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.
Steven Adams, Center
EZ GEGE! Big Kiwi’s bona fide and bull-sized. A modern Samson—mobile, agile, high style—an artisan, a craftsman. My Coors Light Cold Hard Fact about him is he’s going to average 14 rebounds a game this season. Funaki rising. A spokesman for beef. I saw him walk into a steakhouse once. It was like seeing James Brown at the Apollo.
A man you can trust. Made of titanium, wagyu, and the bones of terminators. Treats an elbow to the face like it’s nothing more than a gentle breeze. Moves people around the court like he’s rearranging traffic cones. Sometimes lets a guy know they’ve gone too far. He does this with his eyes and his hands. Partial to Adidas slides. Partial to camouflage. Partial to Fords.
A lot of people talk about how he looks like Aquaman. Fewer talk about how he looks like Terence Stamp playing General Zod in the 1978 Superman. I’ll talk about it. Want to know why? Because I’m not a coward, that’s why. I have a spine. I’m going to use it. He looks like General Zod. Sue me. Doesn’t make Adams any less dazzling. For crying out loud, he will climb to the top of a temple and take a picture with you.
He’s delightful on the mic. Better at offensive rebounding than I am at anything. Truly, I can’t be myself as well as he can get second-chance opportunities for his team. Active on both ends of the floor. Good at denting things. In an instant he’ll change his body chemistry, assume a new form, turn into a wall.
Chris Paul, Guard
I went to the Ford Center in Oklahoma City to watch the Hornets play the Jazz once. Paul out-dueled Deron Williams. This was back when Williams was good. I’ve written those past two sentences before. During the game I bought some Hornets shorts as a souvenir. I still wear them around the house. They’ve battled hard for 12 years now. The elastic in the waist is long gone, and a faded Hornet logo is nothing more than a collection of paint flakes, and even still they find themselves in the rotation. As an article of clothing you’re talking about a piece that’s just a workhorse, plain and simple. They’re really soft. They feel good on my legs. I debated on whether or not to admit that I bought a yellow Chris Paul jersey at that same game, but I ultimately decided I won’t mention it here. Frankly, it’s embarrassing, and I’m not stoked about my decision-making back then. I was young and brash and certain I was right about everything. But yeah, all I bought were those shorts.
He’s lived a thousand lifetimes. He’s dreamed a million more. Makes the ball submit to him. Here are some highlights from a Hornets-Kings game in Oklahoma City in 2007. Shareef Abdur-Rahim was still going hard, and Kevin Martin was only a boy then. The Hornets are in their reds, and the words Oklahoma City are loud on their chest.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Guard
During Game 4 of the Clippers’ first-round playoff series against the Warriors last postseason, Mike Breen had this to say in response to a particularly good Gilgeous-Alexander play. “Oh! Sweet move! Gilgeous-Alexander! With the duke!” By the end of the game SGA had put up 25. As a rookie. Against the defending world champions.
First name Shaivonte. Canada’s finest. 21 years young. His arms are unreal. They’re like muscular brooms. Really, they’re two of the best arms in the business. He needs no help on the arm front. And even still, if he came to me as a friend and brother and said he needed both of mine, I would absolutely give them to him because that’s what friends do for one another. They ask no questions and do as they’re told.
I’m very jealous of people that get to go by just three letters. SGA, HBK, RZA, GZA, PTA, SZA. All of those are tons of fun to look at and say. Tyler? That name is so boring. Tyler. To say that name out loud, really makes you want to throw up, doesn’t it?
SGA just flat-out refuses to be rushed. I’m serious. He won’t do it. He’ll go at his speed and his alone. Sometimes he glides into the lane, somehow herky-jerky and smooth, keeps his dribble, bends, slithers around picks. He’s a great defender, also refuses to be screened. Players come up to him, they say, “Shai, man, can you help me out? Let me get one clean look. I’m trying to get my name in the paper.” He acts like he’s listening but then, when they’re done talking, he punches them in the face. To see that, that would be so fun. SGA has no time for anything other than being rad and doing rad things. His whole game is played just left of center. His approach is unique enough for a defense to not be certain where he’s headed. What I am trying to say is, he’s full of surprises.
Deonte Burton, Forward
Watch your head! This man has sent countless G League play-by-play men into uncontrollable tizzies the past couple of years. Displays of athleticism and of flight. Physical feats they have a hard time wrapping their minds around in the moment. Here’s one of them narrating a steal and dunk of Burton’s last season. Bear in mind Burton had shown his considerable leaping ability earlier in the game and the announcer knew that with him all alone on the break the audience was in for some kind of show. He screamed like a man watching a city he hates be destroyed by Godzilla.
“Here’s a steal by Burton! Oh my goodness! Here it goes! Look out below! Oh!”
It’s next to impossible not to root for him. His mother died of breast cancer his sophomore year of college. Now he wears pink shoes for games in her honor. He’s reserved, an introvert. Would rather sit in the house and write in his notebook. Likes to write poetry. He’s no longer on a two-way contract. He got a promotion. At the Thunder’s media day this year he said, “I was a temp at first, but now I’m a full employee.” He’s got the type of game where if he were playing football you’d hear a lot of announcers say, “Hey, you know what? He’s just a football player.”
Would love to see some headlines on various Thunder-related blogs incorporate “Threeonte” into the mix early and often if he’s lighting it up from distance early in the year. His dunking last season was not limited to his days in the G League. He brought it with him when he got to the big club. Punched one on Miles Bridges last year and made the whole arena stand.
Darius Bazley, Forward
Rookie. Wore shoes the color of tennis balls at the combine. Well, in my memory they were the color of tennis balls. I’m looking at them now, though, and I think it’s fair to call me an idiot and question my judgment going forward. Do not trust the rest of this, but tennis-ball yellow is way off as a descriptor. A better way to describe them would be to say the shoes look like if a Sprite commercial were a basketball sneaker. I swear on everything I love, I mean that as a compliment.
I would wear those shoes to a wedding. I would wear those shoes to a funeral. I would wear those shoes to bed.
Said yes to Boeheim at first, then decided to audible, go the non-traditional route—skip college and train for the NBA draft. Interned with New Balance for a year for the sweet, sweet price of $ 1 million. This is an exciting, inventive kid, an out-of-the-box thinker who I have to assume has a pretty solid Kith connect. Would love it if Darius could come through with a size 13 in the navy and white 993s they just brought back. Think that’s a bold, beautiful shoe. I would be glad to take a picture of myself wearing them and then post that picture on various social media platforms with a really glowing caption like, “I don’t believe! After all these years! I finally like my feet!”
The thing to say about Bazley is, “What’s really exciting about him is the way he can handle the ball at 6-foot-9. That size with the ability to put the ball on the floor, that’s why some people think he could be special.” He was a McDonald’s All American. A lefty who’s not married to his left hand. Will take a runner. Will take a floater. Looks comfortable from 3. Take all this with the requisite salt. I’m a Thunder fan. This is therapy for me. Give me another couple of hundred words and I’ll get to, “HE IS THE MOST UNTOUCHABLE PLAYER IN THE LEAGUE, AND YOU BE NICE WHEN YOU SEE HIM.”
The right kind of instincts seem to be there on both ends of the floor. There’s a not-too-wild world out there where he can initiate offense, be the handler in the pick-and-roll, and be a positive on defense. I trust any man who knows how to wear purple.
His pants look leather. He’s got the kind of frame he should be able to add muscle to. I am so grateful to be alive.
Tyler Parker is a writer from Oklahoma.