The Whiteboard: Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and other teammates we want to see go 1-on-1

Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, (Photo by Kelly Defina/Getty Images)
Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, (Photo by Kelly Defina/Getty Images) /

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On Tuesday, footage crept out of what looked to be a fairly epic 1-on-1 game during Celtics’ practice, between Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. The video implies a friendly but intensely competitive matchup with both players leaning into both halves of their two-way toolbox.

Tatum has a slight edge in height and length on Brown and several of his makes were fall-aways or step-backs that started from elbow post-ups. Brown, on the other hand, seemed determined to leverage any advantage in strength he could muster and repeatedly drove right into the paint.

Tatum is an All-Star and borderline All-NBA player and Brown is at least a tier below that in terms of current production, but the familiarity, friendship and similarities in their games make this a fascinating battle. Which, of course, got me thinking about other teammates I’d like to see square off in practice.

What other NBA teammates could have a great 1-on-1 duel?

James Harden vs. Russell Westbrook

The obvious edge here is to Harden, everything in his game is built for winning 1-on-1 battles (offensively at least). Westbrook is an explosive offensive player in his own right, but I’m not sure how well his game translates to this setting. He’s not an elite finisher or jump-shooter and his drives to the basket are more about explosive speed and strength than advanced shake or handle. He could certainly blow past Harden in a live game situation but in a static halfcourt game, it might be a different beast. The wildcard would be the enormous chip on Westbrook’s shoulder and what the personal nature of this game might draw out of him in offensive or defensive intensity.

LeBron James vs. Anthony Davis

On paper, it seems like this would come down to LeBron’s strength vs. Davis’ length. However, I love the idea of this devolving into a post-up battle. Let’s see The Dream Shake, the up-and-unders, the footwork and the touch. Forget about driving and shooting, just go to work in the paint.

Stephen Curry vs. Klay Thompson

Curry’s offensive game seems much more diverse but Thompson has never had as much of a chance to work as a primary creator next to Curry. Maybe he’s hiding a few tricks up his sleeve? At the other end, Thompson is considered a high-level wing defender and he’d have a significant size and strength advantage over Curry. Although, that’s never really seemed to bother Steph in any other matchup. At some point, I presume this just turns into a half-court shooting competition, and then it’s anyone’s game.

Joel Embiid vs. Ben Simmons

This matchup would be fascinating, not just for the contrast in styles, but because there seems to be some interpersonal friction between the two, a struggle for control of the team bubbling below the surface that could bring a little extra heat. No one in the league really has the strength to deal with Embiid in the post but Simmons has heft and he’s an elite defender. It also seems like it wouldn’t take much to goad Embiid into venturing away from the basket and trying to beat Simmons with his ball skills and perimeter game. At the other end, Embiid is probably giving Simmons 10 feet of space and daring him to shoot, literally and loudly. Maybe this is the thing that finally shames Simmons into attempting some 3s?

Paul George vs. Kawhi Leonard

Two of the premier two-way players in the league, elite perimeter defenders with serious isolation scoring chops. This one is interesting because they are first-year teammates and so there is some actual data available about what this matchup might look like. In 2018-19, George played just over 46 possessions with Leonard as his primary defender, on which he scored 11 points with 3 assists, shooting 3-of-7 from the field and 3-of-4 on 3-pointers. Leonard played just under 46 possessions with George as his primary defender, on which he scored 21 points with 2 assists, shooting 8-of-13 from the field and 3-of-5 on 3-pointers. The stats don’t present a complete picture but they do make it look like an even matchup.

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