20 NBA Players I’d Love to Play 1-on-1

1 of 21

Top 20 NBA Players I’d Love to Play 1-on-1

Derick Hingle - USATODAY Sports

What does a game of 1-on-1 really prove? It doesn’t prove who is the most talented player, yet this is a common question that is asked. Michael Jordan, for heaven’s sake, even fed into this belief when he said he could beat LeBron James mano a mano but that Kobe Bryant may have a chance to beat him because “he steals all of my moves”. Other than the issues that come with comparing cross generation players, what in the world would this prove? One of James’ greatest assets is his passing ability, something that has absolutely no value in a game of 1-on-1. There is no help defense, no rim protector, and no transition opportunities -- it simply doesn’t prove anything.

The great 1-on-1 debate is fun because, well, it will always be just that: a debate. Jordan isn’t jumping in a time machine any time soon to settle past vs. present arguments. LeBron and Kobe have bigger things to worry about than meaningless 1-on-1 game (for the record, if they ever did play, the loser would almost certainly call it a fluke and the winner would refuse to play again, knowing that if they play enough, they will play to a draw).

These games are never going to happen, so why not jump on board and project ten other matchups that are never going to happen: me against ten NBA players of my choosing. Sure, I’m almost 5-foot-11 and 150 pounds soaking wet, but in a game that is never going to happen, why not have a little fun? Here are 20 players I want a shot at, 1-on-1, in a game to 11.

Check the ball at mid-court. Game on.

Follow me @unSOPable23 for the latest ins and outs of another fictitious world I like to explore with regularity: that of fantasy sports.

2 of 21

20. Jimmer Fredette

Ed Szczepanski - USATODAY Sports

We all remember the insane range Jimmer Fredette had at BYU during his senior season (28.9 points per game, half of which seemingly came from the other side of half court), but the marksman has struggled to find his groove in the NBA. In this 1-on-1 challenge, I’m drawing a line at 36 feet (roughly 50 percent deeper than the NBA 3-point line) and giving Fredette a bonus point for any shot made behind that mark. Is he going to make some? Sure. But if I can convince him to shoot a lot of them, he can only make so many, right? He hasn’t proven the ability to do a whole lot else up to this point (regressed in most statistical categories last season), so I’ll take my chances.

He looks pretty excited for this game, doesn't he?

3 of 21

19. Andre Miller

Chris Humphreys - USATODAY Sports

Let’s take inventory about my chances against an NBA player. By comparison, I’m slow, can’t jump and am not physically gifted. Andre Miller has had a long and productive NBA career, but has any player done more with less physical ability? He’s slow and can’t jump either, but he also cannot shoot and is considerably older than me. That’s three negatives for me and four for him.

I’m just sayin’.

4 of 21

18. Rajon Rondo

Daniel Shirey - USATODAY Sports

I marvel at Rajon Rondo’s ability to make those around him better and believe he can be a point guard on a winning team (not this year, but in general -- he’s that good). That being said, he wouldn’t have a great physical advantage on me and is coming off of major knee surgery. He can’t really shoot, and while I will have problems keeping him away from the rim, his iffy knee may or may not have a bull’s eye on it. I’m competitive to a fault, and I’m taking full advantage of being the healthier of the two players.

Look closely at this picture ... is that Kyle contesting a Rondo jumper? You can expect to see a lot of this.

5 of 21

17. Tony Allen

Mark D. Smith - USATODAY Sports

There are a few things I like about this matchup. First, Tony Allen has proven himself to be a poor evaluator of talent at the point guard position (“Mike Conley is a top five point guard in this league”), so maybe he’ll fail to properly scout me.

In addition to the chance to sneak up on him, my hometown officials have informed me of a rule change for this game. Allen gets to play in the NBA, so why can’t I get something in my favor? I’m getting one point per successful dribble. I start with the ball at half court and he starts on the baseline.

Check up.

6 of 21

16. Larry Sanders

Howard Smith - USATODAY Sports

Sure, a 6-foot-11 shot blocker would seem like the last player I’d want to oppose, but I think I’ve got a beat on the three-year pro. Larry Sanders swats shots as well as anybody on planet earth, but he won’t block a single attempt of mine because I am not going anywhere near the paint. I’m more of a spot-up jump shooter, and while his arms are long (7-foot-6 wingspan), I’m confident that my range extends far enough beyond the paint that I can get my jumper off unaffected. If that doesn’t work, I’ve got my sister and her Richmond Spiders basketball team lined up to ref this game, putting the VCU product at a distinct disadvantage.

7 of 21

15. Derek Fisher

Mark D. Smith - USATODAY Sports

Derek Fisher has been hitting big shots for the entirety of my NBA fanhood, giving the 39-year old historic appeal. I’ve watched him hit dagger after dagger, but I still have no idea how he gets his slow motion jumper off against the best athletes in the world. It’s a herky-jerky shot that takes half the shot clock to load, yet I can’t remember his shot getting sent into the cheap seats once. How?

I’m giving away a few inches here, but I want an opportunity to block the shot that I’ve seen end so many seasons in the past. He has never really been able to get his own shot, so I wonder what his offensive plan would be in a 1-on-1 format.

8 of 21

14. Vince Carter

Matthew Emmons - USATODAY Sports

This game is simply to fulfill a childhood fantasy. I’m an unapologetic Toronto Raptors fan and it all started Vince-sanity in the early 2000s. I loved every moment of the high-flying dunks and the promise that he and Tracy McGrady brought to my favorite franchise.

I like everything about Carter, including the way he has aged as a ballplayer. He transitioned nicely from a star player to a co-star and now to a role player, something that few high-end players do well. Carter is no longer the highlight show he once was, but I expect him to bury numerous fade away baselines jumpers regardless of how I defend him. I couldn’t average double-digit points in high school while VC has done it 15 straight seasons in the NBA. I’ll get blown out in this matchup … but I’ll love every second of it.

Thanks for the memories Vince. You are a big reasons why I love the game of basketball.

9 of 21

13. Kyrie Irving

Eric Hartline - USATODAY Sports

I am requesting that he comes into the gym as “Uncle Drew”, his alter ego that allows him to just have fun and do his thing. Few NBA players have displayed the ability to have as much fun playing the game as Kyrie Irving (ask Brandon Knight how that went during All-Star Weekend), and I think this would be the most entertaining of the 20 matchups I have lined up. I also think Irving has the opportunity to be the best point guard over the next 10 years, and I want to have an up-close look at my position played at the highest level.

10 of 21

12. Reggie Jackson

Jerome Miron - USATODAY Sports

Is Reggie Jackson a good NBA player? We don’t really know right now, but we will soon find out as he guides the Oklahoma City Thunder in the extended absence of Russell Westbrook. Or will we?

On the line for this game will be the starting PG role for the Western Conference contender. If he doesn’t agree to the terms, it will be considered a forfeit, and my ‘23’ jersey will be printed (and sold at a sporting goods store near you). This is my fantasy, which is why I have absolutely nothing to lose in this game.

Did I mention that we are playing to 11, and as the underdog, I will be staked to a 10-point advantage? Keep an eye on the Thunder backcourt as the season tips off early next week.

11 of 21

11. Rafer Alston


I mentioned in the introduction that the ability to win a 1-on-1 game has no real value in NBA circles, and I stay by that claim. That being said, Rafer Alston made his name as a street ball legend (remember hearing the name “Skip To My Lou”?), where 1-on-1 is the backbone and where legacies are built.

Yes, I realize that Alston hasn’t played an NBA game three years, but he has not officially retired (to my knowledge) and is therefore considered an active player (and thus eligible to be challenged by me). I am never going to stop Alston from embarrassing me, let alone prevent him from scoring, so I naturally need to level the playing field before things get to far out of hand. After Alston gets nine points, he will be required to play with two basketballs.

That’s right. He needs to beat me off the dribble while maintaining the handle of not one, but two, balls. If I steal one, or even knock it away, it is a turnover. I don’t view this as an impossible obstacle for a player with handle like Alston does, and am curious as to how (not if) he beats me with this condition.

12 of 21

10. Royce White

Howard Smith - USATODAY Sports

The former first-round pick is now a member of the Philadelphia 76ers and has yet to play an NBA game, much like me. He was voted dead last in ESPN’s #NBARank, so if I’m going to have a chance against anyone, wouldn’t it be him? Not only have I played competitive basketball more recently than White (played a men’s league game two nights ago), but if this is my event, my hometown of Rochester, NY is the obvious place for these games to take place. Home-court advantage would not normally be a big deal in a game like this, but when you consider that White is afraid of flying, there is a reasonable chance I win this game by forfeit. If I have any chance to be deemed a winner, this may be my best bet.

13 of 21

9. Blake Griffin

Jayne Kamin - USATODAY Sports

This matchup is a calculated risk. From a competitive angle, Blake Griffin doesn’t have the greatest handle, so maybe I employ a half-court press here. If and when he beats me off the dribble, I simply foul him and make him cash in on free throws (my dream, my rules: on every foul the player must make two free throws in a row to earn the point).

Eventually, he will probably stop calling the foul and simply drag me to the rim, no matter how hard I try to hack him. But all is not lost should the game unfold in this fashion, as I would now be a favorite to make an appearance on various Top 10s across the world. I’m not above getting a little extra publicity and air time, so someone make the call and make this game happen.

*For the record, should I frustrate Griffin with the hack-a-dunker strategy and he decides to retaliate with a similar strategy, I’m an 80 percent free throw shooter.

14 of 21

8. Steve Nash

Carl Edmondson - USATODAY Sports

First of all I want to say I love the way Steve Nash plays the game and generally based my style of play in high school off of the craft point guard. But if I’m lining up opponents for a 1-on-1 showcase, the declining Nash is a decent option.

He’s 6-foot-3 178 pounds, making him about as close to a physical equal that I’m going to find in the Association. Nash has made his money by dominating in the pick-and-roll offense and leading the fast break, neither of which is an option in this format. He’s not a great defender, so maybe I can get a cheap bucket or two. Nash also seems like the generous type who might give me an open look, and the thought of being able to say “I scored on a Hall of Famer” is appealing, even if he lets me do it.

15 of 21

7. Andrea Bargnani

Chris Humphreys - USATODAY Sports

This one is simply out of pure disappointment. As a Toronto Raptors fan for more than a decade, I hated the selection of Andrea Bargnani with the first overall pick in the 2006 draft and hated the subsequent seven disheartening seasons. Ignore the fact that I’m giving away 13 inches and 100 pounds, I know I’d have a good scouting report on the Italian. He rarely uses his height to his advantage at the NBA level (he’s a seven-footer who shot more three pointers than rebounds grabbed in his rookie campaign!), so I don’t think it’s crazy to believe he hoists up a ton of jump shots against me. He’s battled health issues over the last two seasons, while I’ve maintained a clean bill of health at my desk job.

Recap: I’ve got the edge in knowing his game and am the healthier player. I’m not a decorated defender, but it is possible that I can stay in front of the ball better than the seven-foot stiff. Bargnani is no longer a member of my beloved Raptors, so having the opportunity to pull off the upset would completely close the book on what has been a pitiful stretch of basketball for my favorite team (I’ve got Toronto as a 45-win six seed this season).

16 of 21

6. Steph Curry

Kyle Terada - USATODAY Sports

I like the idea of playing Steph Curry for a few reasons. First, he seems like someone who would have a great time with the event. Second, I like the idea of getting an up close look at that pretty stroke of his. I’d request that he tell me his exact move and shot location before he does them, and my guess is that I’d still be able to get a decent contest due to his quick trigger. I also want to get a sense of his sneaky athleticism. I’ve always thought that he is considerably more athletic than the public give him credit for, and getting dunked on would prove me right. He’s on the fast track (yes, I realize it’s early) to becoming the best shooter of his generation (and potentially of all-time), and I’d love to get the experience of trying to defend someone with unlimited range.

17 of 21

5. Kevin Garnett

Debby Wong - USATODAY Sports

Playing against someone who I’ve watched for the entirety of my NBA fanhood would be great, and while I’ve seen Kevin Garnett do everything from average 24.2 points per game in Minnesota to develop into a defensive stopper on a championship team, there is one part of his legacy that I’ve never had the chance to fully get a look at: his elite trash talking ability.

I might leave this 1-on-1 game in a wheel chair with bruises everywhere, but if he began running his mouth, it’d make the whole experience worth it. It seems that he studies opponent's bios as much as their on the court skill set, and I’d love to get an earful of that. As my skill set has declined (I peaked in high school, so I’ve been stuck in reverse from a talent perspective for quite some time now) I’ve begun talking more, and getting pointers from the greatest talker of this generation (in any sport, potentially with the exception of Cortland Finnegan) would be a dream come true.

18 of 21

4. LeBron James

Robert Mayer - USATODAY Sports

This one is simple. I just missed prime Michael Jordan, making LeBron James the best player I’ve seen for the entirety of his NBA life. I want the chance to Witness greatness, and this is the perfect opportunity. I’d obviously hack him on every dribble, but my guess is that he wouldn’t even feel the contact. I’ve played against a handful of people that are at least 6-foot-8, but at the high school level, those players tend to be stiffs that sit in the paint. Getting a taste of James’ ability and size is something I appreciate from a distance, but the chance to try to defend him would add a whole new level of appreciation for the athletic tools he has at his disposal.

I’m not going down easy though. I’d flop with every bump, blow the whistle on every hand check. His physical domination may work to my favor, as the slightest of contact is going to affect me considerably more than the normal player James defends. As mentioned, I’m a good free throw shooter, and you have to think I get the home-court advantage call from the referee (did I mention that the ref gets to meet James if I win?).

19 of 21

3. J.R. Smith

Debby Wong - USATODAY Sports

I’ve crushed J.R. Smith in many an article and I’d love to get the opportunity to defend a player that I think is very good but very flawed. Can Smith get as hot as anyone in the entire league? Yes. But he routinely leads the league in the most bad shots taken by choice, not as a result of strong defense. I won’t be able to stay in front of the professional bucket getter, but I have as good a shot at making him take difficult shots as anyone.

If he goes cold (circa 2012 playoffs), it is possible that his poor offense carries over to the defensive end. He seems like the player that would just want to leave this event as soon as possible, even if that means letting me win. He’s going to take bad shots even if I can’t really defend him, and as long as he hasn’t read my past work, I can’t imagine that he would be motivated in this game.

He probably beats me soundly, but I still don’t think he’s a player who will be featured in a big way on a championship level team.

20 of 21

2. JaVale McGee

Chris Humphreys - USATODAY Sports

Is there a single player in the NBA that would be more fun to play against than JaVale McGee? His carefree attitude is refreshing and I believe that he would enjoy playing against me as much as I would playing him. The unknown is something that McGee offers that no other player does, as it is unclear if McGee has a full understanding of the rules of basketball.

He’s got the same handle/free throw issues that I discussed with Blake Griffin, giving me at least a chance to get a stop. After we play, I’d require McGee to watch the game film with me and take a shot at broadcasting the event. My guess is that this would be my favorite part of the day. He’s got 15 minutes worth of bloopers when you search him on YouTube, and that is only in the first five results. Playing against an NBA talent would be a dream come true, but having the time of my life from an entertainment standpoint is something that McGee brings to the table that very few athletes offer.

21 of 21

1. Ricky Rubio

Greg Smith - USATODAY Sports

Ricky Rubio is my favorite player in the NBA today, making the opportunity to meet him something I’d love to do. He’s as creative with the ball as anyone in the league today and his ability to make those around him that much better is a skill I admire. That being said, I might have a shot in this game.

With no teammates, Rubio will be forced to knock down jumpers, something he has yet proven the ability to do (a career 35.9 percent shooter from the field and 31.7 percent from distance). He gets a lot of love for his ability to come up with steals, but he is not a great on the ball defender, giving me a chance when I have the ball. I’d guess that he’d struggle to score (not because of me, but because of his inaccurate J), and should this game be tied after ten minutes, house rules state that we have a high school three point shooting contest.

Rubio is going to be the best point guard at creating for teammates sooner rather than later, and I want to have the opportunity to play against him. Following this contest, I’d invite “Testigo” (Spainsh for “Witness”) to join me in a pickup game, so that I could get a firsthand look at his ability to break down a defense.