Mock 16-Player NBA 1-on-1 Tournament: Matchups and Predictions
Wouldn't it be fun to put that to the test?
Let's face it, the Slam Dunk Contest is losing popularity, and you never cared for fan voting in the All-Star Game, anyway. But what about adding a one-on-one tournament for the league's 16 best superstars to All-Star Weekend? Then this discussion could be settled once and for all.
The NBA is a league dominated by superstars, but to see epic individual battles between the top players in the Association would be a real treat. For just one day, forget about basketball being a team game and allow the best of the best to put it all out there on the court in a one-on-one game to 21.
The tournament will have a single-elimination format, and for the sake of this article, all contestants will be fully healthy and ready to play.
Now, are you ready to meet the participants and allow the greatest tournament of all time to begin?
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Here is a power ranking of the NBA's top 16 players right now. These rankings are not based on reputation, but rather how good each player has been this year. In the case of players who have been injured for the entire season, their performance from last year will be what counts toward their ranking.
1. LeBron James
2. Kevin Durant
3. Chris Paul
4. Derrick Rose
6. Kobe Bryant
7. James Harden
8. Russell Westbrook
9. Tim Duncan
10. Dwyane Wade
11. Kyrie Irving
12. Tony Parker
13. Dwight Howard
14. Kevin Love
15. Blake Griffin
16. Rajon Rondo
Before the tournament begins, let's go over the official rules.
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Here are the official game rules:
1. Games will be played to 21, and a player must win by at least two points.
2. All shots made are worth one point.
3. All defensive rebounds that hit the rim must be brought back behind the three-point line.
4. Fouls are called by defenders.
5. The shot clock will be set at 24 seconds.
6. Whichever player makes a basket keeps the ball for the next possession.
Now, let the madness begin!
(No. 1) LeBron James vs. (No. 16) Rajon Rondo
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We kick off the tournament with a matchup between reigning MVP LeBron James and All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo.
Rondo may be a gritty, determined defender, but even he won't be able to contain LeBron James.
James dominates Rondo in nearly every aspect of the game. Rondo may be quick, and he may be a hardworking perimeter defender who plays bigger than he really is, but King James also shares both of those qualities. And with a seven-inch height advantage, James can easily post up on Rondo if his outside game is kept in check.
Speaking of outside game, pass-first point guards with an inconsistent jump shot are generally at a disadvantage in one-on-one games. Rondo is one of the greatest facilitators in the league, but that won't help him in this game. His jump shot has improved in recent years, but it still isn't at an elite level, and LeBron should have an easy time guarding Rondo on defense.
Without any real advantages over James, Rondo is blown out in the first game of the tournament.
Prediction: LeBron James 21, Rajon Rondo 9
(No. 2) Kevin Durant vs. (No. 15) Blake Griffin
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In most cases, size matters. But in a game against three-time scoring champion Kevin Durant, a small height advantage won't be enough for Blake Griffin to pull out a win.
Big men always struggle against smaller players in these one-on-one games. Griffin would need to step out of his comfort zone and be able to defend a quicker player on the perimeter while also handling the ball on offense. Since Chris Paul is always the one who runs the offense and sets up plays for Griffin in Los Angeles, Blake may have a difficult time adjusting.
Meanwhile, Kevin Durant can easily run circles around the much slower Griffin. He may have some trouble scoring in the post and might have a couple of shots blocked, but Griffin would be completely unable to stop Durant on the perimeter.
For Blake Griffin, this matchup is a nightmare. Griffin might get a few dunks, and he actually has a much better jump shot than he is given credit for, but even an average defender like Durant would be able to force some errors on Griffin's part if he is forced to dribble the ball.
There are no surprises here, as Durant easily takes this game.
Prediction: Kevin Durant 21, Blake Griffin 11
(No. 3) Chris Paul vs. (No. 14) Kevin Love
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Chris Paul is having a fantastic season with the Clippers right now, but this matchup may actually be a lot closer than you would think.
Kevin Love is not your average big man. Love is quicker than most power forwards, and he is also a career 35 percent shooter from downtown. Despite that, he is still one of the best rebounders in the NBA. Love is not like the other stretch 4 players who grab six rebounds a game, and with a huge 10-inch height advantage over Chris Paul, all he needs to do is force a few misses to keep CP3 from touching the ball.
On the other hand, this would still be an extremely difficult matchup for Love. Paul leads the NBA in steals per game, and he could force countless turnovers against someone like Kevin Love who isn't used to handling the ball. Love may be able to shoot over Paul most of the time, and he might even post up a few times, but he will also be a turnover machine.
Also, Chris Paul might stand just six-feet tall, but he has a speed advantage over Love that will help him tremendously throughout the course of the game. Paul is one of the quickest players in the NBA, and with Love's underwhelming defense, CP3 should find a lot of easy finishes at the basket.
This will certainly be a tough one to win for Chris Paul. Creating enough space to shoot over someone who is almost a foot taller than you is difficult, and almost every rebound in this game will go to Love. But if Paul plays tough, lockdown defense and uses his quick hands to steal the ball a few times, he will edge out the victory.
Prediction: Chris Paul 21, Kevin Love 18
(No. 4) Derrick Rose vs. (No. 13) Dwight Howard
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This will undoubtedly be one of the strangest games of the tournament, as near opposites in Derrick Rose and Dwight Howard will play one-on-one.
At first glance, Dwight Howard appears to have somewhat of an advantage because of an eight-inch height difference. But unfortunately for Howard, he will be forced to do a lot more in this game than just sit in the post and block shots against former MVP winner Derrick Rose.
As soon as Howard touches the ball, he will be at a huge disadvantage. Howard will grab more rebounds, but any rebound he grabs will have to be cleared behind the three-point line, which means Dwight will have to dribble the basketball. Rose is no stranger to stripping players of the ball for a steal, and you can expect plenty of that in this game. If Rose constantly uses his quick hands to steal the ball and prevents Howard from gaining post position, he can gain a huge lead.
Defense will also be a problem for Howard. He can choose to defend the post and force Rose to shoot jumpers, but that won't end well. Rose doesn't have a perfect mid-range jump shot, but if he's left open, Howard may never get the ball back.
On the other hand, if Howard does choose to guard Rose on the perimeter, Rose can use his superior speed and quickness to get around the big man and fly to the rim for a dunk. Really, it's a lose-lose situation for Howard on defense, as Rose can do it all.
This will definitely be an interesting game to watch, as it is a matchup of size vs. speed. But in the end, a healthy Derrick Rose wins this game by a fairly large point differential.
Prediction: Derrick Rose 21, Dwight Howard 15
(No. 5) Carmelo Anthony vs. (No. 12) Tony Parker
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Carmelo Anthony is playing like an MVP candidate this season, and there's no doubt that he's matured as a basketball player.
Anthony always has the tools to be one of the league's best, and now that he's a smarter player, he knows when to use those tools to his advantage. He is able to post up against smaller players, he can easily create space for a shot from behind the arc and, most importantly, he's no longer launching awful shots like he was last year. Anthony is now averaging a career-high 29.2 points per game, and New York is reaping the benefits of his great season.
Meanwhile, Tony Parker, as dominant as he is, just isn't a pure scorer. Parker is very dangerous when he's looking to hit a teammate with a great pass, but that isn't something he would be able to do in this game. Parker isn't athletic enough to easily get to the basket either, and as a scorer, he is pretty average.
Parker might be the better floor general and team leader here, but Melo has the clear advantage. Anthony is a better scorer and rebounder, and even a fairly mediocre defender like Melo should be able to stop Parker from taking over the game on offense.
Prediction: Carmelo Anthony 21, Tony Parker 13
(No. 6) Kobe Bryant vs. (No. 11) Kyrie Irving
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This is a straightforward matchup, as one of the greatest of all time in Kobe Bryant would take on a young gun in Kyrie Irving.
Even in his old age, Bryant is still finding ways to dominate offensively and lead the league in scoring. Irving is no defensive stud, and with both a size and strength advantage, Kobe can easily create space to knock down some jumpers over Irving.
On defense, Bryant isn't too shabby either. His body might be getting older, but don't forget that Bryant has been selected to either of the All-NBA defensive teams 12 times in his career.
Still, guarding Irving is no easy task. The 20-year-old guard is averaging 23.3 points per game this season, and offense is his specialty. Irving is becoming a deadeye shooter, and he has the speed, athleticism and control to drive to the rim as well. Getting to the basket would likely be Irving's preferred method of attack in this game, as he would try to blow by his slower opponent.
This game could actually be fairly close. Irving is a good player, and he develops more with each day. But Bryant should easily take over this matchup on offense, and his coldblooded shots will eventually put the young stud to rest.
Prediction: Kobe Bryant 21, Kyrie Irving 16
(No. 7) James Harden vs. (No. 10) Dwyane Wade
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James Harden has definitely surprised a lot of people this year in Houston. Harden is one of the top scorers in the league right now, as he is averaging 26 points a game.
But Harden's scoring numbers are a little misleading. One reason why Harden is scoring so much is because he really is the only huge threat that the Rockets have on offense. Because of that, Harden has been given the green light to shoot whenever he wants, and that has led to some inefficient production. Harden is shooting 44 percent from the field this season, a large decrease from his 49 percent clip last year.
Meanwhile, Dwyane Wade is still putting up 20 points a game, even with two other stars on his team and at the age of 31. Wade is actually shooting 51 percent from the field and 35 percent from beyond the arc, which are both career highs. He is an expert in isolation situations, and Wade shouldn't have a hard time humiliating Harden on offense.
Additionally, Wade is a very good defender. Harden isn't athletic enough to consistently get to the basket, and Wade is also one of the best shot-blocking guards in the NBA, which means Wade could force Harden to shoot jumpers and then swat some of those shots into the stands.
Harden may look like he has the advantage at first glance, but Wade will give us the first upset of the tournament by playing solid offense and stellar defense. He isn't ready to pass the torch yet, and experience will prove to be more valuable than youth here.
Prediction: Dwyane Wade 21, James Harden 16
(No. 8) Russell Westbrook vs. (No. 9) Tim Duncan
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Does this type of matchup look familiar? It's the same exact game as Rose vs. Howard, but with two different names.
Russell Westbrook has been criticized for taking too many shots for a few years now. But in this game, he will be able to keep the ball in his hands and take as many shots as he wants without taking any heat.
Westbrook is one of the quickest and most agile players in the league, and he excels at getting to the rim. He may be much smaller than Duncan, but he makes up for it with his tremendous speed.
Duncan, meanwhile, faces the same problem as Howard does. Duncan can't dribble, and he can't simply shoot over Westbrook from the perimeter either. Duncan needs to post up on offense, but he needs to actually get to the post without having the ball stripped away for that to happen first.
One advantage Duncan may have on defense is Westbrook's poor perimeter shooting. Westbrook has improved his jumper since entering the league, but it still has a lot of room for improvement. Westbrook will want to get to the rim, but with a great defender like Duncan protecting the paint, he may be forced to shoot from outside. It may actually be a wise strategy for Duncan to sag off and allow Westbrook to shoot threes, as all shots are worth the same amount anyway. Anything Westbrook misses is almost definitely coming to Duncan as a rebound, and then he gets possession again.
Using that strategy, Duncan may make this a close game, but he won't be able to pull off an upset. Once again, speed will prove to be much more valuable than size.
Prediction: Russell Westbrook 21, Tim Duncan 18
Second Round: (No. 1) LeBron James vs. (No. 10) Dwyane Wade
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It's strange to think that these two teammates would play each other, but after a first-round upset, here they are.
These two are much more similar than you might think. Both Wade and James are excellent defenders, and they are also both extremely athletic as well as being two of the best scorers in the game.
But when it comes down to a one-on-one game, James asserts his dominance. LeBron is a more efficient shooter, he is younger, faster, taller and stronger, and he has developed a post game to add to his repertoire on offense.
James can also defend any position, and he should have no problem shutting Wade down. And on the other side of the ball, even a great perimeter defender like Wade wouldn't be able to slow LeBron down when he's attacking the basket.
This would be a fun game to watch, but LeBron has some obvious advantages over his teammate. He takes an easy win and advances to the semifinals.
Prediction: LeBron James 21, Dwyane Wade 14
Second Round: (No. 2) Kevin Durant vs. (No. 8) Russell Westbrook
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Right after James takes on Wade, we have another battle between teammates. Kevin Durant takes on his superstar sidekick, and the two young stars battle to see which player should really be taking more shots during games.
But you already know the answer to that question, don't you?
Westbrook is one of the elite point guards in the NBA, but he doesn't stand a chance against Kevin Durant. Durant is taller, and he would just have too many ways to exploit the defense. He could shoot jumpers over Westbrook, or he could get inside and post up, which is an area of his game he has recently worked on. And since Durant is a much better ball-handler than Duncan, Westbrook wouldn't be able to easily swipe the ball out of his hands.
Westbrook will get his fair share of points too. Durant won't be able to stop him from getting to the rim, and Westbrook might show off some fancy dunks during the game. But the 6'9" Durant will be able to at least partially contain him on the perimeter, and he should have a few blocks as well.
Westbrook might put up a good fight, but this one is an easy win for Durant. KD can just dominate offensively, and Westbrook will have no way to stop him.
Prediction: Kevin Durant 21, Russell Westbrook 15
Second Round: (No. 3) Chris Paul vs. (No. 6) Kobe Bryant
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Remember this dunk? It was only a couple weeks ago, so you probably should. The point is, Chris Paul will come into this game looking for revenge after that nasty facial.
But let's face it. Chris Paul may be the best point guard in the league right now, but he isn't a pure scorer. Paul always looks for the open man and sets his teammates up with great looks. He can score more than he does, but he prefers to play team basketball rather than shoot. That's admirable, as many of the young point guards of today aren't very big on passing. But in a one-on-one game, passing won't get you anywhere.
Now, what about Kobe? He's paid $30 million to shoot the basketball, and he won't hesitate to pull the trigger when he finds just the slightest bit of room between him and the defender.
That's where CP3 and Kobe differ. Kobe not only knows how to create space, but he knows when to shoot. Paul often hesitates to shoot wide-open shots, and when playing a one-on-one game against a defender who won't give you anything for free, that could be a problem.
Defensively, Paul is going to do his best to contain Bryant. He's a pretty good perimeter defender, and he will steal the ball a few times. But Kobe is not a bad defender either. Paul is faster, and he might drive to the lane successfully several times, but the 34-year-old Bryant should be able to stick with his man for the majority of the game.
This game will ultimately come down to a few possessions, and it will be all about scoring. Kobe is a little bigger, and Paul is a little faster, but this matchup goes to whoever can score the most points in a timely and efficient way. Without a doubt, that has to be Kobe. CP3 will put up a good fight, but Bryant once again closes out the game and moves on the the semifinals.
Prediction: Kobe Bryant 21, Chris Paul 17
Second Round: (No. 4) Derrick Rose vs. (No. 5) Carmelo Anthony
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This would be a very fun and exciting game to watch.
While both Melo and Rose have their separate advantages, in a one-on-one battle, there isn't a clear winner.
Anthony is taller, and for that he will have an advantage on the glass and down low in the post. He is also much better with his mid-range and three-point game than Rose, and overall, Melo is the better pure scorer.
Rose, on the other hand, is much more athletic. He may not be a fantastic shooter, but he plays good defense, and he has great speed and athleticism that would allow him to blow by Anthony and get to the rim with ease.
This game would probably come down to just a couple baskets, and it would also have a very quick pace. Melo and Rose have both improved on defense in the past couple seasons, but neither are elite defenders. For the most part, these two will allow each other to score. There isn't much Anthony can do to stop Rose when he's driving to the basket, and Rose can't stop Anthony on the low block and usually not in isolation situations either. So, once again, another game comes down to scoring.
In the end, Melo asserts his dominance as one of the league's greatest scorers. Rose is arguably the better overall player, but Anthony will get on a hot streak and close this game out, possibly even with an ill-advised shot. When he gets rolling, nothing stops him from jacking up contested threes, but to his credit, they often go in. And that is exactly how this suspenseful game would end.
Prediction: Carmelo Anthony 23, Derrick Rose 21
Semifinals: (No. 1) LeBron James vs. (No. 6) Kobe Bryant
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Here it is, the most anticipated game of this tournament. It isn't in the finals, but fans get to see Kobe and LeBron play one-on-one.
Without a doubt, Kobe is the better pure scorer. But in almost every other aspect of the game, LeBron clearly has an advantage.
It's true, passing and rebounding are not very valuable skills in one-on-one. But LeBron would have an advantage on the glass, and he is so much larger and stronger than Kobe, which means he could easily back him down in the post if he struggles in other areas on offense. LeBron is also younger, quicker and more athletic, and his moves to the basket are so crisp that the older Kobe wouldn't be able to stop him.
Once this game starts, Kobe will immediately be hot. He will make one or two shots, and once he gets on a hot streak, Bryant will make sure LeBron doesn't touch the ball for a while. But after making three or four consecutive baskets to start out the game, LeBron gets his turn on offense.
LeBron will use his post game in this game way more than anything else. As the younger player, he should know that if he can post up and make Kobe exert a lot of energy on defense, it will be a lot easier to slow him down on offense. A matchup with LeBron will be very physical and draining on Kobe, who will start to show signs of slowing down as the game progresses.
From there, this game is LeBron's for the taking. Once he builds a small lead, he can use that momentum for the rest of the game and eventually close this one out.
This game would be fascinating, and there's no doubt that it would be close. Against anyone else, Kobe's scoring would be enough. But against a player who excels in every aspect of the game, Kobe will eat his words and eventually come up short, proving that the torch was passed long ago.
Prediction: LeBron James 21, Kobe Bryant 19
Semifinals: (No. 2) Kevin Durant vs (No. 5) Carmelo Anthony
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Neither of these two players are known for defense, so this game will purely be a shootout. So, who is the better scorer of these two?
At first, you might immediately think Kevin Durant. After all, Durant has led the league in scoring for three straight seasons.
But then again, Melo is a much more versatile scorer.
In a game like this, there is nobody to pass you the ball. Any shot you get either needs to be in the post or off the dribble. Anthony, although slightly smaller than Durant, is the stronger of the two players, and he has his post game to fall back on. If his shots aren't falling, he can always back Durant down and use a few post moves. Durant has a post game too, but not one that is nearly as effective.
As for perimeter shooting, these two guys are pretty even. Durant was the better shooter last year, but Anthony has improved his long-range shot this season, and both players are capable of creating space off the dribble and knocking down a jumper. Overall, though, Durant is slightly more efficient.
These two are so even in a one-on-one matchup that the game would definitely be close. So, whoever has the ability to close out games takes this one. And that just has to be Durant.
This season, Durant has been absolutely dominant in clutch situations. He shoots 50 percent from the field and 39 percent from downtown, and he averages 42.8 points per 36 minutes. Melo, on the other hand, has struggled. Melo still is a closer, but he is shooting just 41 percent from the field and 29 percent from downtown in clutch situations while putting up 33.6 points per 36 minutes. Anthony goes far into this competition, but his run ends here.
Prediction: Kevin Durant 22, Carmelo Anthony 20
Championship Game: (No. 1) LeBron James vs. (No. 2) Kevin Durant
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Alright, so maybe the top two seeds in the finals is just the safest pick, and I'll admit, it isn't bold. But both Carmelo Anthony and Kobe Bryant just barely lost their games, and either one of those two could also end up in this game. But again, the likely matchup in the finals of the tournament has to be between James and Durant.
Durant is one of the greatest pure scorers in the game. Unfortunately, that's really his only advantage over LeBron in this game.
For starters, LeBron is stronger. I talked about Melo posting up on Durant, but James would have an even easier time getting into the post. LeBron is quick and more athletic. Durant has a great first step and can get to the basket, but James is just a freak of nature. LeBron is also a better rebounder, and he's an elite defender, whereas Durant is merely decent.
Durant will give it his all in this one. He will definitely score some points, and it will be a close game. But LeBron James is going to give him a hard time, and he will make Durant fight for every point he scores. At the same time, Durant just won't be able to stop LeBron on defense as effectively as LeBron can stop him. This game will be a classic case of "anything you can do, I can do better."
In a couple years, when he's a little stronger and more experienced and LeBron is starting to show very slight signs of aging, I would give the advantage to Durant. But in the first NBA All-Star Weekend one-on-one tournament, LeBron will continue to prove to the world that at least for now, he truly is the king.
Prediction: LeBron James 21, Kevin Durant 17