Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans
You could make the argument that Anthony Davis is the single-most talented player in the entire NBA, which is why he would more than stand his own in a game of 1-on-1 against LeBron James.
We certainly spent a few years waiting for it to all come together for Davis, but we finally got it during the 2017-2018 season, as Davis averaged 28.1 points, 11.1 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 2.6 blocks and 1.5 steals a game. You could rightfully make the case that he might’ve been the most deserving player for this year’s MVP award, over James Harden and James himself.
Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors
You saw the iconic three-point shot in the 2017 NBA Finals, which Kevin Durant launched right in the mug of LeBron James, helping the Golden State Warriors take the NBA Championship title back from James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. That wasn’t coincidental, either.
There’s a belief in some basketball circles that Durant is quietly measuring himself against LeBron, and has a burning desire to be recognized as being on par with — if not greater than — James himself. James might be the better all-around player at this point in their careers, but there are few players in the NBA who have the pure offensive firepower possessed by Durant.
James Harden, Houston Rockets
Lord knows that if James Harden were to play LeBron James one on one with a referee present, he’d do anything to try and draw James into committing fouls. Harden averaged overall 9.6 free throw attempts per game last season, which was the most in the NBA. Of course, Harden is so much more than a foul-drawing artist.
The 2017-2018 NBA MVP is one of the most gifted offensive players in the NBA, evidenced by the fact that he led the league with a scoring average of 30.4 points per game. Harden is maybe the most gifted “shot creator” in the NBA (this side of Golden State).
Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
This is of course assuming that Kawhi Leonard returns to the form we saw before his prolonged absence due to that nagging quad injury. But if you think even that version of Leonard couldn’t stop LeBron James, let us remind you of the way Leonard actually took over the 2014 NBA Finals, going mano-a-mano with James and leading the Spurs to beat James’ Heat.
When healthy, there’s no better one-on-one defender in the NBA than Kawhi Leonard, which is why so many teams would be willing to give up premium assets to take him off the hands of the Spurs. It’s also why the Spurs were so reluctant to trade him, even though the relationship was obviously irreparably damaged. Leonard is almost back to peak MVP form and is tearing it up in Toronto.
Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
Watching Russell Westbrook going up against LeBron James would be basketball’s version of the irresistible force paradox: when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object. Russell Westbrook explodes up and down the court like a human cannonball, and might be the most fearless competitor in the NBA today.
The fact that he gives up five inches and 50lbs to James would mean absolutely nothing to him. He would come at James with a fury that perhaps nobody on this list would possess, and show to hesitation at launching himself at the basket on each and every position, regardless of James standing in his path.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
If there’s one player in the NBA that LeBron James would look at and think to himself “I can’t match up with this guy athletically,” it’s Giannis Antetokounmpo. The “Greek Freak” is a true unprecedented combination of size (6’11 and 220+ lbs), explosion, and basketball skills. This is a guy who does things like launching for a dunk from near the foul line, or literally jumping over players when dunking and make it look absolutely routine.
And the scary part is that Antetokounmpo is still scratching the surface of what he could become in a few years (he won’t turn 24 years old until just before the 2018 holiday season). Most people believe it’s a matter of time before the league belongs to “The Greek Freak.”
Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
Forget LeBron James. If you ask Joel Embiid, he would likely tell you that he could beat any of the game’s historical greats in a game of 1-on-1; just look at his Twitter account if you don’t believe us. But that’s one of the things that also makes Embiid the special player that he is (when healthy).
Embiid believes he can beat anyone at anything. That’s the beauty of his game. He combines irrational confidence with his generational footwork for a man his size, plus low post skillset, making him one of the most interesting and well-rounded “big men” we have seen since Tim Duncan or even Hakeem Olajuwon.