Every week on NBA.com, we'll unveil a new bracket with daily matchups to vote on. By the end of the week, we'll crown a champion and determine a winner based on fan voting. Up next for this week? The best one-on-one scorer in the post-Michael Jordan era.
Kobe Bryant emulated Michael Jordan on the basketball court to the point where it at times it looked indistinguishable.
The footwork, the counters, the fadeaways, the swagger... the complete offensive arsenal that propelled Jordan to become the greatest scorer of all-time likewise lifted Bryant to legendary status. Every trick in Jordan's bag eventually make it into Bryant's bag.
So much to the point where Jordan himself declared Bryant the only player capable of beating him in his prime.
"I don't think I'd lose, other than to Kobe Bryant because he steals all of my moves."⠀- SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) April 22, 2020
-Michael Jordan on the players he'd love to play one-on-one (via @NBA2K ) pic.twitter.com/rB0zggYYpE
When we started the week with the goal of finding the best one-on-one scorer since MJ, there were several names that could have come out on top.
Kevin Durant. LeBron James. Carmelo Anthony. The list goes on and on, but in the end, there was only one logical answer as determined by the fans: Kobe.
Here's out it all unfolded.
One-on-one scoring is about so much more than merely scoring averages and 50-point games.
If that were the case we would have simply picked the 16 highest scorers since MJ and called it a day. But where's the fun in that?
For example, Kyrie Irving ranks 17th in scoring average since the 1998-99 season but is widely considered by most one of the most gifted isolation scorers ever. The handles and finishing ability don't shine through in strictly base-level numbers.
Or someone like Joe Johnson who throughout his career showed a knack for getting buckets when it mattered the most. Did you know that the only player in NBA history with more game-winning buzzer-beaters than him is Michael Jordan? He ranks 99th in scoring average in the post Bulls MJ era.
So yeah... style points count here, even if it does grossly favour ball dominant perimeter players.
|1.||Kevin Durant||9.||Kawhi Leonard|
|2.||Kobe Bryant||10.||Joe Johnson|
|3.||James Harden||11.||Derrick Rose|
|4.||LeBron James||12.||Tracy McGrady|
|5.||Carmelo Anthony||13.||Paul Pierce|
|6.||Kyrie Irving||14.||Gilbert Arenas|
|7.||Allen Iverson||15.||DeMar DeRozan|
|8.||Stephen Curry||16.||Dirk Nowitzki|
Some of the hardest omissions:
- Wizards MJ. He could still get 50 and had a bag of tricks deeper than anybody.
- Chris Paul. One of the most efficient one-on-one scorers of the last decade with a killer pull-up jumper.
- Damian Lillard. Will casually drain 38-footers without a care in the world.
- Jamal Crawford. You can't have a conversation about best crossovers without mentioning his name.
- Brandon Roy. He had the complete toolkit before injuries robbed him of reaching his prime.
- Russell Westbrook. He settles for too many ill-advised shots to make the cut but his ability to overpower and explode is unmatched.
- Ray Allen. He was picked to play Jesus Shuttlesworth!
- Zion Williamson. Yeah, I said it. How do you stop him one-on-one? No seriously, I'll wait.
The first round featured some blowouts, a few close calls and one major upset.
- 1 Kevin Durant def. 16 Dirk Nowitzki: 86% of vote
- 2 Kobe Bryant def. 15 DeMar DeRozan: 94% of vote
- 3 James Harden def. 14 Gilbert Arenas: 87% of vote
- 4 LeBron James def. 13 Paul Pierce: 84% of vote
- 12 Tracy McGrady def. 5 Carmelo Anthony: 64% of vote
- 6 Kyrie Irving def. 11 Derrick Rose: 65% of vote
- 7 Allen Iverson def. 10 Joe Johnson: 92% of vote
- 8 Stephen Curry def. 9 Kawhi Leonard: 59% of vote
In hindsight, maybe T-Mac's win over Carmelo Anthony shouldn't come as much of a surprise given he won back-to-back scoring titles during the primes of both Kobe Bryant and Allen Iverson. McGrady's often viewed as such a well-rounded and complete player that he sometimes doesn't get the credit he deserves for being able to go toe-to-toe with anyone as a scorer.
The top four seeds all rumbled to emphatic wins in the quarterfinals, setting up an all chalk final four. Here's how the quarterfinals played out:
- 1 Kevin Durant def 8 Stephen Cury: 70% of vote
- 2 Kobe Bryant def. 7 Allen Iverson: 82% of vote
- 3 James Harden def. 6 Kyrie Irving: 71% of vote
- 4 LeBron James def. 12 Tracy McGrady: 71% of vote
These matchups just made sense. KD and LeBron have waged war head-to-head on the biggest stage in the Finals with the unofficial title of best player in the game on the line while Bryant and Harden - along with Jordan - are the only perimeter players in NBA history to average 35 points per game for an entire season.
- 1 Kevin Durant def. 4 LeBron James: 62% of vote
- 2 Kobe Bryant def. 3 James Harden: 76% of vote
The championship matchup like an inevitability. While there have certainly been some other transcendent scorers over the last two decades, none stand out quite like Durant and Bryant.
Durant was a scoring champ by the age of 21 and can literally do it all. Drives in either direction, unblockable pull-ups and a sweet stroke from downtown, Durant's size and fluid mechanics make for a complete scorer that's almost an impossible cover one-on-one. His four scoring titles are tied for the third-most ever behind only Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain.
In recent history, Bryant is probably the player with a deeper bag of tricks than Durant. And given who Bryant emulated, that probably doesn't come as much of a surprise.
Either could have come out on top and it would have felt valid. In the end, Bryant takes home the crown.
- 2 Kobe Bryant def. 1 Kevin Durant: 68% of vote
The views expressed here do not represent those of the NBA or its clubs.