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.
Kawhi Leonard, Forward
Just your average, everyday load-management lord. Reigning Finals MVP. As recruiters go, he could give Saban a run for his money.
He has tweeted four times. The first was on January 13, 2015. It’s a picture of him presenting an autographed basketball to Obama on the Spurs’ visit to the White House after they won the title in 2014. It’s got one of those filters on it that makes the photo look like a painting. The second tweet was in April of the same year—a picture of him hitting a bucket of balls at Topgolf San Antonio. His third tweet was on July 6, 2015. It’s a picture of a custom swag board of his, the image of the Kawhi claw all over the board. His last tweet was a retweet the very next day. The original tweet had been sent by the San Diego State University Facilities and Game Operations Twitter account. Leonard had visited the campus, and they posted a picture of him standing with two other guys in what looks like their practice gym. After that we are dark on the rock. There is no sound. He saw the hellscape and hit eject. He is decisive. Knows what he wants. Goes out and gets what he wants. He is a sticky bandit.
If I had Kawhi’s hands, I’d walk around town just slapping the hell out of people. Sometimes he looks woozy, drunk off his own abilities. Deion Sanders once said water covers three-fourths of the earth and he covers the rest. Kawhi’s the water.
Landry Shamet, Guard
Landry Shamet is of the Wichita State variety, which is to say he’s stone-cold solid. True blue. You’re not going to have to worry about him. He’s going to take care of himself. He has the disposition of a decent-sized pond.
A Kansas City kid. Everything’s up to date there. Has he gone to Oklahoma Joe’s and stood in the line that wraps around the gas station? Has he gone to Gates and screamed his order as he’s opening the door? What about Arthur Bryant’s? Stroud’s? Those cinnamon biscuits are first class all the way. Better than a magic lantern show.
Made 42.2 percent of his 3s last year. Bump that up to 45 percent if you go from the time he got to L.A. through the end of the season. Unafraid of the moment. During Game 2 of their first-round series against the Warriors, Shamet hit a gigantic 3 with 16 seconds left in the fourth to give the Clips a two-point lead. Didn’t hesitate. Shot the ball and was honest about it. Made the crowd whine. The Clips won the game. The Warriors won the series. In the entire history of the NBA, there are only two rookies who have shot better than 42 percent from distance and made 160-plus 3s: Stephen Curry and Landry Shamet. I got that stat from the description under a YouTube video uploaded by the Clips’ official account of Shamet’s best plays from last season. Ralph gave him some barrel-chested BINGOs late in the year. The ones where his voice would kind of crack and fade out at the end.
He is an exceptional shooter of the basketball. His attempts are always very confident, too, if that makes any sense. Like, he carries himself with the spirit of a guy who is used to seeing the ball go in the hole. He’ll pull with someone up on him. He’ll pull off the bounce. He’ll pull off a pin down. He’ll pull from a couple of feet behind the 3-point line. He’s a dreamer, a gleaner, an overachiever.
Paul George, Forward
My 2.5-year-old daughter’s favorite player because sometimes he wears yellow shoes. She walked in while I was watching a Thunder game last year and pointed at the television. George was running around in some bright yellow PG 3s. They looked like fat lemons. She said, “Daddy! Yellow!” Since then, if basketball is on the television and she comes into the room, she’ll point at the television and say, “It’s Paul George?”
Son of Paul and Paulette George. The greatest basketball player in Fresno State history. Apologies to Rafer Alston. Apologies to Melvin Ely. Apologies to Rolland “Trill” Todd. George is the big man. He is the top bulldog.
When George was fully healthy last season, he was playing the best basketball of his career. You couldn’t dribble in his general vicinity. He’d just take the ball from people. Would just reach out and take it. Like he thought nothing of the person he was doing it to. Had some video game nights. Went up over 40 points seven times. Finished third in MVP. His best play last year was the game-winner he hit in double overtime against the Jazz in February. Hit Ingles with a couple of crossovers. Rubio was helping off Schröder quite a bit, and when George made his move Rubio stepped over. Ingles tried and failed to close the gap, and George split them and got into the lane. Dropped in a skyscraper of a floater over the top of Gobert’s outstretched hand. Oklahoma City erupted. Paint the earth in shades of gold. That was when the Paul George–should-be-third-in-MVP-voting stuff hit maximum noise. It was a crescendo. The cymbals really came in. And that was as good as it got. Things went south from there. He had shoulder issues he was dealing with, and it was affecting his shot. Then Dame hit his shot. So on and so forth. Kawhi makes a phone call. The world bends. George lives in L.A. now.
Montrezl Harrell, Center/Forward
Plays with all the fearlessness, joy, and aggression of someone perfectly at peace with who they are. No half-measures with him. He wants to dunk everything. He wants every rebound. He runs hard in transition. He competes defensively. His motor’s nuts. It has so much horsepower. He is out of sight, my man.
Uncommonly great hands. Uncommonly soft touch from almost 15 feet in. Good buddies with the glass. Has a whole selection of floaters at his disposal. Bouncy and physical and just will not stop. Didn’t miss a game last year. Played all 82. Goes hard every moment he’s on the floor. Catches little pocket passes from Lou Williams at these strange angles and goes up and finishes through contact. And-1. Probably looking at Harrell finding the camera and flexing with at least one of his arms, maybe both. I’ve always felt like it would be funny if a guy flexed his calves when he celebrated dunking on someone. I feel strongly that this is a great idea for a bit, and if someone did it people would love it.
Lou Williams, Guard
My wife is a massive Clippers fan. She grew up in Los Angeles, and tickets to Clippers games were far cheaper than tickets to Lakers games. She and her dad and brother would go over to the L.A. Sports Arena, watch mostly hopeless teams flail around in the league’s basement. Things are different now. Let me go full Inigo Montoya here and go back to the beginning. When I say she’s a huge Clippers fan, I’m not saying she got into them during the Lob City years. I’m saying her favorite basketball player of all time is Pooh Richardson. She has a Pooh Richardson jersey. She has a Darius Miles jersey. She got to meet Brent Barry once. Olden Polynice used to come to her school’s summer basketball camps when she was in elementary school. Apparently, he was really nice. We almost named our dog after him. I continue to wish that we had. I’m very excited for her to get to cheer for this team.
Her favorite current Clipper is Lou Williams. Williams has been out here the last couple of seasons CLOSING DOORS. Ruthless in his approach. He shuts the place down, turns the lights out, locks up. Gilt-edged and professional. An expert scorer. I didn’t make a big enough deal earlier about how in tune Harrell and Williams are when they run the pick-and-roll. Harrell actually screens guys, rolls hard, also knows when to slip. Williams kills anyone if they go under the screen. He keeps his dribble alive for long stretches, can fit passes into tight spaces. They torch defenses. Light them on fire. Ballmer watches it all. Just stands over there on the sideline, sweating through his oxford, screaming, drumming his stomach. He feels so alive.
Tyler Parker is a writer from Oklahoma.