Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant are indisputably two of the greatest NBA scorers of all time. Whenever either player took their defender 1-on-1, you could almost guarantee the result. It wasn’t just the ease in which they scored, either. Both Jordan and Bryant could get a bucket when it mattered most on the biggest stage.
Charles Barkley played against both greats, so he knows how lethal they are in isolation, but he still made a different pick for the greatest 1-on-1 player he’s ever seen.
Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant are two of the greatest iso scorers in NBA history
If you’re making a list of the best isolation scorers of all time, it would be criminal not to feature Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. Both Jordan and Bryant are in the top five in NBA history in points scored, and both thrived in 1-on-1 situations.
The breadth of moves the two legends had at their disposal was special. They could take you to the hoop, back you down, stop and pop, and fadeaway all with the same productivity.
Bryant ranks No. 4 all-time in the NBA with 33,643 career points. Jordan is right behind him at No. 5 with 32,292. Jordan and Bryant have the two highest point totals among shooting guards in NBA history, but Charles Barkley thinks there’s a better isolation scorer out there.
Charles Barkley says James Harden is the best 1-on-1 player he’s ever seen
Barkley played against both Jordan and Bryant in their primes. He knows as well as anyone how dominant both players were in isolation, but he still has a different pick for the best 1-on-1 player he’s ever watched in person.
“James Harden is the best 1-on-1 player I’ve ever seen in my life,” Barkley said on TNT Tuesday night.
Fellow Inside the NBA analysts Shaquille O’Neal and Kenny Smith immediately fought back on Barkley’s exclamation, but he doubled down right after.
“As great as Michael and Kobe were, and they’re better players, they weren’t the 3-point shooters that James was.”
He’s not wrong about that. Jordan shot 32.7% from deep throughout his career, and Bryant shot 32.9%. Harden, though, is shooting 36.3% from beyond the arc in his career.
James Harden is by far the best 1-on-1 player of his era
Barkley’s statement might be controversial, but he might have a better point than you’d think. The NBA has only tracked isolation stats for five years, so it’s impossible to size up Harden with Jordan and Bryant, but Harden blows the rest of the league away in the last few years.
Harden has led the NBA in isolation points per game in all five seasons since the league started keeping 1-on-1 stats. Just this season, Harden is averaging 15.8 points per game in isolation plays alone. No one else is averaging more than 6.4.
That number is a bit inflated because of how often Harden plays iso ball compared to the rest of the league, but he’s still one of the most efficient. Harden has led the NBA in points per isolation possession in two of the past three years.
As crazy as Barkley’s opinion may seem, is it possible he could be right?
All stats courtesy of NBA.com