Picture this hypothetical...
You're creating a MyPlayer on NBA 2K20 with the intention of winning the NBA Finals. You know that one way or another, you're likely going to have to go through the Los Angeles Lakers as one of the best teams in the game. Whether it's in the Western Conference playoffs or The Finals, there's a good chance you'll have to beat LeBron James.
You don't want to create a traditional big man to stop Anthony Davis, because that's just boring. It's more fun to play with guards or athletic forwards.
So in this case, you're building a player that can go toe-to-toe with LeBron.
Many players have tried to take on the title as the "LeBron stopper" - Kawhi Leonard, Andre Iguodala, Draymond Green, Marcus Morris and many, many more. None have completely and consistently succeeded, so you'll have to look elsewhere for inspiration.
What would you want that player to look like?
James is 6-foot-8, 250 lbs. with a 7-foot wingspan. He's big, strong and freakishly athletic, yet also quick, explosive and fast in transition. You're going to want to build a player that has the speed to keep up with LeBron but is also strong enough to body up and long enough to try and disrupt his playmaking ability, drives to the basket and classic fadeaway jumpers.
How does 6-foot-10, 240 lbs. and a 7-foot wingspan sound?
The extra two inches in height gives that wingspan a bit of an edge compared to James. 240 lbs. is slightly undersized but more agile than the one-of-a-kind athletic marvel and can still match up to his physicality. Add to it that this particular player is that size as a true point guard, and you're probably starting to believe you have a chance against arguably the greatest player of all-time.
If those dimensions sound familiar, it's because they are - and that player is Ben Simmons.
The Philadelphia 76ers guard is putting together a strong Defensive Player of the Year campaign and Sunday's contest against LeBron and the Lakers gives him the chance to have a convincing DPOY moment.
James is looking like he's back in his prime, averaging 25.2 points, a league-best 10.8 assists and 7.7 rebounds per game. His impact on Los Angeles' offence is immeasurable, but their 114.5 offensive rating with LeBron on the court compared to a 103.9 offensive rating when he's off the court does some justice.
For reference, an offensive rating of 114.5 would rank the Lakers second-best in the NBA, while 103.9 would rank them third-worst in the league.
It's no secret that one of the keys to defeating Los Angeles is containing LeBron, and the majority of that responsibility will likely fall on the shoulders of Simmons in their upcoming matchup.
As broken down in the introduction, Simmons has the size, length, speed and athleticism to keep up with James, but how has he done with a task like this in the past?
According to NBA.com Stats, the Aussie guard has defended LeBron on 84.7 partial possessions over five games in his young career. James has scored 37 points, shooting 44.8% from the field and 37.5% from 3 to go with 13 assists and seven turnovers on those possessions.
That's not exactly having his way with Simmons, but Simmons also hasn't exactly shut him down yet either.
There is somewhat of a disclaimer, though. 59.2 of those partial possessions came in Simmons' rookie season. That's a 21-year-old kid who was 10 lbs. lighter than he is now, trying to step to a grown man like LeBron.
How many rookies do you think an NBA head coach would trust with taking on that challenge? The answer is close to zero.
And yet, a rookie Simmons still found ways to disrupt The King.
How many times have we seen LeBron lower his shoulder through his defender for an easy layup on a play like that? Or even assert himself a step closer to the rim for a contested jump hook or floater?
Simmons uses his agility to stay with James and is strong enough to prevent LeBron from plowing through him. On most defenders, that still becomes a jump hook or floater - Simmons' length forces James to go with a fadeaway jumper to try and get a better look at the rim over the guard's wingspan, resulting in a miss.
This is another tribute to Simmons length and footwork. On two separate occasions we see LeBron give that one hard dribble that typically follows up with a 3-point attempt. Even though Simmons is playing off of him, James knows he can still disrupt a shot attempt with that 7-foot wingspan. When he tries to drive right, Simmons is quick enough to beat him to that spot and shuts him off, forcing James to settle for a midrange jumper. LeBron still gets a good look, but quality defence results in another miss.
Here we have a matchup between Simmons and James last season, this time in the post. Not much explanation needed - Simmons, again, is strong enough and long enough to make things difficult for LeBron (without help) in the paint, something that you couldn't reiterate for most players in the NBA.
There's really no such thing as completely shutting down LeBron James. Even if you stop him as a scorer, he's such a talented and crafty playmaker that he can use his passing to make a difference in the game.
That's where Simmons' league-leading 2.2 steals per game and 3.8 deflections per game (fourth-best in the NBA) come in to play, adding to the list of reasons he's a close-to-perfect defender on LeBron.
With Joel Embiid out of the lineup, all eyes are already on the Aussie star.
There's no better way to make a Defensive Player of the Year statement than locking down the league's most popular player in primetime against the league's most popular team.
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