DimeMag

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

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:

*** *** ***

10. KEVIN LOVE
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.

9. DERRICK ROSE
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.

8. CHRIS PAUL
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.

7. DIRK NOWITZKI
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.

6. PAUL PIERCE
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 Hoopdata.com. 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.

5. DWYANE WADE
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.

4. KEVIN DURANT
Kevin Durant is a three-time scoring champ, a 6-10 player with a 7-4 wingspan that shoots prettier jumpers outside of anyone other than Ray Allen and Jimmy Chitwood, and could probably convince 10,000 psychotic OKC fans to follow him to any court in the country. Homecourt advantage? Couple those fans with a genuine love affair the world seems to have with Durant right now, and he’d feel right at home no matter if he was playing at Barry Farms in D.C. or up at the Rucker in the Big Apple.

Durant did lead the league with 28 points a game during this past season, but there is one particular area where he can still struggle: physical defenders. Yet Durant did seem to quell that myth during the playoffs when he averaged nearly 27 points on 52 percent shooting against the Lakers and Ro… Metta World Peace in the second round, and then 30.6 points a game in the Finals while being checked at times by LeBron James.

At the same time, Durant has had a lot of practice for this. A game like this is basically the blueprint for the Thunder’s offense.

3. LeBRON JAMES
LeBron is easily – EASILY – the best player in the world. His all-around game is so astonishing that all we can do is criticize the smaller details. He can’t shoot or he travels all the time or he misses late free throws. He’s so good we can overlook his postseason numbers: 30.3 points, 9.7 rebounds and 5.6 assists a game on 50 percent from the field.

But what hurts LeBron is he’s never been a one-on-one player. He needs a step or two to rev himself up, and doesn’t always find a good shot if you crowd him and force him to go off the dribble. In a situation like this, no one would be worrying about his court vision. That threat would be taken away, and in the end, James would have to make a few jump shots to win.

2. KOBE BRYANT
Remember when there was that argument about who’d win between Kobe and LeBron? Remember how Bean responded? “I’d win, I’d win. “That’s what I do. One-on-one is … that’s easy for me, you know. Playing one-on-one is how I grew up playing — it’s like, my thing.”

And it’s been his thing since he was a 17-year-old senior with a spindly body and WAY too much confidence busting up Jerry Stackhouse at Sixers shootarounds.

There’s an old story told about Bryant that dates back to his early Laker days. Whenever L.A. would bring in a new player – say J.R. Rider – Bryant would take him aside and play one-on-one. If he’d refuse, Bryant would goad him relentlessly, and wouldn’t stop until they finally agreed to play. Then he proceed to completely destroy him. It was his way of saying, Look I’m the alpha dog here. Don’t test me.

Too bad Bryant will never get a crack at the one guy who he would’ve killed to go up against…

1. CARMELO ANTHONY
Do I trust Carmelo to win a playoff game? Nope. Do I trust him to lead a team? Hell no. Can I trust him to get me a bucket against any defender in the world in an isolation? Yes.

Melo might’ve only averaged 22.6 a game this past year, his worst since his second year in the league, and he appeared out of shape for pretty much the entire season. But there’s a reason he’s one of the most trusted players when it comes to making a game-winning shot. Funny right? No one trusts him to win in the playoffs – you can’t fault them… he does have the worst winning percentage of any player EVER with at least 50 postseason games – but everyone outside of maybe Skip Bayless expects him to take and hit every clutch shot available.

So in a sense, he has it all when it comes to a one-on-one game. He can score off the dribble, on a pull-up, by backing someone down, and is both big enough and quick enough to face small guys and frontcourt players.

Who is the best 1-on-1 player in the NBA?

Follow Sean on Twitter at @SEANesweeney.

Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.

Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.

×