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NBA

Bracket of the Week: Who is the best one-on-one scorer in the post-Michael Jordan era?

Who is the best one-on-one player of the last two decades?
Who is the best one-on-one player of the last two decades? (Getty Images; DAZN)

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.


Click on any matchup to skip ahead to voting.

KD vs Dirk | Steph vs Kawhi | Melo vs T-Mac | LeBron vs Pierce

Kyrie vs D-Rose | Harden vs Arenas | Iverson vs Iso Joe | Kobe vs DeRozan

When Michael Jordan played his final season for the Chicago Bulls in 1997-98, he won the 10th and final scoring title of his career. Even at the age of 35, nobody could match Jordan's ability to score one-on-one.

But who is the best to do it since he hung 'em up in Chicago?

Is it the 6'6" shooting guard who came as close as anyone to replicating Jordan? Is it the 6'10" lanky forward with smooth handles and unlimited range? Is it the Bearded isolation assassin who drains step-back 3 after step-back 3? Or what about the 6'0" four-time scoring champion who crossed up MJ himself as a rookie?

This isn't just about who has the highest scoring average or the most 50-point games or even the best scorer in actual NBA games. We're talking strictly one-on-one scoring ability and nothing more.

We picked out 16 of the best one-on-one scorers of the post-MJ era and seeded them 1-16. From there, it's on you to help us sort through the matchups to determine the best one!

  • Tuesday : First Round
  • Wednesday : Quarterfinals
  • Thursday : Semifinals
  • Friday : Championship
  • Saturday : Winner announced
Seed Scorer Seed Scorer
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.

We'll admit... it's biased towards guards and perimeter players. But that's the way it goes!

Without further ado... on to the voting!

1 vs 16 - The Towers

1 Kevin Durant vs 16 Dirk Nowitzki

The two tallest players in our field of 16.

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.

Speaking of impossible covers, Nowitzki's one legged fadeaway is on the short list for most unguardable shots in all of NBA history. The one dribble in, turn at the high post, shoulder fake and one-legged fallaway by a seven footer with an extraordinarily high release made for a shot that when falling was unblockable.

8 vs 9 - 2019 Finals rematch

8 Stephen Curry vs 9 Kawhi Leonard

We had some disagreements in our group over where to seed these two, which means right in the middle felt about right.

Curry's a wizard with the ball on a yo-yo and even if the handle might not be as airtight as a few others, he needs almost zero space to get off any shot and is a creative inside finisher as well who knows how to play angles. Also... he did this to Chris Paul:

As for Leonard, there's nobody in today's league that's stronger with the ball in his hands. While he doesn't bulldoze in the same way that LeBron James does, Leonard's almost impossible to keep from getting to his spot and has become a deadly midrange finisher.

5 vs 12 - 6'8" Scoring Machines

5 Carmelo Anthony and 12 Tracy McGrady

Anthony waltzed into the NBA as a walking bucket and is one of five players in NBA history to score at least 20 points per game in each of his first 14 seasons. Melo is the quintessential three level scorer just as comfortable cooking in isolation on the wing as he is on the block. He's still got it too. Watch this breakdown of how he schooled rookie Zion Williamson:

🚨MOVE BREAKDOWN🚨: 👉🏾CARMELO ANTHONY VS ZION WILLIAMSON😲😲😲 follow @trueballtraining follow @trueballtraining via @jvandescure #basketball #basketballtraining #basketballpractice #basketballworkout #basketballcoach #nba #basketballshooting #jumptraining #basketballskills #basketballtrainer #basketballdrills #handlelife #dribbling #handles #anklebreaker

A post shared by True Basketball Training (@trueballtraining) on

T-Mac gets slept on as a scorer in part because of how well he could do everything else. He won back-to-back scoring titles - during Kobe Bryant's and Allen Iverson's prime - and his 2002-03 season ranked fourth in NBA history at the time in usage percentage.

4 vs 13 - Running back an old rivalry

4 LeBron James vs 13 Paul Pierce

It's actually somewhat crazy that James only has one scoring title to his name when he ranks fourth in NBA history in career scoring average. Let's be honest... if LeBron wants to get to the rim, LeBron is getting to the rim. Sure, he can fall in love with jumpers, but he's also won games in big spots doing exactly that. While writing this, he just hit another step-back 3 on Festus Ezeli and five more fadeaways on the Toronto Raptors.

Nobody made a living at the elbows quite like Pierce. There might not be a player over the last two decades better at getting to his one spot on the floor than The Truth. He never sniffed a scoring title, but you can count on one hand the number of players capable of trading shot for shot with LeBron in a Game 7.

6 vs 11 - Battle of the Point Guards

6 Kyrie Irving vs 11 Derrick Rose

Irving's handles might be the best we've ever seen as he keeps the ball on a rope like few - if any - can match. Add in his ridiculous ability to finish in and around the rim over taller defenders with crazy amounts of english, and there's a decent chance that Irving is the most underseeded player in this entire bracket.

If all we're talking is one-on-one... he's a tough one to stop.

Rose was so explosive as a scorer that he won an MVP before reaching his prime and before developing a reliable jump shot. Even with defenders sagging off of him, Rose was still relentless attacking off the bounce. Some of my esteemed colleagues wanted Rose out of the top 16 altogether. If we're talking entire body of work, I get it. But we're not. Pre-injury Rose was unquestionably one of the best one-on-one players in recent memory even if it was short-lived.

3 vs 14 - The Beard and Agent Zero

3 James Harden vs 14 Gilbert Arenas

If we're going off of pure numbers, Harden might be the number 1 overall seed. Nobody is better at getting to the line. Nobody is better at hitting step-back 3s. Nobody comes close to matching Harden's volume as a one-on-one bucket getter. How would he fare with a tighter whistle? That's perhaps the biggest unknown of his entire exercise.

Arenas could cook. There's a reason he also earned the nickname Hibachi. Arenas lived off a steady diet of pull-up 3s before it was common to do so and at his peak also got to the line 10 times a game. In some ways, Arenas was Harden before Harden.

7 vs 10 - The Answer and Iso Joe

7 Allen Iverson vs 10 Joe Johnson

A four-time scoring champ despite standing a generously listed 6'0", Iverson never backed down from any challenge, no matter how big or small. Whether it's crossing up Michael Jordan as a rookie or taking it to Kobe and Shaq in Game 1 of the 2001 Finals, Iverson never hesitated at the slightest opportunity to go one-on-one.

With the game on the line, there were fewer better than Johnson. Over the course of his career, Johnson sank eight game-winning buzzer-beaters. The only player in NBA history to make more of them than Iso Joe? Michael Jordan.

2 vs 15 - Mamba and DDR

2 Kobe Bryant vs 15 DeMar DeRozan

Every trick that Jordan had, Kobe had. It's for that reason why Jordan himself declared that Kobe is the only player who could have beaten him one-on-one in his prime.

DeMar DeRozan grew up in Southern California idolizing Bryant and patterned his offensive game after the Black Mamba. Watch DeRozan - specifically his ability to make tough shots when blanketed - and you'll no doubt see shades of Bryant's influence.

The views expressed here do not represent those of the NBA or its clubs.

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