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.
Ja Morant, Guard
Had the game-winning assist against the Nets the other night. Before that, at the end of regulation, he sat Kyrie down, told him the world was flat. All told, Morant had 30 points, nine assists, and four rebounds. He was unafraid. This is what he said about his performance the next day.
“Everybody, coaching staff and players, just told me I just need to be aggressive every time I’m in. Just like, watching film, when I’m aggressive, I’m putting pressure on the defense. Breaking down the defense allows me just to make reads. Whether it’s me going to score, or a kick out pass to a shooter, or a drop off to a big, or I pass it and they go make the play. I just felt like I just need to be aggressive at all times, and last game I just kept my head down and just kept being aggressive and was able to score.”
Plays with big-time music video energy. Sometimes he floats midair. Beneath no one. His handle’s tight. Once said, “If they better than me, they have to show me.” I don’t type this lightly, but it feels like he might be a little Westbrookian on his dunk attempts. That’s about as glowing as I can possibly get. I type that because the misses can be just as exciting as the makes. You like to see him feeling like he has that in him. He’s going to connect soon.
Jonas Valanciunas, Center
There are few things more beautiful than a high-quality sweater. Something solid, substantial. Not chunky, but there. And the fabric is very heavy and soft, and you look at it and you don’t need to touch it in order to feel it. I believe in the turtleneck and the power for which it stands.
Turtleneck Szn pic.twitter.com/yhXFWEVxXL— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) January 2, 2019
This picture was taken last year, before Valanciunas got shipped out of Toronto. I think it’s amazing, and it’s legitimately the only thing I’ll be talking about during this section.
He looks, at the moment the photograph was taken, like he is weighing the sins of the entire world. The look is not quite haunted, but in his face you see him missing something, thinking of the way things used to be. This photo’s every bit as compelling as anything William Eggleston ever shot, and I think it should win awards.
Look at all the components working in total harmony with one another. Everything knows its role. The beard is handling its business. The hair is pristine. The jacket is cut right and, I think, a midnight type of blue. The turtleneck looks at home on him. He’s wearing the clothes, you know? Despite the storm in his head, he’s in control.
Jae Crowder, Forward
Jae Crowder is a name Pynchon never came up with because he hasn’t yet written his epic about the New England crabbing industry. Crowder takes a busted Tracker up and down Chesapeake Bay, looks for bodies. The boat’s named, I don’t know … The Supple Moose. The moniker’s painted on the transom in the same font used on the cover of Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger. Somebody’s released millions of blue crabs into the waters, and they’re devastating local marine life. Wreaking havoc on the seafood industry. It’s pandemonium in the oceans, and the waves grow taller each day.
Crowder calls himself BOSSMAN. Had that awesome contract that one time. Or actually, it was awesome for Boston, not for him. He threw his daughter a Jada Wonka & the Chocolate Factory-themed fifth birthday party, and it honestly seems like it was excruciatingly consistent with the aesthetics of the Tim Burton movie of a similar name. He seems like a great dad.
Remember the summer Durant left Oklahoma City? One of the teams he took a meeting with during that free-agency period was the Celtics. A little—not a lot, but a little—was made about Tom Brady joining the C’s for their Durant pitch in the Hamptons. I think I remember seeing a photo of him with Isaiah Thomas at the time, but I never saw this picture of Crowder and Brady smiling on a tarmac together.
You wonder whether Ainge died some when Brady showed up in that Newsies hat. Just a rough draw. What do you do in that situation? Out of the goodness of his heart and his love for the city, he’s doing you a favor by coming along on this recruiting trip. Who are you to ask him to take off the hat just because it’s ridiculous to the point of being distracting? But, then, this is a huge meeting for the franchise. Something has to be done. You figure he plans on taking it off on the plane. Maybe during the flight when he’s not paying attention you could steal it and hide it so he can’t put it on when y’all get to the beach. That seems like your best bet.
Jaren Jackson Jr., Forward/Center
Studied under Izzo at Michigan State University. Here’s a picture of JJJ in some Ian Poulter for Ralph Lauren pants.
If Marc Gasol is happy to see this guy, then you have to be too. Those are the rules. Because I’ll promise you, don’t none of us know better than Big Spain.
In their season opener, JJJ drove baseline and put Meyers Leonard in the rim, sent it in with the left. He’s taking guys off the bounce from the 3-point line, getting into the lane, hitting them with a Euro, and then a finger roll at the rim. The agility and body control belie just how massive he is. 6-foot-11, 240 pounds. He supports his friends, rejoices in their successes.
Sometimes he hangs out on the perimeter too much. You’d like to see him force the issue a little more, be more aggressive. Averaged only 10 shots a game last year. He’s trending the right way, but he’s a long way from a finished product. Anthony Davis tortured him Tuesday night. But man, you know, Davis tortures everybody. It is wild that he’s real. The Ja to JJJ pick-and-roll has the potential to be destructive for years and years. They get some shooting around them to give those two plenty of space to play in, that’s going to be a nightmare for defenses.
Kyle Anderson, Forward
SLOWMO spent his summer by the Jersey Shore. Thanked Tony Parker for everything he taught him, so we can assume then that Tony didn’t hit on Anderson’s significant other. He’s about to be a father. On July 12 he tweeted: its your world when that rock is in your hand no rush. That’s the most Kyle Anderson thing I’ve ever seen. Gimme gimme gimme that video called “Kyle Defense.”
If you leave the ball too exposed, he’ll take it from you. One of the most memorable plays of his career was against the Grizzlies. He was guarding Mike Conley on the wing, and Conley drove middle. Anderson let him by, then poked the ball out. He took off toward the other end. Bryn Forbes picked the ball up and threw it ahead toward Anderson. He overshot him, and Anderson had to rumble along as fast his legs permitted him. Anderson caught up to the ball just as it was about to go out of bounds. He saved it with his right hand along the baseline, jumped to avoid stepping on the end line, spun midair, and lobbed a pass toward the rim for Davis Bertans, who is a bad person, but he made the dunk anyway.
Tyler Parker is a writer from Oklahoma.