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.
Jamal Murray, Guard
We need to do something about the bow-and-arrow celebration. It’s not good. I’m fine with it if it’s done ironically, but he’s being very sincere with it. Somebody who’s friends with him needs to pull him aside and have a chat and just be real with him. Say, “Look, man, I get it. You’re a good shooter. You’re a marksman. Obviously you got a bull’s-eye type of thing going on. I just think it’s stupid and you’re better than that.”
He’s already a pretty elite talker. Roasting and toasting and making the burns. Your mom goes to college. I believe in Murray. His game suggests an appreciation for true artistry. He’s creative. I know he is. Anybody who will take and make a floater from behind the backboard in a Western Conference semifinals game is without a doubt creative.
I just want to see him extend that type of elastic brilliance to his celebrations. I’d be happy to help. Off the top of the head, learn how to do a flip or something or maybe do an impression of an NBA player and everyone watching at home can have fun trying to guess which player it is? And that’s just off the top of the head. The shot above took place during Game 4 of their series against the Blazers last postseason. Murray turned in a masterpiece that night. Couldn’t be touched. Couldn’t be stopped. Hit six gigantic free throws in the last minute of the game. Wanted the ball every time. He is unafraid.
Jerami Grant, Forward
Son to Harvey. Nephew to Horace. Brother to Jerian. Came out of DeMatha—let’s go Stags—and then Syracuse. Syracuse has great uniforms. They are orange and navy and white.
Goes by Jerami but his first name is actually Houston. This guy is a spaceman. Spends a lot of time in the heavens, flitting about the galaxy, dunking on comets. Made with bits of real moon! Watch as he jumps from the ground to the top of the backboard. He’ll stand up there a while, get a better sense of his surroundings, then gainer to the ground. When he dunks the basketball, he is trying to rip the rim off. He is trying to make the game stop. He is trying to make people scream.
Averaged 14 and 5 last year. Shot 39.2 percent from 3 on almost four attempts a game. He’s gotten better every year he’s been in the league. Still has another leap to make. Likes to play in Jordans. Wore some black-and-blue XIIs the other night against the Clippers. Competes like wild defensively. An eraser on the back end. Will come out of nowhere and send one into the stands. Can play some minutes at the 5 if Jokic is hurt or in foul trouble and Michael Malone wants to go super small. He’s at home at the 4. Could play some 3 if you needed him to. The Nugs are stacked. It’s bonkers.
Quietly, Grant has turned himself into a problem for defenses. He’s harnessed his athleticism and uses it for good. A benevolent eagle! He’s more in control in general and can actually do some things off the bounce now. Will attack a closeout from one of the corners and rise up on someone. Likes to post up tiny guys that switch onto him. Loves getting out in transition, running a lane, catching a lob, or a body.
Nikola Jokic, Center
Creature from one of the lagoons. Not sure which. Something like a polar bear relaxing with his feet up, sipping on a Coke. Maxin’. I don’t know how he is so good at his job, but he is so good at his job. Sometimes it’s like he’s the only person on the court moving in slow motion, but it doesn’t matter. Jokic savors the moment. Takes in his surroundings. Pays close attention to each detail. Calculates. Bends the air. He has the hands of a saint. If he were a pitch he’d be a splitter.
Showed out in the playoffs. I once knew a guy who abbreviated the word playoffs. He never said “the playoffs.” He always said “the yoffs.” So, to use it in a sentence would be him saying something like, “Man, you pumped for the yoffs?” Now, I’ll admit, I’ve always kind’ve liked the sound of “the yoffs” but I would never actually say it. I can’t pull off saying something like that. It doesn’t make sense on my tongue.
He is a professional passer of the basketball. I hate the people who are like, “Even more so than his passing, his court vision is astounding,” but they are right. I could watch him throw passes all day. He could chuck them at my head if he wants. I don’t care. I would welcome them, the passes. Matter of fact, it would be a privilege to be hit in the face with a ball thrown by Jokic. I hope it happens.
Malik Beasley, Guard
Formerly a bolt of lightning, Malik Beasley is now the human incarnation of death itself. Like Joe Black in Meet Joe Black but charming. Might wind up the greatest guard to ever play the game of basketball. Might topple mountains with a wave of his hand. He is that kind of dynamic. He is effervescent. He will never forsake you. His love is forever. Streams ever-flowing from the land of plenty. Wants to be called the Mutant. I will gladly oblige. It would be my honor.
Went to Florida State. About to begin his fourth year in the league. The forgotten guy in a lot of Nuggets discussions. A member of the team’s loaded backcourt along with Murray and Gary Harris and Will Barton and Monte Morris and Torrey Craig. I say again: The Nugs are stacked. It’s bonkers.
Beasley, though. If, in a movie, a character was asked, “Yeah, but is he cool?” in reference to Beasley, the character would respond with, “Yeah, he’s cool.” And maybe that doesn’t mean anything to you, but let me tell you something—it means a hell of a lot to me. A whole hell of a lot. That’s from a movie, I think? Even if it’s somehow not, it is. That’s a very movie thing to say.
Paul Millsap, Forward
Paul “Moneybags” Millsap or The Man Who Does Not Speak. They should let him play in a top hat, monocle, and tuxedo with tails. A real noble penguin vibe. Wisened, too, the penguin is wisened.
He golfs in the XIs. Led the nation in rebounding three years in a row when he was playing at Louisiana Tech. Did all that standing at 6-foot-8. Give the man his roses. Give the man his wine.
Paul Millsap in a leather jacket with the collar popped and he’s strutting his stuff and really sticking it to the man. Kicking major—and I mean major—butts.
I want to go into the past. Two Millsap games stick out to me more than most. The first is a game against the Knicks a couple of years ago. Millsap plays 60 minutes. The game goes four overtimes. He puts up 37, 19, and 7. Dominates completely and totally.
Paul Millsap driving around town and flipping off the pedestrians and throwing bricks at mailboxes.
Let’s go further back for the second game. All the way to Salt Lake City. The Kirilenko Years. Raja Bell. C.J. Miles. Back to the days of the Busted Panther Tattoo, when Deron Williams was one of the best players in the league, and not yet wearing a headband. Millsap went ballistic. Hit three 3s in a row and then dropped in a put-back at the buzzer to send the game into overtime. Scored 11 points in 28 seconds. I think what I mean is, he’s been doing this at a high level for quite a while.
Tyler Parker is a writer from Oklahoma.