After Kobe publicly launched his bold statement that he could beat LeBron in a 1-on-1 matchup in his sleep, it was only a matter of time until it got the web talking.
Earlier this week, ESPN’s Rick Reilly interviewed a litany of basketball figures, from players all the way to the owners, about who they thought would win 1-on-1 between the top two players in the world. Former Knicks and Rockets head coach Jeff Van Gundy suggested that the NBA toss out all of the other activities during All-Star Weekend and just concentrate on adding 1-on-1 to the lineup. It wouldn’t be too crazy. Back in 1972, Jo Jo White and Bob Lanier played head-to-head on national TV in a game to 20 where you had to win by four, baskets counted as two, and there were no free throws until a fourth foul was committed.
Going by that same format, only going to 21, here are my top five matchups of active NBA players:
Chauncey Billups vs. Steve Nash — In the recent 2010-11 GM Survey, both Nash (32.1%) and Billups (17.9%) were voted as the two best leaders in the NBA. As far as clutch situations, they both finished in the Top 10 in “clutch time” scoring last year according to 82games.com. Nash scored 43.6 points per 48 minutes of clutch time, while Billups put up 37.7 points. But in a game of 21, this matchup will be determined by Mr. Big Shot’s defense. Billups is a two-time All-Defensive Team honoree. As for Nash, it’s not that he doesn’t believe in defense, it’s just that he isn’t good at it. Billups’ stocky frame (202 pounds) and developed post game for a PG would allow him to manhandle Nash’s frail frame (178 lbs) and gives him flashbacks of Robert Horry sending him into the announcer’s table.
Chris Paul vs. Deron Williams — These two are always going to be compared to each other until they stop picking up a basketball. While both guards scored the same amount of points last season (18.7 ppg), Paul takes smarter shots and is less turnover-prone due to the fact that the Hornets don’t play in an up-tempo system. In the half court, Williams can easily take Paul in a game of 21. Although Paul is a better outside shooter, D-Will has the size (6-3) and weight advantage (207 lbs) compared to CP3 (175). Many believe that CP3 is a stout defender, but the reality is that their Defensive Rating is rather similar (105.2 to D-Will’s 106.4) and D-Will has the advantage since he’s able to defend against the NBA’s premier shooting guards.
LeBron James vs. Kevin Durant — With Durant stating that he wants to be an elite defender and bang in the paint against the bigs, well, here’s his chance. Not only does LeBron have at least 20 pounds on him, but also his strength is much too much for Durant to compete with. Some might say that LeBron’s defense is overrated, but with his Defensive Warp sitting at 25.3, that’s hardly the case. Although ‘Bron doesn’t often play in the post, I’m sure he will take the opportunity to do so against Durant. There’s no doubt that he’s been working on his defense (103.6), and if Durant’s shots are falling, he has a definite chance at beating James. But with LBJ’s size and speed advantage, I don’t see KD winning this one.
Kobe Bryant vs. Dwyane Wade — The two best shooting guards in the world going 1-on-1 is a matchup everyone would want to see. Aside from both being lights-out in the clutch — Bryant scored 51.2 points per 48 minutes with the game on the line last season — they also play with an assassin’s mentality, which is to defeat you in any way possible. Kobe does have a two-inch height advantage, but Wade has the speed and weight advantage (15 lbs heavier than Mamba). Kobe likes to play in the post, which means Wade’s defense is going to have to be on-point. If Kobe fails to stop Wade from attacking the basket then the game is over, but if Kobe uses his fundamentals and hits outside shots, the Mamba takes the crown. All in all, this one is really a toss-up.
Carmelo Anthony vs. LeBron James — You think LeBron is hard to stop going to the basket? They don’t call Carmelo “The Bully” for nothing, and just imagine if his game revolved around attacking the basket. The fact of the matter is this: ‘Melo is better offensively than ‘Bron. He has a wide variety of offensive moves, he loves to play in the post, and his outside shot is nearly unguardable. ‘Melo has the size to compete with James the entire time, and everyone knows Anthony not only steps up offensively, but defensively as well when the competition is greater. They’ve played against one another for over a decade going back to high school, and ‘Melo is 10-4 against LeBron head-to-head in the NBA. We’ve already seen them go at full force last season, and while James filled up the stat sheet, Carmelo got the W and the game-winning shot. I expect the same in a game of 21.