When the San Antonio Spurs signed LaMarcus Aldridge as a free agent last offseason, they knew that they were getting one of the premier big men in the NBA.
Aldridge had another successful year, earning All-NBA Third Team honors and helping lead San Antonio to a franchise-record 67 wins.
Very few players in the league possess the inside scoring skills that Aldridge has, and he’s also a good defender.
I’ve been analyzing hypothetical 1-on-1 tournaments amongst the best players in the NBA at designated height zones. For the “very small” category of 5’9’’-6’0’’, Chris Paul won. For the “small” category of 6’1’’-6’4’’, Russell Westbrook won. For the “medium” category of 6’5’’-6’8’’, LeBron James won.
I’ve decided to shift now to the “big” category, and look at players between the height of 6’9’’-7’0’’.
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As with the other categories, I picked who I believed were the best 8 players in the league at the height range. That’s always extremely difficult, and for this range, I finally ordered them as 1) Kevin Durant… 2) Anthony Davis… 3) Paul George… 4) LaMarcus Aldridge… 5) DeAndre Jordan… 6) DeMarcus Cousins… 7) Karl-Anthony Towns… and 8) Hassan Whiteside.
A hypothetical 1-on-1 tournament would be conducted involving games going to 21. The 1 seed would play the 8 seed, the 2 seed would play the 7 seed, the 3 seed would play the 6 seed, and the 4 seed would play the 5 seed.
The winners advance to the next round where the highest seed plays the lowest seed. Plays continues until one guy stands alone as the champion.
Playing styles were powerfully conflicting during the games. 3 positions were encompassed in this tournament, leading to some interesting contests and some unlikely defensive assignments.
Next: First Round: Durant vs. Whiteside
May 28, 2016; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (35) handles the ball in front of Golden State Warriors forward Andre Iguodala (9) during the fourth quarter in game six of the Western conference finals of the NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
This is a fascinating matchup, simply because there’s no way that they’d ever be assigned to each other in an NBA game. Durant is gigantic for a small forward, and uses his 7’4’’ wingspan to disrupt passing lanes, get his shot off over nearly any opponent, and even register a decent number of blocks. Durant is arguably the most dynamic scorer in the NBA. He can score inside, outside, and is deadly on midrange jumpers. It’s hard for Whiteside to showcase his abilities as an elite interior defender and shot-blocker against a guy like Durant, because Durant does most of his damage from the perimeter. Durant’s length is the perfect antidote to Whiteside’s explosive shot blocking ability. On offense, Whiteside makes the most of his opportunities inside with his athleticism, and although he doesn’t have a repertoire overflowing with post moves, he gets by alright by taking advantage of his power. Whiteside has about 25 LBS on Durant, and he’s able to punish him inside when he gets the ball in the paint. Whiteside shot nearly 66% during the season on shots in the paint, and that was going against defenders closer to his size. This is a back-and-forth offensive game, as neither guy is especially adept at guarding a player with their opponent’s traits. Durant pulls off a close win, disrupting more of Whiteside’s shots with his length than Whiteside is able to do trying to chase Durant around the perimeter.
Next: First Round: Davis vs. Towns
Mar 14, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (23) dribbles the ball as Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green (23) defends in the first quarter at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports
Kevin Garnett is in attendance for this matchup, and smiles at two of his disciples displaying skills as big men that Garnett first showcased two decades ago. When two guys their size possess guard skills in terms of shooting, ball handling, and explosiveness, it makes for a phenomenal game of 1-on-1. Davis originally played point guard as a child, but when he eventually finished his growth spurt, he found himself to be a 6’10’’ giant with a 7’3’’ wingspan who knew how to be a solid point guard. Towns is very similar. Both are great defenders and have 3-point range. This is an extremely close game, but the difference ends up being the fact that Towns is a slightly better shooter than Davis in most zones on the court. Towns pulls off the upset to advance to the next round.
Next: First Round: George vs. Cousins
Apr 29, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indiana Pacers forward Paul George (13) celebrates after scoring against the Toronto Raptors during the second half in game six of the first round of the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The Pacers won 101-83. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
This is a lot like the Durant/Whiteside game in the way that these are drastically different players who’d never be guarding each other in normal circumstances. George is a fantastic perimeter defender, but at only 220 LBS, he’d be demolished in the paint by a center as strong as Cousins. The concern with George in a game like this is that he’s not a great midrange shooter, so he couldn’t punish Cousins with midrange jumpers created off the dribble in the same way that Durant could do to Whiteside. George nearly shoots as well of a percentage on 3-pointers than he does on midrange shots, so he’d probably be better served by trying to drag Cousins out to the perimeter to shake him off and either pull up from downtown or blow by him on a drive to the hoop. Cousins doesn’t have the lateral quickness to impede George outside of the painted area. Cousins is also a bad shooter outside of the paint, but Cousins realizes the mismatch he has with George and dominates inside. George makes more defensive adjustments than Cousins is able to, however, and that’s what ensures that George wins this game.
Next: First Round: Aldridge vs. Jordan
Mar 15, 2016; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs power forward LaMarcus Aldridge (12) is fouled while shooting by Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan (6) during the first half at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
If there’s a star NBA player who would most be exposed in a 1-on-1 setting, it could very well be Jordan. On offense, Jordan is completely reliant on his athleticism to score points, and the reason his field goal percentage is consistently so high is because he thrives mainly on put-backs. Jordan only attempted 4 shots outside the paint last season. Aldridge is a more-well rounded offensive player, combining deft post moves with a terrific midrange touch that makes him one of the best front court scorers in the league. While Aldridge certainly isn’t the dynamic defender that Jordan is, he’s still solid. This game looks like it’d end up lopsided in Aldridge’s favor. While Aldridge would have to fight for points against a great defender like Jordan, he has multiple ways of scoring. Jordan, on the other hand, is limited to some tip-in dunks that rattle the rim, but it’s nowhere near enough to win. Aldridge earns a gritty win that was tougher for him than the eventual score indicates.
Next: Semifinals: Durant vs. Aldridge
May 8, 2016; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (35) shoots the ball over San Antonio Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge (12) during the second quarter in game four of the second round of the NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
It’s amazing that Durant is now listed at the same weight that Aldridge is. When he first came into the league, he was a lanky guy who barely looked 210 LBS. Now he’s bulked up to 240 LBS, and Aldridge isn’t able to push him around in the low block. Aldridge is still the more skillful tactician in terms of post moves, but this is really a tale of two distinct styles. Durant is a dynamic scorer from anywhere on the court, and uses his incredible athleticism and length to create scoring opportunities. Aldridge simply isn’t use to playing at the perimeter like Durant is, and Durant uses his unique talents for his size to advance to the finals and defeat a very worthy opponent.
Next: Semifinals: George vs. Towns
Dec 26, 2015; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Indiana Pacers forward Paul George (13) shoots the ball over Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns (32) in the first half at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
The skills that Towns possesses for his size and position are absolutely remarkable. George exploited a mismatch against Cousins, but he doesn’t have the same advantage as Towns. As a legit 7-footer, Towns has always leaned on his defense as being the highlight of the package he brings to the basketball court. His 18.3 points per game this season was affirming of his potential on offense. He shot 47% on midrange jumpers, which would be good for any player, let alone a 7-footer. Towns has the lateral quickness to guard George, and while George is a great defender, Towns possesses the physical tools combined with basketball savvy to edge past George and secure himself a spot in the finals.
Next: Finals: Durant vs. Towns
Jan 27, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (35) and Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns (32) before the game at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
These are two remarkable players about to experience a fantastic game driven by individual will to win. As good as Towns is a scorer from multiple areas on the court, Durant had a better shooting percentage than him last season from the painted area, midrange, and 3-point territory. Although Towns is 7’0’’ with a 7’3’’ wingspan, he can’t use it to disrupt Durant the way he would other players. The fact that Durant has more length than a guy like Towns is remarkable, because it’s combined with a shooting touch that is almost unrivaled in the entire league. Durant has averaged over 30 points per game in a season twice in his career due to a combination of that shooting prowess and impressive athleticism. A 1-on-1 game is a setting where he can continue to display his unique propensity for scoring, and he wins this tournament in triumphant fashion.