The toughest player I’ve ever guarded was definitely my dad. He used to kill me in the backyard growing up. He had no jump shot. No handle. He was just all size and strength. Didn’t matter if I was nine, 12 or 15 years old — he would post me up and talk all this trash about how I couldn’t stop him.
And he was right. I couldn’t. I was just too small.
But he never let me back down. He wouldn’t allow that. He’d get me in the post and run me over — just go right through me — then I’d get up and he’d come right back at me and do it again. He did it to LiAngelo and LaMelo, too. We couldn’t do nothing with it. But we had to try to stand our ground.
It wasn’t until near the end of my high school career — when I was maybe 17 or 18 and like 6-foot-6 and could actually move — that I was finally able to lock him down and stop him from getting to the rim.
But man, those days in the backyard? They definitely prepared me for high school ball, college, and even the NBA. I mean, I feel like I had a target on my back before I even got to the league because my family was always on TV and in the media. So I knew coming in that every time I stepped on the court, I was gonna get everybody’s best. And you have to have a certain mindset to go out there every night with that target on your back and be able to take the hits and keep going — like I did in the backyard growing up.
It’s also tough because I’m usually matched up against point guards — probably the best and deepest position in the NBA. So on any given night, I’m out there guarding the best player on the floor, and they’re trying extra hard to put me on a highlight reel at the same time.
I’ve already gone against some pretty unstoppable players since I’ve been in the league. I mean, I could easily put LeBron on this list. He’s such a rare combination of speed and power that he’s a mismatch against basically everybody in the league. When I practiced against him with the Lakers, it was like I was in the backyard with my dad all over again. He’d just back me down, and there was nothing I could really do.
I could go with Steph, too. He’s the best shooter of all time, and he just doesn’t stop moving, man. With or without the ball, he’s always running off screens. And if you lose him once, even for a split second, he’s gonna get open, the ball will find him, and he’ll hit. That’s what he does.
But I’m going to go a different route, with more of a variety. Because there are so many guys who are tough to guard.
Here are five who stand out as some of the most unstoppable.
Damian Lillard, PG, Portland Trailblazers
I’m going to kick this off with Dame, because he’s a killer.
He can shoot from half court, so you have to pick him up right when he crosses that line. And any time you have to guard a guy out that far — especially someone who can move like Dame — it’s tough to stay in front of him because he just has so much space to maneuver.
The only thing you can do is try to get up into him — cut off his angles so he can’t use all that space and doesn’t have room to shoot. But that’s easier said than done. He shoots too fast, too quick, from too deep. So when I play against him, I might pick a side — take away his shooting hand and force him inside to the paint.
But he’s also an underrated passer and he can finish at the rim. So even if you force him to the paint, you gotta hope you either get help on the drive or that you can ride with him long enough to force a tough shot.
And he’s got that dog in him, too. He plays with a chip on his shoulder. He came into the league out of a small school and had to prove himself, and even now that he’s done that, he’s still out there every night making sure people know. You can tell by the way he plays that he thinks he’s the best point guard in the league.
He has every right to feel that way.
James Harden, G, Houston Rockets
James’s step-back might be the most unstoppable move in the league.
With James, it’s either gonna be a shot, or a foul. He kind of teases you by hanging the ball out there, like he’s daring you to take it. And as soon as you reach, he either hits you with the step-back while you’re leaning, or he’ll let you get into him and draw the foul. He’s savvy like that.
The only way to really stop him is to put your chest on him, because if you give him even a little bit of space and let him get into a rhythm with his dribble, he’ll set up that step-back, and it’s over.
But you gotta keep your hands back. That’s the toughest part because when the ball is right there in front of you, your instinct is to go get it. That’s what you’d do with most guys. With James, though, you have to change your whole mindset and be really patient. You can’t get greedy.
It’s the same thing when he drives to the rim and hits you with that Euro step. He hangs the ball out there, and he’s so good at drawing that foul. It’ll drive you crazy.
I don’t know how anybody can stop him. All you can do with James is try to stay up in him, keep your hand out of there, force him to his right … and then basically just pray that he misses.
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Kyrie Irving, PG, Brooklyn Nets
Kyrie has the best handle in the league. But the thing that makes him so tough to guard is that he doesn’t have any tendencies. You can’t gameplan for him and say, O.K., this is his strength, so I’m gonna try and take that away.
There is no one thing.
You can’t force Kyrie to do what you want him to do. Between his crossover — which is probably the most unstoppable in the league — and his quickness, he’s deadly, man. He can go left, he can go right, he can step back or he can go downhill right at you. He’s just got too many ways to get where he wants to go.
And he’s such an elite finisher. I mean, yeah, he can shoot, so you gotta respect that. But when he gets to the rim, his layup package is amazing — like, the way he spins the ball off the glass and can use the whole backboard. That’s how he can get the ball up over the bigs in the paint like he does. So even though he’s only like 6-foot-2, you rarely see him get his shot blocked, because he can put the ball up at so many different angles and still spin it towards the basket.
It’s just so tough to control the game with Kyrie. You really can’t force him into anything. He’s gonna get to his spot. You just have to meet him there and contest his shot as best you can.
Kevin Durant, F, Brooklyn Nets
Can’t do nothing with it.
I remember my rookie year when I was in L.A., we were playing the Warriors at Staples, and with like 20 seconds left in OT, in a tie game, I got iso’d on KD at the top of the key. He started left, and man … he hit me with this cross, and he just straight up lost me. There was nothing I could do with it.
Then he hit the shot, and it was a wrap.
To have that kind of size and still have a guard’s skill set is just crazy. I would say the only thing KD doesn’t have is elite strength. So when you play against him, you have to be physical and stay up in him. And you gotta ride him over every screen, because you know his teammates are trying to get him shots.
But even if you stay up in his chest, he’s seven feet, and he’s just gonna shoot over you whenever he wants.
So it’s like … what do you even do?
The only guy I can think of who had a guard’s skill set like that at that height was probably T-Mac. He was smaller than KD — I think he was like 6-foot-8 — but he was probably one of the most unstoppable one-on-one players of all time.
If I had to pick a top five for that — like, my five toughest one-on-one players of all time — I think I’d put KD and T-Mac in there. Then I’d go MJ, cause he’s the G.O.A.T. I’d have to put Kobe in there, too, because I’ve always been a Kobe guy. I grew up watching him. And then I’ll go with my man A.I., because he used to make guys look silly. He’s just a legend.
So my all-time 5 toughest one-on-one players would be, in no particular order:
KD is the only current player in there because I think he’s the most unstoppable guy in the league to guard one-on-one right now. You can tell by the way he plays and the way he carries himself that he thinks he’s the best player in the world. And there’s no reason he shouldn’t feel that way.
Demar DeRozan, SG, San Antonio Spurs
I’m going to use this last spot to show some love to Demar DeRozan.
I give him a lot of respect … well, obviously because he’s from L.A. But also because the first time I stepped on an NBA court after getting drafted was against Demar.It was during the offseason and we were at the Lakers’ facility before training camp even started. There was a bunch of guys working out in L.A. and we got a game of five-on-five going.
They put me on Demar.
And I’m not even joking … this guy was calling out his moves before he was even doing them.
Going right. Going left. Fadeaway. Step-back. Shimmy. Turnaround jumper.
And he just kept hitting shots.
It was like clockwork.
There was nothing I could do with it.
He put like 40 on me that day. It was definitely my “Welcome to the NBA” moment. So out of all the guys in the league, I gotta respect Demar DeRozan, because he was the first one who showed me the level I needed to be at to compete in this league.
That’s something I’ll never forget.