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.
Buddy Hield, Guard
He got his extension and now he doesn’t have to worry about burning it all down. When he was a rookie in New Orleans, Alvin Gentry had to limit his workouts. His pregame warm-ups in college regularly lasted four hours. Hield learned how to shoot in the first grade on a goal he made out of plywood and a milk crate. This is Disney-type stuff. I feel comfortable saying he won’t be denied.
He’s got a picture of himself back home in the Bahamas with Jim Jones. Jones is wearing a Miami Vamps T-shirt and a snapback the color of new snow. There’s a USB cord around his neck and Hield’s holding a small Styrofoam bowl of salad. It might be something else. I’m going with salad. I feel like I can see some croutons in there. The caption: “@jimjonescapo Ballin in the Bahamas (Bahaman flag) #HeCoolPeoples (100 emoji).” You can’t be a professional basketball player and take a picture with Jim Jones and not include a “ballin” in the caption, so I guess what I’m saying is you can count on Hield to do the things he’s supposed to do.
His senior year at Oklahoma, Phog Allen gave him a standing ovation. Hield was the Pied Piper of Norman. Somebody saw him at the Warren in Moore doing gainers off the balcony during a showing of Taken 3. He held a Roman candle between his teeth. Pink sparks sprayed everywhere. Then he turned into a flamingo and flew away. Not since Hollis Price did Oklahoma have a guard who inspired the kind of start-to-finish fawning Hield did his last year in school. Quannas White was the man, though. Tony Crocker was fine. Willie Warren disappointed. Whatever happened to Tiny Gallon? Hield made it feel like football season again. Guy could get a table at Nonesuch no problem.
De’Aaron Fox, Guard
For the kingdom! Sometimes you look up and he’s galloping. Fastest guy in the league depending on who you talk to. You ask Russell Westbrook, he’ll give you a different answer. You ask Brett Brown, he’ll give you a different answer. You ask me, I’ll say Nikola Jokic, but that’s just because I’m silly.
Fox has all the makings of a star. The physical tools are there, the intelligence is there, the attitude is there. He is a monster in the open floor. If I can dabble in the obvious for a moment, Sacramento should run at every possible opportunity. After makes, after misses, after the game, before the game. Fox needs to get better at conducting the offense in the half court is something I would type if I was really in the know and wanted to talk about how these here Kings should run more Spain pick-and-roll.
Sacramento should make sure they enjoy this time being the young team with all kinds of upside. You get only like six months anymore to be an upstart. After that, it’s like everybody collectively decides to start holding the team to championship-level standards. I mentioned him earlier, but look at the basketball internet’s collective reaction to Ben Simmons. One minute his summer league games are appointment viewing and everyone’s saying he’s the next Magic. The next minute people are calling him a coward for not shooting 3s. Show a lack of polish in any regard and the doubters come out in earnest. With Fox, it’s weird right now if someone doesn’t like him, but let him make it a round or two in the playoffs. The red pens will be coming with their checkmarks. Atlanta’s probably the team this happens to next. Or actually, it’s probably the Nuggets, I guess? Could even see it happening to Luka and KP in Dallas.
I have a personal belief that most guys in the league get dominated by the headband they wear. It overwhelms their head, becomes some kind of statement piece, distracts from what’s on the floor. Fox is the opposite. A headband makes complete sense on him.
Harrison Barnes, Forward
Yet another member of the Ames basketball mafia. Has anyone ever called him Black Falcon? That’s what Basketball Reference has listed as his nickname. He and his wife, Brittany, along with Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle Malik Jackson, have offered to pay for the funeral of Atatiana Jefferson, the Fort Worth, Texas, woman shot and killed in her home by a police officer on October 12, 2019.
Depending on who you talk to, the Kings are either experiencing some buyer’s remorse with Barnes, or he’s a vital part of their roster going forward. He’s another of those players over whom people spend a lot of time fussing about what he’s not good at. Spent some time with the Kings organization in India this preseason. The whole squad went to the Taj Mahal. He’s unafraid to wear a kurta. He pulls it off nicely. Orange might be his color.
Harry Giles, Forward
A guy I can’t help but feel bad for. Giles has had to deal with all sorts of injury issues since Duke. He couldn’t play in any of the preseason because of some knee soreness. Now there’s word he might have dropped out of the rotation entirely. I would love to see him string together a couple of seasons in a row where he has his health and gets consistent minutes and has time to really improve and grow his game in meaningful ways.
Jayson Tatum told my boss last year that growing up, Giles was the only guy he ever felt was better than him. They went to Duke together. They’re still close. To read Giles tell it, they’ve been that way since they were 13.
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Ahhh Man!! My Brother.... My Dawg! I waited on that night all season g. What a dream come true to compete against a real one. Something we talked about since we were 13. Amazing to see it all start to happen for us. Keep pushing My Dawg till the last day know how we rocking, Love ya Family
Giles went to a fan’s birthday party as a surprise present. Calls himself Giiizzle. A lot. Types in the third person sometimes. He’s making waves despite not playing that much. I mean, people are wearing his jersey during their own weddings.
Marvin Bagley III, Forward
If you know me, you know I’ve always been jealous of people with Roman numerals in their names. I would love to be a fourth or a third or maybe even something really wild like an eighth. You could probably talk people into calling you Ocho if you were an eighth. Who wouldn’t want to be called Ocho?
Out for the next four to six weeks because of injury. Something called a nondisplaced fracture of his right thumb. He put up a Tuesdays With Morrie quote on his Instagram, so you know he’s at the very least bought The Five People You Meet in Heaven. He proclaimed himself The Puma Man. He is sitting in front of a pyramid of televisions.
His father, Marvin Jr., played wide receiver and linebacker in the late 1990s for the Arizona Rattlers and New Jersey Red Dogs in the Arena Football League. His grandfather is Jumpin’ Joe Caldwell. The Detroit Pistons took him with the second overall pick in the 1964 NBA draft. Second overall pick—like grandfather, like grandson.
Averaged 15 and 8 last year and acquitted himself well. He belongs. Really runs his lane hard in transition. Has great hands, makes plays around the rim on offense. The 3s will come. He needs time to get his shot off now but his form is smooth and with work, as he gets more and more comfortable, you’d expect to see the percentages rise and the release get at least a smidge quicker. He’s active, plays with good energy, has great manners on his dunks. He’s not a showoff. He’ll dunk it politely. He’ll dunk it with respect.
Tyler Parker is a writer from Oklahoma.