By Rory Carroll
(Reuters) – Australian Ben Simmons and Serbian Nikola Jokic were announced as the NBA Players of the Week on Monday, the first time two international players have swept the awards in four years.
The 21-year-old Philadelphia 76ers forward Simmons averaged 18.5 points, 10 rebounds and 8.8 assists in his team’s four wins last week to secure the Eastern conference award and further make his case for Rookie of the Year honors.
The big Denver Nuggets forward Jokic narrowly missed averaging a triple double en route to the Western conference honor, averaging 23 points, 10.3 rebounds and nine assists as his team went 3-0 to keep their playoff hopes alive.
Simmons, who sat out all of last season with a broken foot, has played a key role for the overachieving 76ers, who have won 14 straight matches and sit third in the conference with two games left to play in the regular season.
Yet the ambitious Australian said on Monday he had his eyes on an even bigger prize than the Player of the Week or even Rookie of the Year honors.
“Championships,” Simmons said. “I want to be the Defensive Player of the Year… MVP. There’s a lot of accolades I want to get, but I ultimately want to win a ring.”
It is the second time the 23-year-old Jokic has won the award this season after also doing so in the week ending Nov. 12.
Monday marks the first time two international players have won the awards in the same week since Montenegro’s Nikola Vucevic won it for the Eastern conference’s Orlando Magic and the U.S. Virgin Islands’ Tim Duncan for the Western conference’s San Antonio Spurs during the 2013-2014 season.
The award is the latest sign of the impact players from outside the U.S. are having on the New York-based league, with a record number of international players expected to compete in the playoffs when they tip off on April 14.
The playoff-bound 76ers and Utah Jazz have the most foreign athletes on their rosters, with each team sporting seven players.
(Reporting by Rory Carroll in Los Angeles, editing by Ian Chadband)