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.
CJ McCollum, Guard
CJ McCollum or the Lobster from Lehigh. A bad, bad man. Was and is a bucket. Has his own personalized Cleveland Browns jersey with “McCollum” on the back and everything. Going into his seventh year in the league. Displays great patience. Kind of a midtempo number. So smooth I find his highlights relaxing. Can score at every level. In total command of his person. Highly skilled in the art of hesitation. Great at reading screens. Great at podcasting. Exhibits transcendental style. A champion of slow cinema. He’s trying, Jennifer.
Dropped 37 on the Nuggets in Game 7 of the Western Conference semis last season. Just completely at ease with the ball. Halfway through the first quarter, his hands had already begun to glow. Made one play in particular when, late shot clock, he tried to get a high screen from Zach Collins. Will Barton was guarding McCollum, forced him away from the screen. Mason Plumlee had been on Collins and now waited in help. They tried to corral him. They could not. McCollum attacked Plumlee and spun off him and back to the middle with his left hand. Barton had trailed trying to double, but McCollum split them with the spin, kept the ball in his left hand the entire time—I’m trying to make sure you understand he never transferred the ball to his right hand—then made a one-handed no-look pass to a rolling Collins who bumped it off the glass for two. That attempted description doesn’t do the move justice. Here are all his highlights from that game. The move I’m talking about comes at the 52-second mark.
The best make the magical look easy.
Zach Collins, Forward/Center
We are probably only about six months away from Robert Pattinson saying to his barber, “Give me the Zach Collins.” The young man would appear to want all the smoke all the time. Some examples: told Jokic to “back the fuck up.” Joker took offense, and then they commenced arguing. Went at Rondo during the first round of the playoffs when he was a rookie. There is a YouTube video titled “Zach Collins Acting Like He Wants That Boogie Cousins Static.” Even got in Klay Thompson’s face. Said to the man with three rings, “Fuck you, hoe.” When he gets mad, Collins has the black and lifeless eyes of a shark. Seems like the type of guy who’s always mentioning that he lives by a strict moral code.
Takes pictures with Porsches. Wears highlighter-green T-shirts with the words ENDLESS VIBES on the front. On one Instagram post of him and the rest of the Trail Blazers working out, the top comment listed is a guy asking him what kind of hair gel he uses. Collins is a man of the people and a champion of character. He answered. Apparently, it’s Crew. I get the interest. Collins’s mane is unwavering. He could go swimming, and not a single strand would move out of place.
Damian Lillard, Guard
The fluidity of Lillard. The audacity. He will stand four football fields away, tap his wrist, and cut your head off with a spoon. Eater of dreams. What a dream eater! He is also the night that the skeletons came to life. Gives big hugs to big moments. Embraces them fully. Shines like mercury.
He’s a lullaby wrapped in barbed wire. Could play barefoot and sneeze on every attempt and still get you 20. The range! Oh! The range! Place limits on him at your own peril. I don’t understand why more and more players aren’t taking deeper and deeper 3s. If this is what the game is now—a spread floor, 3s on 3s falling out of the sky—at least swerve enough on the distance of your attempts to keep the viewer interested. Get your heels up against the logo at midcourt. Pull from the timeline with 17 seconds left on the shot clock. Don’t wear out the same four spots on the floor. Diversify your attempts so that it’s harder for me to fall asleep. Take notes from Lillard. He peppers bombs in from every corner of the galaxy. Long-distance dedications shot from what looks to be somewhere just south of Eugene.
Jusuf Nurkic, Center
Is somewhere right now lying on the ground and holding his face. From Bosnia and Herzegovina. Calls himself the Bosnian Beast. Really leans into it. Even dressed as Beast from Beauty and the Beast for Halloween in 2018. Would also probably be down to be referred to as the Bosnian Bear. It’s a listed nickname on his Basketball-Reference page. Surely they have to clear those with somebody.
Been boys with Mario Hezonja for a while. Now he gets to be his teammate. Nurkic is stoked about it.
He’s gotten much better at giving consistent effort. Averaged 15 and 10 last year on a little over 50 percent shooting from the field. Even tossed in three assists per game. Changed agents in the offseason. He’s now represented by Rich Paul. Every now and again a fedora will make an appearance, and you want to grab him and say, “Yo, what’s up, Adjustment Bureau? Hey, man, for real, though. Cut that out right now. You gotta be better than that. Your lack of self-awareness is disappointing and surprising to me. Terrible decision on your part. I honestly think I’m about to cry. There are a lot of people looking up to you and counting on you. You can’t just walk around in public with that thing on your head. How dare you? What’s the matter with you? Have you any honor at all?”
Rodney Hood, Guard/Forward
Hood’s from Meridian, Mississippi. So are Peavey amps. And Big K.R.I.T. Nardwuar is pretty much a college at this point.
Things had grown stale for him in Utah, and Cleveland didn’t work out either. Now he’s revitalized himself in the Pacific Northwest. Found himself the man of the hour on a couple of different occasions in last year’s playoffs. Absolutely torched Denver. Mike Malone lies awake at night with visions of Hood dancing in his head, that left sword of a hand striking like a scorpion tail. Don’t let the pondlike exterior sing you to sleep. He will take your throat. He will rip it from your neck. Did it multiple times to the Nuggets. Just MacGrubered them. Hit the game-winner in that four-overtime slugfest of a Game 3 in the Western Conference semis last year. Scored seven points in the final 1:07. Then in Game 6 he went for 25. Went 8-for-12 from the field. Hit three 3s. Was a plus-21 in a little over 31 minutes. For the series he shot 58 percent from the field and 50 percent from 3, and averaged 14.7 points a game. It was great to see a guy do something significant with the opportunity he was given. Still only just now about to turn 27. He re-signed with the Blazers this offseason, hopes the energy remains the same, hopes it’s home.
Tyler Parker is a writer from Oklahoma.