The Top 10 1-On-1 Players In The NBA

07.13.12 5 years ago
Carmelo Anthony

Carmelo Anthony (photo. Zach Wolfe)

During the dredge and gloom of last summer’s NBA lockout, we had to come up with ways to entertain readers. No one wants to hear every day about what color suit David Stern was rocking or which video reporter threw the dukes up against which news anchor. Glamorous, it was not. Ten hour meetings devolving into Dwyane Wade calling for Stern to treat him like a man is not how any basketball fan wants to spend their summer. They want to hear about how Ramon Sessions screwed himself over this offseason and had to venture into basketball hell in Charlotte because he had nowhere else to go. They want to hear shady rumors about how Phil Jackson is taking his peace pipe and Iron Throne to New York. And of course, they want to hear where Dwight Howard is going.

But last summer? It was tough. Naturally, we took it back to the streets, took it back to the true essence of the game. Mano-e-mano. One-on-one. Growing up, you played one-on-one to prove your worth. Was another sixth grader better than you? Prove it. The winners got the girls, and the losers got shunned.

We left it up to readers, who apparently have very short memories. They voted Dirk – the reigning Finals MVP – as the best one-on-one player in the NBA. We didn’t agree, but hey, that’s what happens when you leave it up to people who spent hours sitting online refreshing a link over and over again.

The question of “Who is the best one-on-one player in the NBA?” went away for a while… until Kobe Bryant and Kyrie Irving regurgitated it earlier today. That might not be much of a contest, but there can be arguments made for a dozen different All-Stars that they’re the best isolation player in the game.

With that, I decided to rate them myself. Here are the top 10 one-on-one players in the NBA:

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You might not expect to see Love on a one-on-one list because he scores a lot of buckets on spot-up jumpers and put-backs in the lane. But he is solid in the post, has developed a shot all the way out to 25 feet, and has a big enough body that after 10 minutes of one-on-one with The Big Outlet, they’ll have to have two people carry you out and load you headfirst into the backseat.

Love also dropped 26 a night last night, and did it by shooting 45 percent from the field and 37 and 82 respectively from the lines. Guarding anyone out past the arc in one-on-one might be cool for a few possessions. But eventually, you’ll give Love a shot or two. And that’ll be a wrap.

Plus, I know for a fact he’d dominate here as he would in any neighborhood 21 game. The boy would get every rebound, would thus get to take the most shots at the rim, and might break your wrist in the process.

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It might be eight more months before the former MVP is even allowed to partake in any ball, but when he’s healthy, there’s no little man more likely to finish at the rim. Body contortions, reverse flips, screaming dunks, as long as he doesn’t do something crazy like completely tear up his knee, he’s good money.

Would the jump shot be a problem in one-on-one? Maybe, especially if he’s going up against someone like LeBron. But Rose is quick and explosive enough off the bounce that he’ll find a way to get a shot off in the lane.

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At first, I had Russell Westbrook here. He’s an athletic freak, can finish inside with contact and in a one-on-one game, it inevitably gets played with a 17-foot radius around the rim. That’s Westbrook’s shot: the pull-up midrange J. Westbrook scored more often at the rim (3.8 buckets a game) than any point guard in the league. Deron Williams, and if we’re going big, LaMarcus Aldridge, could’ve both made this list as well. The problem? CP3 just might be the biggest killer in the league. No one hits bigger shots, no one terrorizes opposing big man more often off the pick-n-roll switch. Paul is just nasty, and not in the slang sense. On the court, he’s a hyena, and is relentless in putting pressure on defenses.

He didn’t even average 20 points a night last year. But try telling me he couldn’t average 23-25 if he REALLY wanted to.

Paul will almost always make this list for me, unless of course he stays with the Clippers, where the curse will inevitably turn his knees into something not even a shady German doctor can fix and some Monstar with swoop down and steal his talents.

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Our winner of the original Dime 1-on-1 Tournament. As has been said so many times before, “who can stop a 7-footer who’s jumping backwards off one leg?” When Kobe Bryant starts copying your moves, it means your either really f#$%^&* good, or you might just be Michael Jordan.

Nowitzki is getting older, and his start last season – in the month of January, he shot 21 percent from deep and averaged just 15.1 points a game – was so bad someone should’ve forced him to shave his head. His wobbly legs and awkward gait suddenly went from cuddly to “Oh God, did Dirk leave his legs in some club during the championship party?”

But he’ll be hitting that jump shot in shitty gyms in Germany until he’s 60, and at just 34, it’s still worth 5-6 points alone.

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The perfect one-on-one player: he can score from anywhere, doesn’t waste energy and can be downright frustrating. From 15 feet and in, Pierce’s shooting numbers have stayed eerily similar every year since 2007. Check it out on It’s weird: at the rim, he took 4.6 shots a game in 2007. Every year since then, it’s been exactly 4.0. From 3-9 feet, he’s averaged 0.7, 0.8 or 0.9 shots a game every year. Even from 10-15 feet, the Truth has turned into a machine, and one that focuses on making the easy look incredibly hard and the hard look incredibly easy.

With the game on the line, he’d take a dribble or two to the right, step back and then can a 16-footer. And there’d be nothing you could do to stop it.

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Wade might be 30 years old going on 34, but he can still dominate when he needs to. Besides, pride is a factor when you’re talking one-on-one. If you lose, it’s almost like you’re walking around naked. Not only does Wade have the all-around offensive skills to win, but along with Paul and Kobe, he’s the least likely star to ever strip down to the bone.

Four or five years ago? There’s no way Wade isn’t at least No. 2 on this list. I’ve said it before but I think he’s made more difficult shots – highlight reel plays – at the rim than any player ever. That includes Michael Jordan. When he was leading the Heat deep into the playoffs as a youngster, Wade seemed to pull two wild shots out of his man purse a night.

However, nowadays, Wade is a little more Earth-bound, and that forces him to rely on his jumper more often. He’s hired a shot coach for the first time in his life this summer, and he’ll need it or we’ll start seeing a lot more stretches like the one he had in the Heat’s final 12 playoff games where he never scored more than 25 in a game and shot only 44 percent.

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