In lieu of a traditional franchise-by-franchise NBA preview, we asked Tyler Parker to give us five players to watch on each team. If we want. For reasons entirely his own.
Trae Young, Point Guard
Strong Blue Jean Committee vibes with this one. Gentle and soft. Smooth and easy. Feathers in lotion. Oh, God. Never mind. That image is horrible.
He takes his time. Checks his watch while the big tries to push up on him and string out the pick-and-roll. I think I could be the type of guy that gets really into watches. I don’t want to be that type of guy. I’m just saying I could be.
Young is accurate passing off the bounce with his right or his left hand. He’s my favorite ball handler to watch. Makes himself at home, takes his shoes off, lies on the couch. He’s so comfortable out there. Tries things with the ball that’d give me a sports hernia.
Great shooters can be the most exciting players to watch when their confidence is high and they’re running hot. The moment Young crosses half court he’s a problem. Has the nugs to take a shot from anywhere. I’m from Oklahoma. I’m a big fan of OU football. Some of the best fan experiences I’ve ever had were those couple years Adrian Peterson was in town, simply because every time he touched the ball you thought he had the chance to go the distance. Young’s the basketball version of that when he heats up.
He’s a vessel for the unconscious. There’s no hurry. Plays with great pace. Mixes up speeds well. He appreciates himself. An audacious house cat and yet still, somehow, a good hang? Maybe? Recall the lotion but not the feathers. I know that’s impossible. Young’s is a moisturized touch. He glides around like some kind of fog, treats the ball the way he wants to be treated.
John Collins, Forward
More than a dunker. He can hit a 3. He can drive a closeout. Generally makes decent enough decisions when he catches it out of a roll. As two-footed jumpers go, he’s like dancing with a buzz on. One of his listed nicknames on Basketball-Reference is The Baptist. He keeps his head, though, takes off the other guys’. Had a one-handed oop against Charlotte last year that had Atlanta’s play-by-play man so stoked he combined the words “back to him” into one all-encompassing (and I will spell it like he said it) “backTOHIM.” Imagine someone wearing spaceships as shoes. If the launch pad’s clean enough he’ll chip a tooth on Mars.
Kevin Huerter, Guard
Otherwise known as Chest Stockwell. “Nobody could tell him anything and he spent his days flipping off the skies and being worshiped.” That’s how I would start his biography, The Nuclear Fire Hydrant. Cleanliness is next to Godliness is next to Huerterness. A charming kind of lobster, Ole Red plays with a smoothness and grace heretofore reserved for swans. Going into the draft, scouts had nothing to compare him to so they just went with the Rocky Mountains. This is a basketball player after your own heart. I aim that sentiment at every person in the world. When times are tough, seek out the Huerter. When you feel like you can’t go on, seek out the Huerter. When the load gets heavy and you feel that sick hum under everything and you can’t feel good no matter what you do, seek out the Huerter. Olympic flame status. Lit at all times. Burning at all times. Raining orange on the heads of the damned.
Where does humanity go from here? The only direction is down. Goes without saying, but Huerter really is the peak we as a species have to offer, so much so he’s not really of this world at all. He exists in some other reality, graces us with his presence for 82 games a year, then heads back to the heaven from whence he came. We’re privileged to be alive right now because he’s playing basketball, and if you’re not deeply grateful for that then get out of my face, man. This is Young Thanos. The peppermint jackrabbit. When he was a boy, he would go door to door in his own neighborhood and challenge the man of the house to a fight. These were middle-aged dudes. Huerter was 7. Didn’t matter. Atlanta Rouge took on all comers. Never surrendered. Never lost. He beat hell into people and they thanked him for it.
The New Beethoven of the NBA. A virtuoso, some kind of sunrise. So obviously an icon already, and yet still so young.
DeAndre’ Bembry, Guard/Forward
The painting: a saguaro cactus wearing a pink robe, barbs sticking up through the terry cloth. He stared at it, thumbed his mustache, then went about being a king. Luxurious is an underrated word. It’s really good to look at on the page and it’s really nice to hear someone say. Not a lot of words have an x. I get pumped up when I see one. Give me a nice z in the word and I will leave all my worldly possessions behind and follow you into a bloodstained hell. I am talking about aesthetics. I am pretty much always only talking about aesthetics. Reality is not very important to me. It often bums me out.
DeAndre’ Bembry. He’s got style. He’s got grace. He’s a winner. Oh, whoa, whoa. He’s a winner. “Whoa” is a word I don’t like but it’s the word Tom sang and I just can’t see myself disrespecting him like that. There’s something funky about Bembry. Herky and jerky. Thanks, but he will play at his speed. Buried Marvin Bagley III in the sand. Left hand to God.
Atlanta’s fun to watch. Jalen Jones knows. He played for the Cavs for 16 games last season. Got him 17 minutes against the Hawks on December 29, 2018. Got him a spirited 7 and 7. Got him tea-bagged by John Collins. The way it went was, there were two seconds left in the first quarter. Collins followed a missed Justin Anderson 3 (say it with me—is there any other kind?), caught it off the rim with one hand, and detonated on Jones. Complete anarchy in the skies. Laser light show type stuff. Techno music and dancing penguins and glitter in the water. The people of Atlanta, as they should’ve, went bananas. The Cavs tried to inbound it while everyone was screaming. Bembry’s opportunistic. He picked off the pass and stepped into a double pumped 3, looked marvelous, state of the art. The ball went in and Atlanta screamed for him.
Vince Carter, Guard/Forward
One of the great artists of the 21st century. The King of Daytona Beach. Much like a Brian Fantana story: compelling and rich. When he was younger he fountained highlights like a dadgum monsoon. I went back and watched his slam dunk contest again the other day. I was in the sixth grade then. My memory of the event was that it was a massive moment in mine and the world’s respective histories. A cultural high point that stood toe to toe with The Matrix in terms of pure, straight entertainment. I watched the broadcast with some friends. When Carter landed after his first dunk—that reverse 360 windmill—we all stood up and acted like we were dying.
It was the fluidity of movement, the power, the dexterity, the creativity, and let’s stay here for a second. What kind of mind thinks up these dunks? The elbow in the rim? Iconic choreography up there with anything Astaire ever did.
Tyler Parker is a writer from Oklahoma.