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  • Who is the NBA's best 1-on-1 player? Your vote will help us crown a champion. Choose wisely.
By Rohan Nadkarni
September 18, 2017

Who is the best 1-on-1 player in the NBA? That’s what The Crossover seeks to determine in a somewhat-scientific method decided by you, the fans. The 1-on-1 approach is unique to basketball. You won’t ever see Tom Brady and Peyton Manning line up face-to-face and launch footballs into each other’s helmets. In basketball, however, all the trash talk, all the ego, all the alpha male bull---- can be settled with one ball, one hoop, and two people driven to prove something.

The tournament is simple. We’ve hand-selected 32 of the most intriguing 1-on-1 players in the NBA (This is where we apologize to short point guards and centers) and matched them all up head-to-head in a single elimination bracket. You’ll vote on the player most likely to win the matchup, and by the end of the process, we’ll crown a 1-on-1 champion. Vote wisely.

(Note: The seeds don’t matter, it’s about the matchups. If you can't see the poll above, click here.)

1. LeBron James vs. 32. Lance Stephenson

Lance sneaks in as the last seed purely because of his irrational confidence and willingness to do whatever it takes to win. LeBron, of course, is the No. 1 seed and presumptive favorite to win this whole thing. While this matchup may seem largely tongue-in-cheek, it can be easy to forget just how big a thorn in James’s side Stephenson was during the height of the Heat-Pacers rivalry.

 

16. John Wall
 vs. 17. Draymond Green

At first blush, Green may actually have the advantage here. Wall’s best attribute—his speed—is somewhat neutralized in a 1-on-1 setting. Meanwhile, Green’s halfcourt defense is stifling. Still, this matchup would put Green’s offensive skills to the test. Both players’ passing skills would be for naught. Do you trust Wall or Draymond more to grind out tough buckets?

 

9. Giannis Antetokounmpo
 vs. 24. Dirk Nowitzki


Dirk is one of the few legacy players in this tournament, and he draws a tough first-round opponent in The Greek Freak. Giannis obviously has a giant athletic edge here. But for many, many years, Dirk has found a way to launch one-footed fadeaways against determined defenders. Maybe Nowitzki can find a few more shots to fall in this all-European battle.

 

8. Anthony Davis vs. 25. Joel Embiid

If Embiid can stay healthy... okay let’s not go there. Bigs were mostly left out of the tournament because their games are often particularly not suited for 1-on-1, but Davis and Embiid are the kinds of special players who transcend their position. Both can shoot. Both can defend. And both are athletic enough that they wouldn’t simply be trading post-ups after each bucket. The Brow is the more accomplished player, but The Process is eager to show what he can do.

 

4. Russell Westbrook vs. 29. Patrick Beverley

Beverly is perhaps the most controversial selection for the tournament, but we (and by we, I mean this SI staffer) couldn’t ignore his tenacious on-ball defense and capable-enough offensive game. Beverley’s inclusion also means we can match him up against his nemesis: Russell Westbrook. This would easily be the most physical matchup of the first round, and 1-on-1 is significantly better when each player has a healthy dislike for the other.

 

13. Paul George vs. 20. DeMarcus Cousins

Don’t sleep on Boogie, who can handle the ball and shoot better than his seven-foot frame would suggest. In a vacuum, George is the better player. But maybe not having anybody else on the floor would finally take Cousins’s game to new heights.

 

12. Kawhi Leonard vs. 21. Karl-Anthony Towns

This might be my favorite matchup of the first round. Kawhi can lock down any player in this bracket, and his offensive repertoire is becoming more and more Kobe-ish by the season, only incredibly more efficient. Having said that, Towns is a monster, and he’s versatile enough on offense to make sure Leonard is working hard on every single possession. Kawhi could go very far in this tournament (he’s definitely underseeded), but there’s no way Towns will be an easy out.

 

5. James Harden vs. 28. Klay Thompson

Harden’s game is incredibly well-suited for 1-on-1, while Thompson is arguably the player with the most to prove in this tournament. Can Klay’s shooting be as effective in a halfcourt game with no spot ups? Will Harden’s lapses on the defensive end give Klay enough space to get hot? The way these two players shoot, this game could end in seconds.

 

2. Kyrie Irving vs. 21. Isaiah Thomas

Isaiah is probably the smallest player in the tournament, but there’s no way we could leave the King of the Fourth out of the proceedings. Kyrie will be widely feared by everyone else in the field because he can embarrass you in a hurry when he has the ball in his hands. With both players playing little defense, and the most pride on the line out of any pairing, this is arguably the spiciest matchup of Round 1.

 

15. Jimmy Butler vs. 18. J.R. Smith

The NBA’s most no-nonsense player takes on the NBA’s most nonsense player. Butler is a powerhouse on both ends of the ball, but J.R. is capable of getting hot enough to shoot anyone out of the gym. This one could be closer than people expect.

 

10. DeMar DeRozan vs. 23. Bradley Beal

DeRozan’s midrange-bound game and ability to hit tough shots makes him better suited for 1-on-1 than say, SI’s Top 100 list. Beal’s shooting prowess means DeRozan will have to guard him beyond the three-point line, which could take a toll on his offensive energy.

 

7. Carmelo Anthony vs. 26. Jamal Crawford

Crawford’s NBA game is diminishing, but his handles are slick enough to put any defender on his heels. Melo should be able to rise up and find an elbow jumper whenever he wants in this matchup, but Crawford’s aforementioned dribbling skills could be enough for him to keep finding ways into the lane. Both these guys may be on the back nine of their careers, but both have the potential to go far in this tournament.

 

3. Kevin Durant vs. 30. Dion Waiters

In his brilliant essay for The Players’ Tribune, Waiters claims he beat Durant in their last game of 1-on-1.

 

14. Damian Lillard vs. 19. C.J. McCollum

This game could quickly devolve into each player pulling up further and further from the hoop until the halfcourt isn’t enough to contain them. Lillard and McCollum form one of the most explosive backcourt tandems in the NBA. How they would fare as opponents is probably something most people around the league have thought about at least once.

 

11. Chris Paul vs. 22. Gordon Hayward

Two stars who switched teams this summer after squaring off in the playoffs. What Paul lacks in size he makes up for in obsessive attention to detail and an incredible drive for perfection. Hayward can be the foundation for a team’s offense while also defending capably. Paul is certainly not afraid to go up against bigger guys (Remember when he guarded Kevin Durant?!), while Hayward has an opportunity to prove he belongs in the top tier of superstar.

 

6. Stephen Curry vs. 27. Kristaps Porzingis

Porzingis can shoot over Steph every time down the floor, but Curry will make Kristaps guard every single inch of the court. The wildly contrasting styles will make this a fascinating matchup. It’s easy to imagine Porzingis’s height being overwhelming for Curry, but Steph has made fools of players of all shapes and sizes.

 

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