A few weeks ago, Michael Jordan was asked who he would like to play against in a game of 1-on-1 in his prime. He listed several of the NBA’s top players and then said, “I don’t think I’d lose. Other than Kobe Bryant because he steals all my moves.” Leave it to His Royal Airness to not only declare himself as the best 1-on-1 competitor but also to take a shot at Kobe.
Although I agree with Jordan, it brings up a good point. Who would win in a competition of 1-on-1 with today’s top players? Who is that one player who can get a bucket against any defender in the game? Here is the list of the best 1-on-1 players in the league.
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10. JAMAL CRAWFORD
When you first glanced at Jamal Crawford’s name, you probably thought there is no way he should be on this list. But glance again. Crawford has some of the sickest handles in the NBA. He’ll cross you over and get to the basket or pull up and hit a three in your face. The man can shoot and is not afraid of anyone putting their hand in his face. Crawford is the king of 4-point plays.
Crawford has the perfect attitude for 1-on-1. He is not afraid to shoot at any moment and his incredible ball control can shake almost anyone. He is the definition of what Bill Simmons calls an “irrational confidence guy.” The reason he makes it on this list over players like Russell Westbrook is simply the shooting. They both can rise above their defender to make a jumper. The only difference is Westbrook is more of a midrange shooter and Crawford can do it from anywhere on the court.
9. STEPHEN CURRY
Curry could become a guy you would forget to put on this list but he torched so many defenses from deep last season that he has to be on here. As the best shooting point guard in the NBA, Curry has the ability to carry a team on just his shooting. His 54-point game at the Garden last season is up there with Jordan, Kobe and LeBron‘s performance at MSG.
At a ridiculous 45 percent from deep, Curry will drop a three in the defender’s grill again and again. He stretched out defenses with his tricky sharpshooting and when they overplayed him he would drive and drop in a floater over a big man in the paint. With all the focus on his shooting, many can forget his great ball control. I’ve seen him crossover so many players that he was a definite for the list. As long as he doesn’t twist his ankles again, he is lethal.
8. JAMES HARDEN
Fear the beard. Maybe another surprise on the list, but Harden has found a new identity as “The Guy” in Houston. Despite Dwight Howard coming over to the Rockets, it’s still Harden’s team. He is the main scoring option and has some of the best footwork in the game. Whether he is crossing you up with the Euro step or stepping back for a jumper, he will leave the defender struggling to guess what will come next. Once he decides to drive to the basket it’s game over.
7. DIRK NOWITZKI
Pretty much a shoe-in on anyone’s 1-on-1 list. Defending Dirk is more frustrating than people who use hashtags in a real conversation. He’s 7-0 and has the most unguardable shot in the history of the Association. When you see him start to kick one leg forward you mine as well turn, box him out and pray that the shot misses. Just ask Nick Collison.
Last season, Dirk averaged 41 percent from beyond the arc and 47 percent overall. A power forward who shoots like a shooting guard is not someone you would want to face in 1-on-1. If you had to choose one word to describe playing against him, I would probably choose unfair.
6. KYRIE IRVING
As Uncle Drew, he rules the streets in basketball. As Kyrie Irving, it only gets better. Irving is a true point guard at heart, but his strongest ability is scoring. He has no fear when his team is down, because he knows that he can bring them back. In the last two minutes of games, it’s Kyrie time as he brings the ball up and the rest of the team gets out of his way.
Confidence isn’t an issue with the young star, considering he challenged Kobe to a game of 1-on-1 last year. There is no fear in Irving and his clutch scoring is a perfect indicator of that. Last season, he led the NBA in clutch points (scoring with less than five minutes in the 4th quarter and the score differential is less than five points). The only flaw that seems to be in his game is his defense, but his fearless attitude makes up for that.
5. KOBE BRYANT
The only reason Kobe isn’t higher on the list is because his recent injury. If he was 100 percent healthy he would probably crack the top three, but we are still a little unsure of what he may lack when he returns. With all that being said, he still sits comfortably at number five. Kobe’s killer instinct is unmatched by anyone in the history of the NBA not named Michael Jordan. The Black Mamba is out for blood. He doesn’t care who’s defending him, he will score and then he’ll let you know about it.
Kobe in his prime might even be the second-best 1-on-1 player in the history of the NBA. He can shoot the fadeaway, post up or drive in and out-jump the defender at the rim. He is savvy and understands the game better than almost anyone. His harassing defense — at least when he feels like it — is just one of his many assets to help him take down the opponent. As the fourth-leading scorer in NBA history, Kobe will do whatever it takes to get a bucket.
4. DERRICK ROSE
Coming off an injury, it seems a little premature to put D-Rose this high, but through the first couple of preseason games he’s shown that he hasn’t lost a step. Rose is one of the most athletic and explosive players the NBA has seen in years. He is able to contort his body in such a way that he leaves defenders confused on why they didn’t block his shot. Rose is big time and he wants everyone to know that. His number one goal is winning and it really shows when he’s playing.
Rose is extremely quick with the ball and he will beat any opposing player down the court if he sees an opportunity to score. Rose has the nasty crossover, but he doesn’t always need to use it because he can just rise above the defender for a posterizing dunk.
3. LeBRON JAMES
LeBron comes in at number three as one of the most physically intimidating players in the game. He is unanimously the best player in the world right now and when he puts his head down and goes to the basket, you can see why. He’s unstoppable. He can back you down with his 6-8 frame and get to the cup or he’ll track you down on defense and smack the ball off the glass, making you think twice about bringing it in again. The only thing lacking is consistency in knocking down the three-ball.
James is no longer pegged as the fearful prince from Akron who has all this talent but is afraid to take a shot with the game on the line. The 2011 Finals are long gone and the kind of determination and endurance shown in the past two Finals has the opposing players as the ones in fear. LeBron is extremely efficient as he posted a field goal percentage of 56 last year. The league’s reigning MVP is a tough task for anyone to handle, as the Spurs found out the hard way.
2. KEVIN DURANT
My top two could go either way. But I’m fine with KD sitting at the two spot. Durant is a terror for opposing defenders as his 6-9 frame and lanky arms allow him to shoot over anyone. Last season he shot 51 percent from the field and 41 percent from three. No matter who’s in front of him he can launch it from deep at will. With three scoring titles under his belt, he is not slowing down for anyone. He’s averaging over 26 points for his career and is matchup nightmare for anyone against him.
1. CARMELO ANTHONY
Carmelo Anthony has more haters for his on-the-court play than anyone on this list. He can’t defend very well and has never led a team into the NBA Finals. But man can he score, especially in the clutch. I am not saying he is the most reliable of players to take you deep in the playoffs but there is no one I trust with the ball more as the final seconds of the clock tick away.
‘Melo grabbed his first scoring title last season and will be in competition for more. Anthony does not fear anyone and is willing to shoot at any moment. He can play both the four and three position, leaving mismatched defenders on him for most of the game. The few that give him a hard time still can’t keep him below 25 points. He’ll either break you down off the dribble and put his large body between him and the ball or just shoot the three in your face no matter how close you are. ‘Melo is fearless and his game is perfectly crafted for 1-on-1.
Who do you think is the best one-on-one player in the world?
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