspects - Kevin Durant, Steph Curry and LeBron James - will eventually catch up, like thoroughbreds in the Kentucky Derby galloping mightily in the last quarter-mile. 

Also, reigning MVP Russell Westbrook is making a strong case why he deserves to keep the Maurice Podoloff trophy.

After averaging a triple-double last season, the Thunder All-Star is once again flirting with that milestone. Through 16 games, he is averaging 20.1 points, 8.7 rebounds and 9.7 assists. The decrease in scoring is caused by the increase in OKC's firepower.

Following Durant's departure, Westbrook was left to carry the bulk of the Thunder offense last season, and he did so willingly by hoisting 23.9 field goals a game. Since the arrival of Carmelo Anthony and Paul George during a torrid off-season, Westbrook's field goal attempts have dipped to 17.7 per game.

But because he is a triple-double threat every time he steps on the hardwood, Westbrook will continue to be an MVP threat.   

THE FREE FALLING CLIPS. They won 51 games last season, fourth in the Western Conference and pregnant with promise. But after yet another aborted playoffs appearance, Chris Paul has had enough and left Los Angeles for the greener pastures of Houston.

Without him, the Clippers are lost, dropping nine straight after starting the season at 5-2. Without him, the Clippers' assists per game plummeted from 22.5 last season to 19.6 this season and none of the point guards who assumed Paul's role - Austin Rivers, Patrick Beverly and Milos Teodosic - could come close to matching his average of 9.2 dimes an outing.

Without Paul, Blake Griffin isn't thriving. Griffin's field goal attempts are up from 15.9 last season to 18 this season, but his shooting percentage is down from 49.3 percent to 41.3 percent 

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Once the toast of Los Angeles, albeit briefly, the Clippers have now slipped back beneath the imposing shadow of the resurgent Los Angeles Lakers.

The Clippers, bought by Steve Ballmer for a staggering $2 billion in 2014, survived the alleged neglect and utter mismanagement of former owner Donald Sterling. Sadly for now, they can't seem to survive Chris Paul's abandonment. 

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