April 03, 2020
The final day of voting for round two of the all-time Sixers one-on-one bracket has arrived, and this has perhaps the best field of any region so far, featuring none other than Julius "Dr. J" Erving.
As a reminder, here's what the Julius Erving region looks like after being updated to reflect first-round results. It is absolutely loaded:
These aren't the "best" 64 players, necessarily, but 64 players from an assortment of eras and categories that I initially was going to divide by playstyles (playmakers, scorers, finishers, and potpourri), before realizing you could put four or five of the greatest players in franchise history into the "scorer" category. I tried to account for some combination of impact, longevity, peak value, etc., with the first goal to split up the players I would consider to be the Sixers' version of Mt. Rushmore — Wilt Chamberlain, Julius Erving, Allen Iverson, and Charles Barkley. Critically, the players were not strictly seeded based on how good they would be in a one-on-one setting.
Here is a refresher on the rules:
I must stress Rules No. 3, 4, and 5 above all others. This is not a game where big dudes can just pound people through the rim and live on the offensive glass or a tournament where little guys can dribble circles around immobile bigs. Skill in isolation matters. You can vote however you want, but good basketball players tend to play a different style of one-on-one than the average person.
We move to the matchups.
I still think it's an injustice that Mutombo won the first-round matchup over Thad Young. All due respect to one of the premier rim protectors of his era, but Mutombo having to dribble a basketball would have presented him with some problems in this format.
It's ultimately a moot point because there's no chance he's going to beat Julius Erving, one of the all-time greats in NBA history. When Erving's physical gifts are spoken of it's usually to highlight his leaping ability and the many iconic dunks he threw down in his career, but his wingspan and hand size are two things that show up just as often rewatching classic Sixers games. His ability to palm the ball and switch hands effortlessly in mid-air is only comparable to elite like Michael Jordan or Kawhi Leonard (the latter of whom is nicknamed "The Claw" because of his mitts), and it's a huge competitive advantage when you're trying to slither through tight gaps in a one-on-one game.
Erving was an All-Star every single year of his career, including during his five-year start in the ABA, which reinforces how damn good and beloved he was over 16 seasons. Even today, decades removed from his playing career, if you ever find yourself in a room with him, there is never any doubt who the coolest man in the room is.
An absolute heater of a round two matchup, though from my memory, these two were viewed very differently during their times here. Jrue Holiday getting traded following his lone All-Star season was the moment that kicked off The Process, and that move was received differently depending on what you thought about Holiday's ceiling at the time. Williams, on the other hand, was a productive but sometimes frustrating bench gunner who has proven to have value (and has grown in stature) on better teams.
Since we are projecting based on the Sixers portion of their respective careers, both guys lose a little bit of juice. Holiday had shown a lot of defensive promise in the backcourt before leaving Philadelphia, but he was nowhere near the weapon he is today on that end of the floor, where he's almost always tasked with slowing down the opponent's best perimeter player. Williams was a consistent source of offense off of the bench, but his efficiency was similar and often worse than it is now in L.A. despite Williams shooting far more threes today than he ever did in Philly.
Holiday was the better player and the better defender and there's a pretty straightforward case for him to take home the W here, but Williams losing in the second round of a freaking one-on-one tournament feels too strange for me to vote that way.
How much do you think size matters in a one-on-one game? That's the fundamental question of this game. Toney, whose "Boston Strangler" nickname is among the best in all of sports, would be giving up about five inches and 50 pounds to Harris. When that's the case against an unskilled grinder type, it's an easy call. But Harris' mid-post ability and threat to just shoot over the top of Toney is real in this format.
But if we are talking about intangibles and not just on-court production, doesn't it feel like Toney would find a way to win regardless? Despite chronic foot injuries cutting his career short, Toney is remembered by players from that era as one of the most feared men they could go up against in a do-or-die situation. Charles Barkley has often asserted Toney is the best player he ever played with, and former Celtics guard Danny Ainge claimed he was the toughest player he ever had to guard, quite a claim during a time where the Celtics faced the likes of Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Isaiah Thomas, and a host of other Hall of Famers.
If you go back and watch the tape of Toney today, it's not any less impressive than I imagine it was back then. He had everything offensively — pull-up jumpers, an elite first step, the ability to finish in traffic, and toughness that just about everyone who played with or against him acknowledged. If injuries hadn't ruined his career, he's probably a Hall of Famer.
As it is, I still pick him to move on here.
I can't sit here and earnestly give you an assessment of Chet Walker's skillset. Getting ahold of usable footage from Walker's Sixers tenure (he last played for them during the 1968-69 era) is a tall task, as it's hard to find anything beyond grainy footage from moments as recent as the 1990s. What speaks for itself, of course, is Walker's production — he was a consistent and relatively efficient scorer for the entirety of his career, including long after he'd left Philly. At 35 years old, Walker's final season with the Chicago Bulls ended in a Game 7 loss to Rick Barry's Warriors, in which his production was almost identical to his All-Star season with 1967 champion Sixers.
Judging the merits of a pure shooter in this tournament is honestly harder for me than someone like Walker. With make-it, take-it rules in effect, the possibility exists that a player like Redick could simply go on a heater and never give Walker a chance to score. That would be pretty difficult, however, even with Redick's touch. Creating the early separation is a huge part of the battle, and Redick would likely struggle on that front.
The Hall of Famer gets the easy nod from me.
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