April 08, 2020
We are back with another round of polls in the all-time Sixers one-on-one bracket, with Joel Embiid and Charles Barkley starring in their respective Sweet 16 matchups.
As a reminder, here's what the Charles Barkley region looks like after being updated to reflect round two results.
(If you want a direct link to the photo with a better/closer view of the original bracket, you can check out the bracket here.)
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.
Here's how the polling split in the previous round:
1. CHARLES BARKLEY (95%) over 8. Doug Collins
5. ANDRE MILLER (58%) over 4. Dolph Schayes
2. JOEL EMBIID (91%) over 10. Jerry Stackhouse
6. BOBBY JONES (58%) over 3. Andre Iguodala
The only mild surprise here was Jones
We move to the matchups.
If you looked at both of these guys lining up to start a basketball game, you'd never guess that they were going to be able to carve out long and productive careers. A six-foot-three guard with no three-point shot to speak of and a six-foot-six power forward (who claims he measures closer to six-foot-five) seem doomed to fail on first glance.
This is not to say these two men are equals, particularly in Sixers uniforms. While Barkley may have been limited by his size to some degree, the man was an absolute freak of nature as an athlete. He was an absolute nightmare to try to guard because he had the power of a true big man with the speed of someone with his smaller stature. Give him a lane to drive into, and he was gone. And if you tried to single cover him in the mid-post, Barkley would pound you to death and finish through contact early and often.
Limiting the number of dribbles players can take in this format would handicap Barkley some, but I don't know if people understand how absurdly efficient he was as a halfcourt scorer. He shot over 54 percent from the field for his career, a mark better than Wilt Chamberlain's. If not for being perhaps the worst volume three-point shooter in NBA history, Barkley's inside-the-arc efficiency would stand out more than it already does historically. Many of the league's all-time efficiency leaders are/were merely finishers, while Barkley was so much more.
I actually think Miller's game translates relatively well to this setting, as anyone who can get off goofy-footed shots, finish tough shots around the rim, and hit midrange pull-ups will be a threat to win. At the very least, I don't think Miller would be living in fear of Barkley, and could probably goad him into some poor shot selection that could turn the tables.
But in the end, Barkley is just too good for me to go any other way.
For all the things that Embiid has accomplished to this point in his career, there is one thing that stands out in a potential one-on-one tournament — turnovers. The right player in the right matchup might pick his pocket or force him into silly decisions enough times that Embiid's gifts will not be enough to carry him through.
In theory, Bobby Jones is the sort of guy who might be able to bother the big fella, or anyone else in the tournament for that matter. Jones was tough, quick, and athletic, racking up steals but doing so without compromising himself with incessant gambling. Yes, he would be giving up some size to Embiid — a few inches and 40 pounds, if you trust the listed numbers — but Jones found a way to slow down or stop players of all sorts during his decorated career. It would not be out of the question for him to win a few physical battles with Embiid over the course of a game.
The thing is, a lot of Embiid's problems are a product of team defense, rather than individual struggles (matchups with Al Horford and Marc Gasol aside). Embiid doesn't have to worry about a well-timed double, an opponent ignoring Ben Simmons on the perimeter, or an entire team converging on him in the paint. This is the format where his skills, his footwork, and his size can really shine through. We have seen him put players bigger than Bobby Jones through the rim when given the opportunity.
And the crucial part of this is that Jones would have to score on Embiid, too, which I would argue might be an even taller task. Jones was a very good player, but a lot of his value on offense was away from the ball, using his combination of smarts and athleticism to light teams up as a cutter and finisher. It's hard to know what his ceiling actually is/was as a self-creator, because he spent a lot of his career playing next to ball-dominant players and providing them a great outlet, rather than carrying a team on his own.
I think Jones would make Embiid yell and curse in exasperation at least a few times in this matchup, but I would still favor him to win it. Older heads, feel free to tell me why I'm wrong.
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