You know what's better than watching NBA superstars wage battle on the hardwood? Watching them wage battles against each other.
The NBA is a league consumed by athleticism, driven by star-power and fueled by accolades. So, naturally, the most adored and revered players are the ones that fit such a description to the T.
And yet, for a league dominated by superstars, epic individual battles are arguably a rarity. Every night, we'll see a star or five be pitted against another star, but the Association has become a hotbed for max contracts, and the term "star" is now thrown around quite loosely.
We don't merely crave one star leading the charge against another, we want to see the cream of the crop duke it out amongst each other for bragging rights. We want head-to-head matchups consisting of larger than life household names attempting to strengthen their legacy.
But unfortunately—at least in this case—basketball is predominantly a team sport, and we'll probably never get the opportunity to see how the elite of the elite would fair in an epic grudge match, one-on-one, mano-a-mano.
That is, unless you remain glued to your seat.
This is no ordinary, run-of-the-mill, one-on-one tournament.
We aren't going to take the league's top 128 or 64 players and let the madness ensue. We're here to see what the league's greatest can do against one another.
So, in the interest of narrowing the field, and ensuring this tournament is home to only the select few, we will watch as the NBA's top 16 superstars battle for the rights to a new kind of glory.
Players will be seeded from 1-16, and the matchups will occur from top-to-bottom (No. 1 vs. No. 16, No. 2 vs. No. 15, etc.)
Also, the tournament will be in a single elimination format. In other words, losers are one-and-done, winners will move on.
For the sake of this breakdown—and superstar-related parity (is that an oxymoron?)—we will assume that all players are fully rested, healthy, bathed and ready to bring their "A" games.
So, now that the parameters are set, are we good to go?
Now, it's time to understand the official rules:
1) Games will be played to 21, but a player must win by two points.
2) All shots made are worth one point.
3) The shot clock will be set to 24 seconds.
4) Defensive rebounds that have hit the rim must be brought back behind the three-point line.
5) Fouls are called by defenders.
6) That said, there will be two referees present to ensure no benefits are reaped from flopping.
7) "Make it-take it" rules.
Let's see which athletes we'll be dealing with now.
Below is the power ranking for the NBA's top 16 players, who will serve as our participants for this historically prolific tournament.
(1) LeBron James
(2) Kevin Durant
(3) Chris Paul
(4) Dwyane Wade
(5) Kobe Bryant
(6) Derrick Rose
(7) Dwight Howard
(8) Russell Westbrook
(9) Carmelo Anthony
(10) Deron Williams
(11) Kevin Love
(12) Rajon Rondo
(13) Tony Parker
(14) Dirk Nowitzki
(15) Andrew Bynum
(16) Blake Griffin
We're now so close...
As a refresher on how the seeds will face off, here's the complete breakdown of the matchups we'll see in the first round.
(1) LeBron James vs. (16) Blake Griffin
(2) Kevin Durant vs. (15) Andrew Bynum
(3) Chris Paul vs. (14) Dirk Nowitzki
(4) Dwyane Wade vs. (13) Tony Parker
(5) Kobe Bryant vs. (12) Rajon Rondo
(6) Derrick Rose vs. (11) Kevin Love
(7) Dwight Howard vs. (10) Deron Williams
(8) Russell Westbrook vs. (9) Carmelo Anthony
And now, we're off.
We kick off with the matchup of a lifetime. For Blake Griffin, that is.
LeBron James is one of the greatest to ever play the game—he's entered Michael Jordan territory, in fact—and his two-way prowess is too much for most too handle, let alone the strikingly limited skill set of Griffin.
James can play all five positions, which in this tournament, means he's not hindered by the absence of a facilitator or big man who spreads the floor.
Griffin, though? Not so much. He'll suffer immensely from the absence of a premiere point guard, like Chris Paul, who is able to navigate him through the rigors of an NBA offense.
And yet, as if that weren't enough, any playmaking abilities Griffin possesses—and there aren't many—are going to be shut down by James' superior inside-out defense. After all, we're talking about a guy who can wreak havoc both on or off the ball.
Factor in James' efficient shooting and his newly-renovated, highly touted, self-endorsed post game and Griffin is, well, screwed.
Simply put, the ability to jump over a car isn't going to help Griffin here.
LeBron James (21) Blake Griffin (6)
Size matters, but not here.
Big men like Andrew Bynum are often at a disadvantage in one-on-one sets because it requires them to step out of their comfort zone and take over ball-handling duties, in addition to exploring the realms of the perimeter.
Trying something new is difficult enough, but it's damn near impossible against a high-flying, offensively dominant, obnoxiously versatile Kevin Durant.
Oklahoma City's small forward would easily run circles around the less mobile Bynum, who has proven near incapable of stepping out and defending above the top of the key in the past.
Sure, Bynum may block a few shots, but that's only if Durant attacks the rim, which he's unlikely to do too often given his opponent's underwhelming perimeter defense.
No, Durant himself isn't a great defender, but it wouldn't take a good defender, or any defender at all, to force errors on Bynum's part when he has to clear the ball.
This matchup would simply be a nightmare for Bynum.
Kevin Durant (21) Andrew Bynum (11)
It's not easy being Dirk Nowitzki these days, especially here.
Nowitzki has the clear size advantage over Chris Paul, and can also score from anywhere on the floor, but so can his counterpart. This one is going to come down to defense.
And while at first glance Nowitzki seems easily capable of overpowering Paul on the block possession after possession, the point guard has some of the quickest hands and feet in the NBA, to go along with his superior instincts.
Pump fakes and fade-aways aren't going to help Nowitzki here, nor will his lackluster defense, which Paul is bound to expose.
In this particular matchup, expect to see Paul put his over-dribbling to good use, feigning right, going left and getting a lot of easy finishes at the rim.
Yes, Nowitzki will score his points—it's what he does—but he won't be able to get the crucial stops down the stretch that Paul's hands ultimately will.
Chris Paul (21) Dirk Nowitzki (18)
Dwyane Wade has gotten the best of Tony Parker before, and he'll do it again here.
The thing about Parker is, as prolific as he is, he's at his best when he's a threat to pass. Unless he's keen on committing turnovers in order to get the crowd some touches, he's not a threat to pass here.
Wade, on the other hand, doesn't need another four guys to potentially dish it off to. He's an expert in isolation and at creating his own shots, regardless of the circumstances. His perimeter shooting is nothing to write home about, but neither is Parker's, giving him the clear edge on offense.
And then we have defense, where Parker is solid, but Wade is exceptional. The Heat star has great hands, which force a lot of turnovers and he's easily the best shot-blocking guard in the NBA today.
So, while you'd like to think that the fundamentally sound, penetration-driven Parker would stand a chance, he simply doesn't here. He's neither as versatile nor as dominant at his respective craft as Wade is, especially without teammates by his side.
Subsequently, the absence of an upset continues here.
Dwyane Wade (21) Tony Parker (12)
Kobe Bryant gets paid nearly $30 million per year to ignore his teammates.
Need I say more? No, but I'm going to.
Bryant makes a living off one-on-one opportunities, and despite the age difference here, Rajon Rondo doesn't stand a chance.
Yes, the self-proclaimed best point guard in the NBA is a stout defender, but Bryant isn't too shabby himself. In fact, he'll relish at the opportunity to guard a Rondo who has no teammates to dish off to.
Factor in Rondo's poor jump shooting abilities with his penchant for unforced errors as he enters the painted area, and we'll be treated to a surprisingly easy win for one of the league's greatest iso-oriented scorers.
Because again, much like big men, pass-first point guards without a consistent jump shot are at a severe disadvantage here.
Kobe Bryant (21) Rajon Rondo (15)
Let's be honest, Kevin Love's versatility is no match for Derrick Rose's perpetual explosiveness.
Love is a better outside shooter and has a seven-inch height advantage, but that will only get him so far against the quickness of Rose. Once the wily point guard has the ball in his possession, Love will be hard-pressed to get it back enough times to build a sizable lead, or any lead at all.
The big man's handle on the ball is also mediocre. He's best served with his back to the basket or as a spot-up shooter, and while he can try and power the ball down low, he won't be receiving any open looks courtesy of Ricky Rubio here.
It also doesn't hurt Rose's cause that he's one of the best ball-handlers in the league going up against a defensively underwhelming stretch forward, who doesn't have quick enough feet to lockdown Chicago's finest.
Love can shoot over Rose all he wants, but those shots won't hit more than 40 percent of the time, and his opponent is no stranger to stripping players on the way up either.
No doubt this will be a fun matchup to watch, but ultimately, a healthy Rose beats an on-point Love any day of the week.
Derrick Rose (21) Kevin Love 14
And here comes the tournament's first upset.
Dwight Howard—at full strength—is a beast on both ends of the floor. But Deron Williams is better suited for this game of one-on-one basketball.
Though Howard is a defensive stalwart, and extremely quick for a center, Williams boasts the perfect combination of strength and agility with ball-handling skills the center is not used to defending exclusively.
Whether it involves weaving in and out of the paint before taking it to the rack or crossing Howard over before pulling up for a jumper, Williams is guaranteed to win the offensive battle.
More importantly, though, he will not be as over-matched on the defensive end as we may believe. Howard is best served coming off low post pick and rolls and cuts to the basket, but he has no point guard to help him here. Nor does he have the ball-control necessary to position himself with his back to the basket after starting his sets from behind the arc.
Yes, Howard will block some shots, but this still isn't going to be as close as one would expect. Or even hope.
Deron Williams (21) Dwight Howard (12)
Carmelo Anthony likes to play outside the confines of teammates, and here, his prerogative becomes a reality.
This will be one of the tightest matchups we see all tournament. Both Anthony and Russell Westbrook are offensive connoisseurs, both prefer to have the ball in their hands and both are spotty defenders.
Westbrook easily has the advantage in the agility department, but 'Melo has a tendency to be able to slow things down offensively, for even the most high-octane of opponents.
So, while Westbrook may find it easy to dribble around Anthony, New York's cornerstone will be able to silence him with some good, old-fashioned, 'Melo approved bully-ball.
What will this one come down to then?
Despite playing different positions, Anthony and Westbrook are similar in so many ways. But Anthony strays away from Westbrook in one major area—ball-control.
Where Westbrook can be found dribbling off his foot or losing a handle as he takes flight, Melo's jab steps, pump fakes and stop-and-pops are more calculated, giving him a slight—albeit deciding—edge here.
Carmelo Anthony (24) Russell Westbrook (22)
Round 1 is in the books, and here's what we have to look forward to heading into the next one.
(1) LeBron James vs. (10) Deron Williams
(2) Kevin Durant vs. (9) Carmelo Anthony
(3) Chris Paul vs. (6) Derrick Rose
(4) Dwyane Wade vs. (5) Kobe Bryant
Deron Williams will be a much more worthy adversary for LeBron James than Blake Griffin. But he still won't be enough.
Though Williams is the perfect combination of strong and agile, James is too, only more so.
James' explosiveness will simply be too much to handle for Williams when he's forced to defend his attacks to the basket. His height deficiency will also kill him on the outside, when James goes to work on the perimeter.
Defensively, James is superior as well. He has no qualms about suffocating Williams as he begins his sets from beyond the arc. He's quick enough to recover from Williams' first step and timely enough to swat any lackluster inside attempts into the stands.
Both of these players are masters of their position, but James is also a master of a wide-array of other positions, on both ends of the floor, including point guard.
LeBron James (21) Deron Williams (16)
This is what we call a true grudge match.
Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant are two of the game's best scorers. They're both strong rebounders and inconsistent defenders, meaning this matchup has all the makings of an offensive shootout.
And Durant has the edge there.
Anthony may be the stronger of the two, but Durant has more on-ball moves in his arsenal. He has a quicker first step, lightning-quick release and generally shoots a higher percentage from the field than Anthony does.
So, while both players are capable of thriving without the integration of, you know, teammates, Anthony's penchant for bully-ball will only carry him so far against the athletic prowess of Durant.
Kevin Durant (27) Carmelo Anthony (25)
When two of the NBA's greatest point guards go head-to-head, everybody wins.
Chris Paul's versatile playmaking abilities will serve him well against a defensively inferior Derrick Rose. His own defensive prowess also gives him the best chance at containing Rose's near-unstoppable explosiveness.
But that won't be enough.
Offensively, while both athletes use misdirection to enhance their effectiveness, Paul's tendency to over-dribble kills him here. Obviously Paul has no reason to be too unselfish, but even when he's looking for his own shot, he eats up the clock.
And while his ball-handling accolades will find him more than his fair share of open looks, Rose—with a healed ACL—has the quickness and stamina necessary to force some bad shots on Paul's part. The Los Angeles-based point guard will also struggle to get easy buckets at the rim, because Rose—while defensively inferior—is difficult to pass, even for Paul.
Look for Rose to use his heightened strength on defense to force Paul into mostly jump shots, while overpowering him at the rim on offense.
And ultimately, it's this combination of explosion and elusiveness that will be too much for Paul.
So, I guess not everybody wins.
Derrick Rose (21) Chris Paul (17)
This is a matchup with serious implications.
Not only do Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade continue to challenge each other for the NBA's best shooting guard throne, but some tension still remains from the broken nose debacle at the 2012 All-Star game.
This is about as even a matchup as we're going to see, as both players excel with the ball in their hands.
That said, Bryant has developed into a habitual jump shooter, while Wade continues to attack the rim; their offensive games are the Yin to each other's Yang, in a sense.
What does that mean, though?
That this one comes down to defense.
We know Bryant is going to knock down his fade-aways, and we know Wade is going to create some easy opportunities at the rim, but who's going to contain the other more?
As the league's best rebounding and shot-blocking guard, Wade is our man here. He's got quick hands that will exploit Bryant as he starts his sets and he's a more efficient shot-challenger, courtesy of superior timing.
Bryant will put up a fight, but in the end, the younger, slightly more athletically-inclined Wade will be the one to advance.
Dwyane Wade (24) Kobe Bryant (22)
The second round is in the books and we're now moving on to the extremely pivotal third round, where the right to play in the championship bout will be earned.
(1) LeBron James vs. (6) Derrick Rose
(2) Kevin Durant vs. (4) Dwyane Wade
Let's get to it.
You've got to relish in the opportunity to see LeBron James and Derrick Rose go one-on-one.
While James has the clear height and strength advantage, Rose's resourcefulness allows him to matchup well with anyone offensively, including The Chosen One.
James is a premiere defender, but even he struggles against elusive ball-handlers who are used to breaking down defenses. Rose is nowhere near the outside shooter people would like him to be, especially in this setting, but he'll get plenty of opportunities at the rim, courtesy of the countless sets of misdirection he'll employ.
That said, there's simply no stopping James on the offensive end for Rose; the small forward can hurt you in too many ways.
Not only is James an exceptional ball-handler, but he's perfected the mechanics on his jump shot and added a dominant low post game to arsenal. And in the paint is where he'll really hurt Rose, because once his back is to the basket, his 6'8", 250-pound frame will do the rest.
No, it's not a blowout, but it's not a nail-biter either.
LeBron James (21) Derrick Rose (15)
Well, this one is certainly interesting.
Here, we have two of the league's most versatile athletes squaring off against each other, with no other parties involved.
You've got to believe Kevin Durant is going to utilize the five-inch height advantage he possesses on offense. While he's known for his pull-up jumpers and explosive penetration, he's also a phenomenal post scorer. Once his back is to the basket, his footwork takes care of the rest.
But, interestingly enough, Wade is no stranger to interior defense. There isn't another guard in the league who can bang defensively in the low post as hard as Wade; he's simply not afraid to take on anyone, including players with a size advantage.
And that's going to prove to be the key here. Because while Wade's shot isn't as smooth as Durant's, Oklahoma City's pillar is far from an effective defender. Considering how adept Wade is at eluding defenders with the ball in his hands, that spells trouble for Durant.
So, in Durant, we have perhaps the best scorer in the game, but in Wade, we have a two-way workhorse capable of slowing Durant down offensively, while putting him to shame defensively.
It will come as a surprise to many, but one-on-one, Wade proves to be the more versatile athlete, which ultimately secures him a victory.
Dwyane Wade (21) Kevin Durant (19)
And then there were two. Two teammates, that is.
After two years of camaraderie, it's difficult to imagine LeBron James and Dwyane Wade matching up against each other, but here they are, two of the best head-to-head athletes set to duke it out.
James and Wade are the same player in so many regards. Both handle the ball extremely well, both are versatile defenders and both are two of the most resourceful and dynamic players in the game.
But who wins when they're pitted against each other?
Well, the thing with that is, while James and Wade have similar methods of attack, James' dominance separates itself from his teammate's in almost every area of the game.
James is a more efficient shooter, lockdown defender and has developed a post game that, at the very least, rivals Wade's.
Not only can he defend positions 1-5 , but he can assume them on offense as well. His moves to the basket are so crisp and seamless that it doesn't matter who's defending him. He makes scoring look easy.
There's only one person who could beat James here, and it's himself, not Wade.
LeBron James (21) Dwyane Wade (18)
So, there you have it. LeBron James officially proves that he's the best of the best, with or without a supporting cast by his side.
We've always known James to be one of the greatest talents the NBA has ever seen, but he's taken great strides toward furthering his versatile dominance over the past two seasons, and it shows here.
There's not a person in the league who can do everything LeBron can, at the level he's capable of, in the efficient manner that he does it.
In the battle waged for head-to-head greatness, James finds himself adding yet another accolade to his already bolstered 2012 resume.