Return to the NBA Journey, Week Six: EVO Moment 37

What good is a series without a trilogy? For the third time, The Sports Fan Journal heads on the NBA Journey. For the first two years, we had a level of surety as to where our destination would be. The first year, we were correct. The second, we were correct in location, but not in victor, as the Toronto Raptors won the title last year. Now, the NBA springs anew and for the first time in a while, we’re not totally sure where our destination lies. This allows for a current kind of exploration. Let’s continue with our next installment after a week of games.

Song of the Week: Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike - Character Select

Pressure is a key component of any competition. The best way to force your opponent into mistakes is to crowd space and make them uncomfortable. In the video game world, it's most true in the fighting genre. Players try to gain an advantage on their opponent and maintain it through constant attacks that raise an opponent's desire to alleviate that pressure by trying something risky.

But there is another element to pressure that's rooted in defense. Sure, most scenarios reward the aggressor. But what if bring unable to break an opponent and their will to guard also generates that same pressure to that aggressor?

Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike has blocking like most fighting games. However it also possesses a universal mechanic called parrying which allows players to deflect any attack and take no damage. Now, it requires precise timing — sometimes down to 1/30th of a second — but the benefit is a brief opening for a counterattack. Mastery of this skill truly shows how good a player is.

No bigger example in the fighting game community is apparent than at the 2004 EVO World Championship. American prodigy Justin Wrong had Japanese legend Daigo "The Beast" Umehara down to his last bit of health. Playing as Chun-Li, Wong unleashed her multi-hitting Super Art, hoping Daigo would either get hit or block and take too much damage and lose the round. Then, Daigo parried the entire attack — all 17 hits — stylishly deflected the last hit and retaliated with a high-damaging combo that won the round. It is forever the biggest moment in the history of competitive fighting games. So as you can see, defense matters just as much as offense.

Before the start of the NBA season, Ben Simmons said he wanted to win the Defensive Player of the Year Award. Through the first quarter of the season, that bold statement is looking more like a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Talk about Simmons’ play is one of the most polarizing conversations in the NBA. It seems like he never does enough to win fans or critics over — at least, for long. With LeBron James-like expectations, Simmons was regarded as the next big thing coming out of LSU, and rightfully so. Simmons checks just about all of the boxes as a basketball player. There are few players with size, strength, speed, skill and a high basketball IQ to play the game. Like most young players he has weaknesses, but his are more glaring than others. His inability to shoot is a dark cloud that continues to hover over him, but let’s not downplay how successful he’s been.

To say that Simmons is a unique talent is an understatement. Simply put, he’s an anomaly. There aren’t many players in the league as versatile as him on both ends of the court. At 6’10", he can orchestrate the offense like no other, and he can clamp down on defense against your best offensive player. Let’s also note that he can do so regardless of the offensive player’s position. Of course, it helps to have Al Horford, Joel Embiid and Matthias Thybulle as defensive stalwarts, but Simmons’ attention to detail on defense is why Philadelphia will be a problem come playoff time.

Ben Simmons has value on both sides of the ball. His improved defense and versatility makes the 76ers championship contenders. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

It may be a reach to put him in the same pantheon as Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, and Jimmy Butler defensively, but the development on defense has caught many by surprise. Simmons is second in the NBA averaging a career-high 2.4 steals per game. On top of that, opponents only shoot 40.9 percent when being defended by him.

Growth comes in many ways, but oftentimes it comes in ways that do not appease many. The Philadelphia 76ers star is a victim of his success and lofty expectations. Many pegged him to be the next LeBron, but in reality, he’s carving his niche. It remains to be seen how Simmons will continue to develop, but someone with Scottie Pippen’s skillset mixed with a dash of Lamar Odom is a damn good consolation prize.

Simmons has won the Rookie of the Year Award, was subsequently named to the NBA All-Rookie team and got his first NBA All-Star Game last season. In addition to that, he helped revive a franchise that was a bottom-dweller team that didn’t win more than 20 games from 2013-2015. Sure, Simmons has accolades aplenty in his young career, but an All-Defensive Team selection and being recognized as the league’s premier defender could put him among the elite. It may not be in a way that many expected when he came out of LSU, but that’s perfectly fine.

Criticism will never evade Simmons. He can't hit a button 17 times to parry the voices away, no matter how hard he tries, and it comes with the territory of being anointed as a franchise savior. But it feels like it's about time to appreciate his evolution as a game-changing defender.

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