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.
Tobias Harris, Forward
Let it rain. Clear it out. Let’s get it. One half of one of the greatest friendships in the history of the world and the Tobi to Boban’s Bobi. Taught Boban how to chicken noodle soup. Siri, show me pure joy.
Really, Harris is probably one of the most important cultural chroniclers of our time. For crying out loud, without him we wouldn’t have seen Boban do the Macarena. Don’t know about you, but a world where I don’t know that Boban knows how to do the Macarena is not a world I want to live in. The two are big, big fans of each other, even rode four-wheelers together through the areas where Jurassic Park was filmed.
It sometimes confuses me when I see Harris without a headband. It’s like when you’re in elementary school and you see your teacher at the mall or the grocery store. Something about it just doesn’t compute, makes my brain start to wiggle.
His body is a temple so sometimes he’ll bring Chick-fil-A to the game. Always has a book in his hand. Think it would be fair to categorize his reading habits as voracious, which is a word I don’t get to use enough so I’m thrilled to use it here. So nice you don’t care about the platitudes he trots out on Instagram (the better you become, the better you attract). Has it in him to dress like The Man With the Yellow Hat if, like, The Man With the Yellow Hat got invited to the ESPYs. Changed his number from 34 to 33 when he got traded to Philly last year. He’ll wear 12 this season to honor a friend from childhood who died of leukemia.
Josh Richardson, Guard
He was born in the land of the crimson dirt. An Edmond, Oklahoma, kid. Been grinding since before Tennessee. Went to Edmond Santa Fe, walked in the footsteps of past Wolves greats like Ekpe Udoh and Obi Muonelo and Drew Haymaker. There is a short video of him on the internet wearing a Cassy Athena T-shirt and petting a lion cub. It’s kind of mesmerizing to me. He’s boys with Alexander Zverev and once took a picture with Luka Modric. Feels like he’s going to flourish with the Sixers this season. Won’t be asked to do nearly as much as he was in Miami. Can focus on making all those open shots he’ll be getting and putting the clamps down on the other team’s best perimeter scorer.
This will be his first season in Philly, and he’s already taking photos with the local icons. When he posted a picture of himself with Allen Iverson, Richardson’s former Heat teammate James Johnson commented: “Shitin meee.” Gets Pat Riley and his hair to gravitate to the DJ booth. Once told a giraffe he could dunk on him. Said: “Man, look, I’m not going to lie. You can get dunked on. Just letting you know right now. If I’m coming through the lane, I’m going up.”
Ben Simmons, Guard
Spent the summer swimming with pigs and petting sharks. He’s maybe the new poster boy for how more and more we focus on what a player isn’t, rather than what he is. His weakness is very loud. Not sure if you heard or not but he can’t shoot a jumper. He flat out won’t, or wouldn’t, until a couple of nights ago. A couple of nights ago he did it. He hit a 3. He made one. Late shot-clock situation, he had to let it go. It dropped through the net. The Sixers celebrated like it was the beginning of the world.
I wonder if all that cheering made him feel good or embarrassed? Probably a little of both.
He’s huge and he’s fast and he’s devastating in transition. Likes to flirt with triple-doubles. People have focused so much on his inability to shoot it feels like his passing hasn’t been properly recognized. He’s not afraid to take chances with a pass. Sees angles and lanes most guys don’t. Gets the ball to places on the court most guys can’t. Pocket passes and no-looks at breakneck speeds to guys on the move and lobs at the rim and crosscourt over-the-head dimes to somebody for a corner 3. He’s still so young. Still has so much room to grow and get better. He’s a jet in the open floor and he’s heading to the rim. I want the shooting to be real so that we can more easily appreciate the entirety of his skill set: the driving and the cutting and the speed and the strength and the passing and the defense.
Joel Embiid, Center
Processing ... Processing ... Processing.
Nobody twists the knife quite like Embiid. When fully locked in I think he’s better at the internet than any professional athlete we’ve ever seen. Put up a post after a win over the Magic last year that had a picture of Mo Bamba guarding him with the caption, “Like my ninja MO … His skinny ass can’t guard me.” Then he went and tagged Bamba in it. They’re friends, apparently. Embiid likes to have fun. He comes for his enemies, too. After dominating the Pistons’ Andre Drummond in a game last year, he went to Instagram (as good as he is at Twitter, it feels like Instagram is his true canvas) and posted a series of three pictures. One was of the two men looking at each other. One was of Embiid pushing a wheelbarrow full of bricks at a community event for the 2018 NBA Africa Game. And one was of Embiid taking a fadeaway over Drummond. The location listed: Real Estate Worldwide, Inc. The caption: “I own a lot of real estate in @andredrummondd head and I’m on my way to build more. (Three house emojis) #Bum #TheProcess.” This got discussed when LeBron called out Trump the last time the Warriors won the title and said they wouldn’t visit the White House, but it bears repeating. “Bum” is a top-notch insult and underused as far as I’m concerned.
Embiid’s an elite dog owner. Bought his goldendoodle Klaus Hinkie De Paula Embiid a Furrari. Klaus De Process has his own Instagram account. You can follow him. I think you should. He’s a great-looking dog. Seems like a great hang, too. I’m also proud to announce that he seems to be a very good boy.
Embiid’s maturing in every way possible, or so he says. Would like to see him in unbelievable shape. Would like to see him go back to openly flirting with celebrities on Twitter. In my opinion, those were the days.
Al Horford, Forward
Two-time national champion and chill dude, he is a trusty and noble steed. From the D.R. A former Florida Gator. Does all the workhorse stuff that other guys who say they only care about winning don’t want to do. Great defender, great passer, smart. Could teach Embiid some things. Will be a big part of the biggest starting lineup in the league, the third member of a behemoth frontcourt that will go, hilariously, 6-foot-9, 7-foot, 6-foot-10. Throw in the 6-foot-10 Simmons at the point and this is a long and strong lineup like the league hasn’t seen in a minute. Miles and miles of arms. If they’re playing with any effort at all it’s going to be a perilous journey to get to the rim against them. This is in no way an original thought, but most teams nowadays are getting smaller. I appreciate a zig in a room full of zags. Let’s make things a little less homogenized, Sixers. Spread pick-and-roll is all well and good but let’s also stretch our imaginations a little bit. Find different, alternate ways to entertain. Beat people up in the paint. Make my eyes see something so old that it becomes new again.