We’re putting a different spin on our NBA Power Rankings, looking at the best 1-on-1 scorers in the league so far this season.
Team offense can be a beautiful thing, five players working in concert to pull apart a defense, manipulate open space and find a prime scoring opportunity. But there’s also something infinitely compelling about the simplest version, one defender trying to stop one scorer, baskets created by nothing but physical tools and craft.
As we near the end of the first quarter of the NBA season, here is my take on the best 1-on-1 scorers we’ve seen at work.
NBA Power Rankings: The best 1-on-1 bucket-getters
Honorable Mention: Steph Curry, LeBron James, James Harden
James and Harden might have featured in the top few spots of this list at any point over the last decade but age has taken its toll. Steph Curry’s ability to stop on a dime and shoot from anywhere makes him an incredible threat and he has the handle and quickness to punish defenders who try to pressure his jumper. But I still feel like the players ahead of him have a few more tools as 1-on-1 scorers.
5. DeMar DeRozan
There was a point in time when DeRozan was derided for his over-reliance on the mid-range jumper. Now, it’s become one of the most reliable scoring weapons in the NBA. Even after taking a step back from last season’s MVPish campaign, DeRozan is still shooting 50.3 percent on mid-range pull-ups. That’s a shot he can get essentially any time he wants, against any defender, in any game situation. There are certainly higher-value offensive outcomes than DeRozan just pulling up from the elbow over a stumbling defender or sagging big man. But very few are as reliably available.
4. Kevin Durant
While players behind Durant may be producing better results this season, he is still the template for the perfect 1-on-1 player. Tight handle, incredible touch and smooth shotmaking all come in a 7-foot package that allows him to rise up over essentially any defense. He doesn’t necessarily need to “get to his spots” because his jumper and length make the entire court “his spot.”
3. Luka Doncic
Doncic has an unbelievable combination of size, strength, footwork, skill, touch and creativity. He carries the largest offensive creation burden of anyone in the league — ranking second in both usage rate and assist percentage — and still manages an absurd level of efficiency, with a true shooting percentage that’s higher than Devin Booker, Paul George, Kyrie Irving or Trae Young. It’s not just that he can get to whatever spot he wants, he also has the tools to make the most out of whatever spot he finds himself in.
2. Giannis Antetokounmpo
I’m not sure anyone in the NBA is better with a runway and a head of steam and he’s basically unguardable in transition. There was a time when building a wall between him and the basket in the halfcourt was enough to completely disrupt the Milwaukee Bucks offense but more roster balance and continued refinement in his toolbox have largely eliminated this vulnerability. He may not have a threatening jumper but Giannis can still go get himself a basket 1-on-1 against almost any defender in the league.
1. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
I feel like this is the third or fourth bit in The Whiteboard this season devoted to Gilgeous-Alexander’s individual brilliance, but I just can’t help myself. Right now, I’m not sure there is a player in the NBA who has been better about getting to any spot on the floor he wants and finishing over the defense. Every defender knows he’s going to attack the basket — he drives an average of 25.2 times per game, by far the most of any player in the player-tracking era — and he leads the league in unassisted 2-point makes by a significant margin. You just can’t stop him right now.
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Pacers get shocking win over Lakers as Los Angeles collapses
The Pacers overcame a 17-point deficit to beat the Lakers by one point on Monday night in LA.
- Rookie success: Pacers rookie Bennedict Mathurin outscored LeBron James. Mathurin is behind only Tyrese Haliburton in points per game for the Pacers this year.
- Lakers woes: The Lakers dropped to 7-12, 13th in the Western Conference.
- Pacers a surprise: The Pacers have been a surprising story led by the rookie Mathurin. They are 4th in the Eastern Conference with a 12-8 record.
- Lakers responsibility: Darvin Ham took responsibility for the loss, saying, “That falls on me. I’ll take responsibility for that.”
Karl-Anthony Towns leaves for non-contact injury
Karl-Anthony Towns left the Timberwolves’ game on Monday with a lower-leg injury.
- Early optimism: The team is optimistic that Towns avoided substantial injury according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
- Injury location: Towns suffered a calf injury, which upon initial look appeared as-if it could have been something related to the Achilles’ tendon.
- T’Wolves so far: The Wolves are 10-11, 10th in the Western Conference.
Ben Simmons injury woes continue
Ben Simmons left the Nets game on Monday against the Magic.
- Knee injury: according to head coach Jacque VaughnBen Simmons left the game because of knee discomfort .
- No MRI needed: For now, Vaughn said Simmons won’t need an MRI.
- Simmons absences: Simmons has missed six games so far this season due to injury.