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.
Zion Williamson, Forward
I have long felt that parents seal their children’s fate when they name them. If your name is something like Raekwon, you are going to be cool. If your name is a snooze like Tyler, then you will be a snooze, my nerd. Williamson obviously falls under the former. That name hits like a bolt of lightning. When you name someone Zion Williamson, you are making them a superstar.
There was a dunk he had last year against Clemson, a 360 with nobody around him, and it’s one of the top five most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.
That dunk was elegant. He’s another guy who belongs on the That Body Shouldn’t Be Able to Move Like That but Dear God It Does list. If speed kills, power kills again, and he’s got both of those in spades. He’s going to destroy so many people at the rim. It is so exciting watching a game he’s playing in. At any moment, you really might get to see something you’ve never seen before.
A meat locker of a man with rockets for legs. His body’s so nuts people are frightened for him. Booms up into the sky like some kind of griffin. Recently underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee to repair a torn lateral meniscus. The initial estimate is that he’ll be unavailable for six to eight weeks. Hopefully he’s back by Christmas.
Lonzo Ball, Guard
Coming to Amazon Video this summer, a reality show unlike any other—Leaving LaVar. What happens when a son realizes his father is kind of a dick and stops listening to him?
Ball’s playing like a heavy, heavy weight has been lifted off his shoulders. I had the thought the other day that Lonzo’s distancing himself from LaVar and then playing well reminds me of what Seinfeld said in an episode of Seinfeld—“The Shower Head”—about how your life improves when your parents move away. George’s parents have announced that they’re moving to Del Boca Vista, and he’s thrilled about it. What Jerry said was, “You have no idea how your life is gonna improve as a result of this. Food tastes better. The air seems fresher. You’ll have more energy and self-confidence than you ever dreamed of.”
Ball’s left arm is covered in a sleeve of tattoos. Incredibly detailed, incredibly realistic tattoos, of Barack Obama, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, and Jackie Robinson. When Ball went to the Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards, he wore a cotton gold shirt with a tropical king print that will currently run you a cool $995. His shot might be back. He’s hitting 36.7 percent from 3 right now, but that’s on 7.5 attempts per game. We know what he already is as a passer and as a defender. It feels like he might be ready to put it all together. I’m rooting for him.
Jrue Holiday, Guard
Another guard from UCLA. If you don’t like him, you’re probably really weird and have problems with a lot of people. My guy got to go to an advance screening of Terminator: Dark Fate.
These are the habits of a king. I guarantee you he didn’t have to pay for that popcorn. That’s free as the wind. That’s, “We’re so honored to have you here, Jrue. Is there anything we can get you? Anything at all. It is my privilege to serve you.”
I also like to wear a hoodie when I go to the movies. Although, I have been known to wear jackets sometimes. As for how I decide which one I want to wear—frankly, it depends on a multitude of factors, not least of which is the temperature outside. Is it only nippy out? If so, probably going with the hoodie. What about if it’s chilly? Sounds like jacket weather to me. Freezing? I don’t know. Maybe you roll with both. Layering is a lot of fun and, if you’re skinny, it can give you the opportunity to trick people into thinking maybe you’re a little bit bigger than you actually are. And that’s just off the top of my head.
Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Guard
Get cold. Another one of Canada’s bright, shining stars. Played at Virginia Tech. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is his cousin. Played his high school ball at Hamilton Heights Christian Academy in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The rookie wears a T-shirt with Canadian legend Bret Hart on the front. Wore a snakeskin patterned suit for the draft. Topped it off with a bolo tie.
For a righty, he’s unbelievably comfortable using his left. He’ll make a one-handed pass through a throng of arms and he’ll do it on the move. Happy to dunk with his left. Happy to go by you with his left. You probably saw Jaxson Hayes’s baptism of Mychal Mulder—another Canadian(!), they are everywhere—during summer league in Las Vegas. It was NAW’s pass that made the whole thing possible in the first place.
And look, I don’t want to be the guy who, you know, watches Dunkirk and afterward tries to talk about how good the sound design was, but man that’s with NAW’s off hand he’s doing that. Wraps that thing around the defender and hits Jaxson right in rhythm; he doesn’t have to break stride at all. I’m not saying it’s the best part of the play. The dunk is obviously the best part of the play. The dunk is bananas. I’m just saying the pass was cool, too, and difficult, or should have been. If he stays healthy he’s going to be good.
JJ Redick, Guard
I still remember reading a great Pat Forde JJ Redick feature on ESPN.com written during the former Blue Devil’s senior year at Duke. It was like he was really focused now because he was no longer indulging in late-night biscuits from Bojangles’ or something like that. Seems like a pretty stupid thing to praise. We should be encouraging everyone we know to eat as many biscuits as they can, because biscuits are delicious and I care about y’all and I want you to be able to eat delicious food if that’s your prerogative.
In his 13-year career, he hasn’t missed the playoffs once. That run is currently in peril. Redick’s the old man on this team. He gets out of the shower, pulls the pups aside, talks to them about the importance of hiring a financial planner and getting enough sleep. He shows them his new Patek Philippe. They don’t think it looks that cool but they see in his eyes that this means something to him. He’s being vulnerable with them, sharing an intimate part of himself. They lie. They say, “Oh wow what a cool watch. Fellas, did you guys see this sick watch? I am so jealous of that watch. Man! Crap! That watch is sick! JJ! Yes, man! You done murdered the game again, Bubs!” And Redick lays his hand on the tattoo of the Audemars Piguet logo that rests over his heart. He tears up. He starts crying. And at this point the young guys on the team are like, what is going on? Redick composes himself. He looks at his chest, tries to play it off, says, “Have you guys ever heard of Adam Levine? Because I don’t like to make a big deal about it, but my tattoo guy also does all of Adam Levine’s tattoos. He’s just this really cool singer. His singing, like, for me, I think sounds really cool. But he and I have gotten to be really good buddies. We’re going to cruise over to the Grove later. Adam likes to go and drive really slowly in the parking lot so that people gawk and take pictures of him.”
Tyler Parker is a writer from Oklahoma.