Who is the NBA’s best at 1-on-1? Fill out this 64-player bracket to decide

Since the dawn of basketball, people have been drawn to one-on-one matchups. Whether you’re a coach, general manager, player, or weirdo discerning fan who pours over hours of game tape in your spare time: nobody can resist the primal thrill of two players locked in a mano a mano duel.

That’s why it’s a shame there’s no sanctioned one-on-one competition for NBA pros. Imagine a one-on-one event during All-Star Weekend, or a special tournament at Summer League. Mix the pride of the league’s greats with a made-for-TV event, provide fans a pay-per-view version with microphones on the players, lay a boatload of cash for the charity of players’ choice on the line, and presto! Everyone wins.

Sadly, we at SB Nation can’t provide all that. But we can at least allow you to imagine it. Behold: the third edition of the custom NBA March Madness one-on-one bracket.


(If you want to print it and fill it out, do so here).

The rules:

  • I tried to make this as true to the actual NCAA selection process as possible. That means all 30 teams have at least one representative (the conference champ, if you will), and the other 34 spots are filled via at-large selections.
  • I was the Selection Committee, so yell at me if your favorite player was snubbed. Just remember that players were selected based on their hypothetical ability to win a one-on-one contest, not their actual five-on-five skill. (Remember, too, that one-on-one games go both ways, so don’t flinch if you see a defensive specialist in there).
  • Games are to 11, using ones and twos. Make it, take it. Players must clear on rebounds that hit the rim, but not on air balls.
  • Anyone who is currently injured or recovering from a serious injury was ruled ineligible. That’s why you don’t see John Wall, Kristaps Porzingis, or Victor Oladipo. I also ruled out Kevin Love even though he’s technically back. That was in part so I could say “Jordan Clarkson won the Cavaliers’ automatic bid.”
  • No region has more than one player from the same team, except for one matchup I found too much fun to resist.
  • Dwyane Wade and Dirk Nowitzki were legacy picks, just like at the actual All-Star Game. Zion Williamson was a wild card, because it’s my bracket and I can make up the rules.

(New to this? Here’s the 2018 version, and here’s the 2017 version).

Let’s run through the matchups.


NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Houston Rockets

Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

The Whistle Region

1. James Harden vs. 16. Dirk Nowitzki

On second thought, maybe it would have been better for Dirk’s sake to leave him out.

8. D’Angelo Russell vs. 9. Mike Conley

The emerging crafty lefty point guard vs. the established crafty lefty point guard.

5. Devin Booker vs. 12. Buddy Hield

Some might think this is an over-seed for Booker, but he’s free of the Suns’ stench in this matchup. On the other hand, there’s no way Hield would have qualified for this last year.

4. Kemba Walker vs. 13. Brook Lopez

By far the most lopsided size matchup in the tournament. I feel bad for both guys.

6. Luka Doncic vs. 11. Brandon Ingram

Love Luka, but I’m feeling an upset here. Ingram’s game is more suited to one-on-one, and Doncic’s is better for five-on-five.

3. Paul George vs. 14. Bojan Bogdanovic

The former Pacer vs. the dude they signed for way less money to play his role.

7. Donovan Mitchell vs. 10. DeMarcus Cousins

Another small vs. big showdown! Cousins is a scary wild card in this field, but I think he’d fare better against an opponent who was his size.

2. Joel Embiid vs. 15. Al Horford

Is this a cruel joke? Yup.


NBA: Golden State Warriors at Toronto Raptors

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Unicorn Region

1. Kevin Durant vs. 16. Bogdan Bogdanovic

Bogdan is a strong No. 16 seed, but he’s not beating KD.

8. Ben Simmons vs. 9. Danilo Gallinari

What kind of one-on-one player is Ben Simmons? The committee had no idea, so they slotted him here. You could argue he should be five seeds higher or five seeds lower, and I’d hear you out. Regardless, this is a tough first-round matchup against the Clippers’ walking mismatch.

5. LaMarcus Aldridge vs. 12. Spencer Dinwiddie

If you think Dinwiddie is over-seeded, watch a Nets game sometime. He’s the team’s best scorer against switches, and a matchup against a big guy like Aldridge gives him a chance to advance.

4. Russell Westbrook vs. 13. Eric Bledsoe

A potential KD-Russ matchup in the Sweet 16? Yes sir, provided Russ doesn’t fight Bledsoe first.

6. Nikola Jokic vs. 11. Zach LaVine

After settling on these seeds, I quickly realized that Jokic was criminally under-seeded. He can eat space by the hoop on defense and roast anyone in the post on offense. Sorry, Zach!

3. Kawhi Leonard vs. 14. Lauri Markkanen

Speaking of under-seeded, Kawhi Leonard as a No. 3 seems criminal. The selection committee really screwed up.

7. C.J. McCollum vs. 10. Nikola Vucevic

What is with the committee’s obsession with small vs. big matchups?

2. Karl-Anthony Towns vs. 15. DeAndre Ayton

Towns, Leonard, and Jokic on one side of the bracket, with KD and Russ on the other? This is definitely the region of death.


NBA: Boston Celtics at Los Angeles Lakers

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampering Region

1. LeBron James vs. 16. Jordan Clarkson

The committee thought long and hard about punishing LeBron for this season, but decided not to because, well, he’s LeBron. A matchup against the “automatic bid” from a ruined Cleveland team is our apology to him.

8. Zion Williamson vs. 9. Dwyane Wade

The best matchup of the first round, by miles and miles and miles. Also sets LeBron up to either play the biggest viral sensation since himself, or his best friend.

5. Bradley Beal vs. 12. Kyle Lowry

Lowry is the lower seed everyone wanted to avoid, because ugh, what a pain in the ass. But I think Beal has enough to advance.

4. DeMar DeRozan vs. 13. Eric Gordon

On second thought, not sure Gordon belongs in this field anymore. Alas.

6. Jimmy Butler vs. 11. Jamal Murray

I’m feeling an upset here.

3. Anthony Davis vs. 14. Julius Randle

The Pelicans’ actual best player against the guy happily sucking up the scoring vacuum created by the actual best player’s limited time on the court.

7. Klay Thompson vs. 10. Khris Middleton

Is Klay over-seeded or under-seeded? I have no idea. Regardless, this is a tough matchup against a strong No. 10 seed.

2. Kyrie Irving vs. 15. Dion Waiters

This was too good not to script. I can’t wait to see how seriously Waiters takes this matchup.


NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Golden State Warriors

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The Happy Region

1. Giannis Antetokounmpo vs. 16. Allonzo Trier

No, Knicks fans: Zion isn’t your automatic qualifier.

8. Jayson Tatum vs. 9. Pascal Siakam

I have a feeling Siakam completely dominates this matchup.

5. Chris Paul vs. 12. De’Aaron Fox

Paul is the classic No. 5 seed paper tiger at this stage of his career. This feels like when C.J. McCollum lit up Duke.

4. Blake Griffin vs. 13. Caris LeVert

That’s right: three Nets made the field! Also, if CP3 does manage to beat Fox, a Blake vs. CP3 second-round matchup is a must watch.

6. Lou Williams vs. 11. Trae Young

Lou is my darkhorse to win the whole thing.

3. Damian Lillard vs. 14. Kyle Kuzma

This might be the only shutout of the first round.

7. Jrue Holiday vs. 10. Tobias Harris

The #NBATwitter battle to end all battles.

2. Stephen Curry vs. 15. Rudy Gobert

Brutal draw for the two-time MVP. The DPOY in Round 1, a chance for Jrue Holiday to put the clamps on him in Round 2, either Lillard or Lou matching him shot for shot in the Sweet 16, and Giannis in the regional final if he survives all that.

Who do you have winning? Print out the bracket and share your picks.

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