clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

What if the NBA had a 68-player one-on-one tournament like March Madness?

Because we’ll never have a one-on-one tournament in real life, this is probably the closest we’ll get.

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Cleveland Cavaliers Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

What’s the one event that we want to see added to NBA All-Star Weekend? A one-on-one tournament. What’s the one chance to pretend like that one-on-one tournament could somehow happen? March Madness, of course.

So let’s imagine what a 68-player, single-elimination, one-on-one battle between NBA pros might look like. Give the winner $15 million to donate to the charity of his choice. Provide a fancy trophy that looks way cooler than even the Larry O’Brien. Allow the winner one free possession to roast the poor soul of his choice during any NBA game. Now we’re in business.

Some ground rules:

  • These are one-on-one matchups, not us arguing which player is better in a five-on-five setting.
  • Play to 11, by ones and twos. All fouls mean the possession resets. Halfcourt, though you have to retreat to the three-point line on missed shots that hit the rim. Make it, take it. And though it would be entertaining to make the players call their own fouls, the complaining will get old fast. We’ll need a referee.
  • We’ve magically healed all injuries. Pretend like we removed all back-to-backs retroactively from the schedule, solving every players’ health problem.
  • The criteria for seeding was a rigorous combination of watching tape, poring over morsels of advanced stats, and qualifying the “it” factor with a regression analysis of clutch performance.
  • Just kidding. I made them up. As you’ll see, I want to make sure we get good ratings.

Without further ado:


This is a stacked region, which should come as no surprise. James Harden edged out Kyrie Irving for the No. 1 seed, and it hurt to relegate Russell Westbrook to the No. 3 seed. I’m sure Russ will take that well.

Meanwhile, the two-time MVP is a No. 4, and crunch-time master Isaiah Thomas is stuck as a No. 6. I’m sure he won’t use that as motivation.

The winner of the Damian Lillard-C.J. McCollum matchup gets to stay with the Blazers. The loser is doomed to a million trade rumors over the next five years.

Chris Paul vs. Eric Bledsoe will be a hilarious master vs. student battle. They’ll both try to snake in front of the other and then stop to draw a foul. That game will take forever. Skip it if you must.

I couldn’t help myself with Steph vs. Seth. I also couldn’t help myself with Irving vs. Dion Waiters. John Wall vs. Kyrie looms as a terrific second-round battle that’ll result in the @BulletsForever and @FeartheSword accounts getting suspended from Twitter simultaneously.

It’s not fair to make Goran Dragic and Mike Conley participate in a preliminary round game, but there are too many good guards. Sorry.

We’re destined for a Harden-Westbrook regional final, and I’m taking the angrier guy.


LeBron James and Kevin Durant are destined to battle in the Elite Eight, though I can already hear Spurs fans descending upon me for that statement. We know how LeBron vs. Durant usually goes.

It thins out after those three, especially because DeMar DeRozan’s pump fake act will only mean that he gets to keep the ball infinitely without getting any points for drawing fouls. Even if DeRozan gets by fellow foul magnet Danilo Gallinari, making him have to face Paul George in the second round is mean. We already saw how that played out last postseason.

Carmelo Anthony as a No. 8 seed is this bracket’s version of “toss the blue blood program that underachieved into the 8-9 matchup so at least we get a good TV game in the second round.” He’s Michigan State, basically.

Want to know the best way to get LeBron mad? Give him first- and (maybe) second-round dates with his two best friends.


The shallowest region. DeMarcus Cousins won’t have to worry about running fullcourt and getting fatigued, so he should steamroll this group. Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge seem ripe for upsets — Pau Gasol is a tough first-round draw for Aldridge, and Jahlil Okafor’s game was practically made for this tournament.

It’ll be ironic when Marc Gasol and Brook Lopez attempt a barrage of threes against each other out of habit.

I’m picking a Cousins vs. Okafor regional final. We need a Cinderella in this tournament. And hell, let’s have Okafor win. Why not?


You’ll probably argue about some of the players who received “Unicorn” status. I put anyone in this region with uncommon skills for someone their size and/or athletic specimens who don’t necessarily have a position. Objective, I know. Rudy Gobert might belong in the Bigs Region, but he’s uncommonly huge and long even among huge and long dudes, so he goes here. (Plus, I needed to fill space.)

Anthony Davis vs. Karl-Anthony Towns for the No. 1 seed was a tough call. I decided to give it to Davis because of tenure, but Towns would probably be the favorite if they actually played each other.

Giannis Antetokounmpo as a No. 3 seed is scary. You could argue that Giannis got the easiest draw of the three top seeds, since Aaron Gordon and Nikola Jokic aren’t best known for their one-on-one skills. Meanwhile, Davis might have to play a healthy Jabari Parker in round two, while KAT could get non-Triangle’d Kristaps Porzingis.

Screw it. I’m taking Giannis to make it out of this bracket.

We all love Joel Embiid, but healthy Ben Simmons is the most dangerous No. 12 seed in this field. You have to pick a 5-12 upset, so you may as well pick that one.

Dirk Nowitzki is overseeded, but he’s earned that right 30,000 times over. Wouldn’t it be something if he hit enough shots to beat Draymond Green, then used his veteran savvy to annoy Simmons or Embiid?

Let it be known that the Pelicans have TWO No. 1 seeds in this tournament and still can’t win with both of them on the court at the same time.


On one side, Giannis brings Okafor back to reality, one devastating Eurostep at a time. On the other, LeBron really should beat Russ, but he fails because Russ won’t stop making pull-up jumpers. The loss spurs a million thinkpieces about why it’s wrong to say LeBron is worse than Kobe because of a single loss in a one-on-one tournament, even though nobody is actually saying that.

The final is much easier for Russ. He manages a triple-double in a one-on-one game — 11 points, 15 rebounds, and 10 steals — to win the crown.

Please argue about this with me. I’m sure I underseeded your favorite player.