What Would A 16-Man NBA One-On-One Tournament Look Like?

Back in February, right after Blake Griffin did that car-dunking thing, I talked with Craggs about doing a post outlining a potential 16-man one-on-one NBA tournament. This is because when you have to bring out a fucking car as a dunking prop, your dunk contest has probably outlived its usefulness. Without props, there are only so many ways to dunk a basketball, be it jumping from the foul line or twisting or reversing or whatever. There have been so many dunk contests now that every dunk idea has pretty much been excavated. And the props they're using now are stupid. A shitty car? Other basketballs? Fuck that. Dunk over a fucking rhino. But since dunking over a rhino is too dangerous and legally risky and AWESOME, that will never happen. They'll just keep whipping out bland props for the next few years and you'll watch it on YouTube the next day and it'll be mildly OK.

So Craggs and I agreed that a one-on-one tournament would be more fun to watch. I've always wanted to see NBA players play sanctioned one-on-one games against one another. After all, there are so many people out there who pillory the NBA for being an isolation game, where teammates clear out and allow superstars to take each other on one-on-one. Well, why bother with the teammates then? Fuck them. Get rid of them. Shit, don't even bother having actual NBA teams anymore. Just make it like a golf tour with tourneys every weekend and players wearing terrible visors. I'd watch it. (NOTE: I wouldn't actually watch it.) I saw Dwyane Wade school Kevin Garnett at the end of the first half the other night, and it was thoroughly enjoyable, even if I hope both teams end up dying in a freeway accident.

Anyway, Craggs and I then talked about who exactly would have the biggest advantage in a one-on-one NBA tournament. I don't think many would disagree that noted cocksucker LeBron James would win the whole thing. But outside of LeBron, how exactly would you seed this thing? Would you favor fast guards over big forwards? Wouldn't John Wall just run around Dwight Howard if the two ever played mano-a-mano? I'd like to see these questions resolved.

(Reader Alex Chester related a story about Kevin Garnett winning a 1-on-1 tourney among US Olympic team members in 2000: "A guard isn't gonna be as good cuz a big man can back him down and he'll have no defensive response.")

Now, I know very little about basketball. I'm no FreeTaco. Though I've watched some of the playoffs, I usually only watch the NBA when I'm stuck in an airport. I played one-on-one a lot when I was a kid, though. I had two moves. 1) Drive to the right of the basket, get the ball stripped. 2) Pull up, take three-pointer from the key, miss. Both moves: UNSTOPPABLE. I'm a complete idiot when it comes to these matters, so I asked Craggs, who is decidedly gay for the NBA, to guide me through the compilation of these rankings. Which he did, only after taking three fucking months to mull it over. Here would be the basic rules of the tournament:

• 16 entrants, bracket format

• Halfcourt

• Every player must wear the old Sinbad-approved Reebok blacktop shoe. SHOW ‘EM THAT TWO-INCH VERTICAL, BROTHER!

• All games go to 21

• Like a normal NBA game, regular baskets worth 2, three-pointers worth 3

• Winner must win by 2

• Make a basket, you get the ball back

• Call your own fouls

CRAGGS: Paul Pierce would call so much weak shit.

ME: But then the crowd might boo him so lustily he's cowed into not doing it. That would be the fun of the competition. You'd see who's a real bitch.

CRAGGS: Right.

ME: If you call your own foul, do you get a FT? Or just the ball back?

CRAGGS: FT? Honky, please. Ball back.

So those are the rules. Now, here were my seeds, with Craggs chiming in like a know-it-all dickhead.

1. LeBron James

CRAGGS: Too high. LeBron belongs on the list, of course, but by my reckoning top seed should go to a guy with 1.) size who can 2.) score in the post, 3.) create space off the dribble, 4.) shoot well enough to keep a defender from sagging, and 5.) defend well enough to get one more stop than the other guy. LeBron gives you 1 and 5 but not enough of 3 to overcome the lack of 2 and 4. For the purposes of this exercise, I say top seed goes to Dirk, with Kobe still at No. 2 (simply to piss off the ever-vigilant Kobe Haterz Patrol).

2. Kobe Bryant

CRAGGS: Remember when Kobe did things like this? I liked that Kobe. That Kobe was great. That Kobe wasn't a snarling self-dramatist acting out the first half of the DSM. But shit is he annoying now. His career has become an elaborate pantomime — the NBA equivalent of that dumb political kabuki wherein the presidential hopeful chucks a football around a tarmac in front of some cameras to convey the idea that he's a regular, blue-collar guy. (Remember this?) Thank god NBA fans aren't as stupid as Cokie Roberts.

All of which is to say that a one-on-one game with Kobe would involve nothing but fadeaway jumpers and that fistpump he stole from a VHS of Michael Jordan's Playground. It'd be boring as hell, and he'd do that Abe Vigoda thing with his jaw over and over, and Mike Breen or whoever would have a tantric orgasm over his Will To Win, and the rest of us would throw the remote out the window.

3. Kevin Durant

CRAGGS: He didn't exactly go supernova this year the way everyone expected, but I love what Durant has done so far in the playoffs, which if nothing else has caused sportswriters to treat him like an honest-to-god scoring badass instead of our national binky. (This was one of many hilarious consequences of The Decision, by the way. During the Great Tantrum of last summer, the same people who bitched about LeBron's overattentiveness to matters outside of basketball itself were sainting Kevin Durant on the grounds that he seemed like a nice dude on Twitter.) My only caveat about including Durant is that a lot of what makes him such a force in the NBA — that rip-through-and-jump-shot combination, for instance, which seems to put him on the foul line six times a game by itself — would render him completely insufferable in our hypothetical one-on-one tournament. Dwyane Wade and Paul Pierce would call cheapies all game long; Durant would draw real ones. It'd be unwatchable.

4. Dirk Nowitzki

See here.

5. Kevin Garnett

CRAGGS: 2004 Garnett wins this easily. 2004 Garnett does not surrender a point. 2004 Garnett eats the rest of the bracket, jumps through the hoop 11 times, and beams himself home to the Gamma Quadrant. 2011 Garnett doesn't make it out of the first round.

6. Carmelo Anthony

CRAGGS: His games would never end. He has to be the most deliberate great scorer since Adrian Dantley took off his socks. He treats an offensive possession as if it were an irregular Latin verb to conjugate. The FreeDarko boys once called him a "gigantic basketball nerd," and I still think that's spot-on. Jab step, jab step, shot fake, jab step, pulls out bevel protractor to mark off angle, jab step, jab step, calculates drag coeffient, jab step, jab step, does some long division, pump fake, jab step, drive, fouled on pull-up 8-footer.

7. Dwyane Wade

8. Derrick Rose

CRAGGS: Maybe this is my bias showing, but I'd give him the third seed. At the very least he belongs above Wade and Carmelo. He's quicker with the ball than anyone bigger, and bigger than anyone quicker (which is to say, Chris Paul). No one's better in an isolation, and he's now doing "holy shit" things on defense, too. That hanging jump shot of his — the one that used to flee his hand like the last chopper out of Saigon — is now a real weapon. Size is an issue, though he makes up for that by periodically turning himself into Dominique Wilkins.

9. Dwight Howard

CRAGGS: Boring.

10. Amare Stoudemire

CRAGGS: After Dirk, he might be the best big man on the list, especially when you consider that his biggest weaknesses — passing, helpside defense, theology — are irrelevant here.

11. Paul Pierce

CRAGGS: Bump him up a slot or two. The older he gets, the more he plays like the craftiest guy in a lunchtime Y game. I've always had a soft spot for NBA players — Steve Smith is another — whose go-to moves seem to arrive on the off-beat.

12. Pau Gasol

CRAGGS: No.

13. Chris Paul

14. Deron Williams

CRAGGS: Best crossover in the NBA and so unlike any of the famous ones (Hardaway, Iverson, and the like). What's amazing is that he never really had the move in college — it was nothing like the crossover he has now, at least, which he rips off at full speed and which doesn't so much shake a guy into the concourses (a la Hardaway) as it does nail the poor sap to the floor. He can make space for himself in any number of ways, and even back in college — when some folks were actually happy that he broke his jaw because it meant he'd finally lose some weight — he got into the paint whenever he wanted, against whomever. He's my hypothetical one-on-one sleeper.

15. Tony Parker

CRAGGS: Non.

16. Blake Griffin

CRAGGS: I'd want him in a two-on-two tournament. But not here, not without someone to throw the ball into the rafters for him to retrieve. (Sixty-seven percent of his baskets this year were assisted on, more than anyone on your list except, I believe, Garnett.) Give this spot to a player like Rudy Gay or Danny Granger.

* * *

Now, let's try and seed the tournament for all time. Here's mine:

1. Jordan
2. Magic
3. LeBron
4. Kobe
5. Dr. J
6. Bird (I hate LeBron, but I'd pay good money to see him step on Bird's head)
7. Russell
8. Wilt
9. Olajuwon
10. Malone
11. Jerry West
12. Oscar Robertson
13. Elgin Baylor
14. Pete Maravich
15. Isiah
16. Reggie Miller

CRAGGS: I won't kibitz here, except to point and laugh at Reggie Miller's name. My 16:

1. Jordan
2. Kobe
3. Oscar Robertson
4. Earl Monroe
5. Wilt
6. Adrian Dantley
7. George Gervin
8. Bernard King
9. Bird
10. Maravich
11. Jerry West
12. Elgin Baylor
13. Olajuwon
14. Dr. J
15. Rick Barry
16. Iverson

By all means, feel free to disagree in the comments. Arguing over hypothetical situations that will never come to pass is fun!

Top image by Jim Cooke