Basketball is a team game and playing a one-on-one isolation style can certainly hurt your team’s chances at winning. On the playground though, it’s all about one-on-one and some of the best moments in the NBA are when two stars go at each other. Everyone has their dream matchups they want to see, to settle who the best player really is and secure bragging rights over their competitors. A few weeks ago, Jordan said he would beat LeBron, “no question”, in a one-on-one game and LeBron responded saying he would take himself in that game.
In the NBA, individual stardom seems to shine brighter than in other sports. While a team of solid players lacking a superstar can go far in the NFL or MLB, you’ll never see a team without a superstar to the level of LeBron James, Steph Curry, Tim Duncan or Kevin Durant go far in the playoffs and/or win a championship. The individual star also shines brighter because unlike the NFL or NHL, players aren’t covered up with a helmet. The stars are on display at all times.
Players always have confidence in their skills, that’s how they got to this point. In the NBA there are some matchups we as fans wish we could see but don’t get to, sometimes because players play different positions, their from different generations or they spent their careers on the same team. These are 15 fantasy one-on-one matchups that we all want to see.
15. Steph Curry vs. DeMarcus Cousins
Two of the best offensive players in today’s NBA, for very different reasons. The league is moving towards small-ball lineups but this matchup would be fun to see who comes out on top between Curry’s quickness and lethal shooting and Cousins’ brute strength and post-up game. It’s hard to imagine Curry would ever be able to get a rebound from Cousins or stop him from getting a layup, but threes are worth more than twos and with Steph’s ball-handling, I can’t imagine Cousins keeping up.
Winner: Steph Curry
14. Michael Jordan vs. Scottie Pippen
Wouldn’t it be fun to see if Robin could actually beat Batman? Jordan got all the accolades, and rightly so, but Pippen is no slouch and there’s no doubt he would love a chance to show that the Bulls rings weren’t all because of Jordan. Pippen is bigger and stronger than MJ, who might find it tough to score against one of the best defenders of all time. This is MJ were talking about here though and when there’s a competition on the line, he isn’t going down.
13. Nick Young vs. Lou Williams
Some players are made for one-on-one and these two usually play that way every game. These two gunners love jacking up shots whenever they get their hands on the balls and seem to prefer taking tough shots instead of open ones. The confidence in this matchup is off the charts, especially considering their talent levels. Watching these two jack up fade away jumpers would be entertaining for sure, but the fact that Young can actually knock down the outside shot with a little more consistency and that he has the size and athleticism advantage makes him the favorite. These two are now playing on the same team as Kobe, this year it should be fun to see if anyone actually turns down a shot.
Winner: Nick Young
12. Shaquille O’Neal vs. Wilt Chamberlain
Two historic Lakers big men could finally battle it out to see who is the most physically dominant center ever. Wilt is often criticized for being the only man his size during the era that he played and that his dominance is overrated, however, the man did score 100 points in a game and often grabbed 50 rebounds. Shaq on the other hand was built like no others before him and would be a real test for Wilt to try to handle who would have never played against a someone built like Shaq. Wilt’s more diverse offensive game and stamina however would propel him to victory.
Winner: Wilt Chamberlain
11. Kevin Durant vs. LeBron James
We got one small glimpse of this matchup during the finals in 2012 and LeBron came out on top that time. Durant has grown since that finals, winning MVP and growing into a more dominant scorer and improved defender. When LeBron had to deal with Iguodala in the finals we saw how length can make him struggle, especially with his outside game and few defenders on the perimeter have the length that Durant has. Durant’s size and length makes it impossible to disrupt his shot, even for LeBron. This is one matchup we may get to see on the court again soon.
Winner: Kevin Durant
10. Vince Carter vs. Tracy McGrady
Cousins and former teammates in Toronto who share something else in common, the fact is their careers never reached their potential. Vince Carter took the league by storm following the 2000 dunk contest but he never translated his athleticism into huge success. McGrady was one of the best three or four players in the league during the early 2000s, a guy who once scored 11 points in 33 seconds. These are two very powerful athletes and their familiarity would make the matchup that much more fun. In the end, McGrady’s ball-handling and defense would help him prevail.
9. Ray Allen vs. Reggie Miller
The battle for the best 3-pt shooter in NBA history would be amazing to see. Ray Allen recently rose to the top of the all-time 3-pointers made list and hit one of the biggest shots of all time against the Spurs in the 2013 finals. Reggie Miller is no slouch and his ability to thrive in big moments like he did at MSG in those battles with the Knicks would help him in this matchup. This would come down to who could get off the cleanest looks and with Allen’s lightning quick release, my money is on him.
Winner: Ray Allen
8. Tim Duncan vs. Kevin Garnett
During the early 2000s these two put on a show for the best power forward in the league title. This matchup puts the silent leader in Duncan against the craziest, most vocal leader maybe ever in the NBA in KG. In their primes both players were dominant defenders but the strength of Duncan’s post game would help him prevail over KG who relied often on pick and pop jumpers throughout his career.
Winner: Tim Duncan
7. Allen Iverson vs. Kyrie Irving
These two players have the ball-handling skills to get to the basket against anyone, so it would be fun to watch these two try to one-up eachother, looking like an And-1 mixtape. Iverson was a scoring machine and one of the toughest players the league has ever seen, he would thrive in a one-on-one matchup. Irving has some of the best ball-handling skills the league has ever seen and Iverson was never a great defender. In the end, Irving’s superior shooting and Iverson lack of a defense would help Irving to take the title.
Winner: Allen Iverson
6. Kobe Bryant vs. LeBron James
One of the worst parts of Kobe’s injuries of late is that we may never get to see this matchup in the playoffs. These two were the best in the game for a few years but the prime of their careers never overlapped. This matchup would be a passing of the torch from one generational player to the next. Physically, I don’t think Kobe would have the strength to stop LeBron from getting to the hoop.
Winner: LeBron James
5. Shaq vs. Kobe
Shaq and Kobe have recently expressed their regrets over the way their relationship ended and the negativity from both sides but make no mistake this would be an intense matchup. Together they formed one of the best duos in league history, and should have even more rings together than the three they won. These two always fought over whose team the Lakers were and they could finally answer that question. Kobe would find it impossible however to stop Shaq, even people his own size couldn’t do it.
4. Wilt Chamberlain vs. Bill Russell
The best big men of their generation, it would be great to see if the team-first Bill Russell could compete the number-chaser Wilt Chamberlain. For all of Wilt’s prowess he was never the defender than Russell was, who dominated as a shot-blocker and team defender. This is a one-on-one contest though, not the best teammate award, and Russell never displayed the scoring dominance that Wilt had. In a one-on-one matchup Wilts scoring skills would prevail overtime as Russell would struggle.
Winner: Wilt Chamberlain
3. Bird vs. Magic
The duo that dominated the 1980s racking up rings for the Celtics and Lakers and cemented one of the most important rivalries in sports would make for an amazing matchup. Although these two are great friends off the court they never held back when they played eachother. Bird is one of the best shooters of all time and his numbers during the peak of his career are outrageous. Magic was similarly phenomenal, and played with more flair than Bird. Magic is a play-maker though and a one-on-one contest isn’t about setting up your teammates, it’s about getting buckets, something Bird could do with ease.
Winner: Larry Bird
2. Kobe vs. MJ
The teacher versus the pupil, Kobe grew up idolizing MJ, always wanting to be like Mike. Kobe has come close, the closest the league has seen since MJ hung up his shoes. Unfortunately for Kobe, their games are very similar but MJ is just better is every regard. Kobe was a great defender in his prime, but MJ was better, Kobe is a mid-range jumper machine, but no one has done that better than MJ. The trash-talk and intensity in this matchup would be amazing.
1. MJ vs. LeBron
The ultimate dream match-up. Jordan doesn’t lose, he doesn’t let it happen. Some would argue Kobe is the closest matchup for Jordan but LeBron is a physical phenom and his strength and athleticism would be difficult for Jordan to handle. LeBron has always played as more of a Magic than a Jordan and would rather have 25 points and 10 assists than 45 points but this matchup would let him show that he could score whatever amount he wanted to. LeBron could certainly beat up on MJ in the post but what makes Jordan the best ever is his competitiveness, it goes beyond Xs and Os.
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