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.
Julius Randle, Forward
Julius Randle standing over Luke Walton and screaming, “LITTLE BOY!”
Once called popsicles legendary, so we know he’s smart. Could call him a bunch of things. A dexterous rhinoceros. A truck but a person. A grizzly bear but a bulldozer. A Moon Bounce or maybe you call it a Bounce House or maybe you call it a Jupiter Jump or maybe you’re super weird and call it a Boingalow. What I mean is, guys bounce off him and he makes them look like tiny little children. He’s tempestuous with the ball in his hands. Exhibits great amounts of burliness. Treated the entire Portland Trail Blazers front line to a pummeling on March 15, 2019. Filled the box score to the brim, buckets spilling out over the sides of the scorebook. Had a career-high 45 points to go with 11 rebounds, six assists, three blocks, and two steals, and a partridge in a pear tree.
At a certain point, you start to feel bad for Nurk and Collins. It’s as if their very presence offends Randle—they are an affront to his sensibilities—and he sets out to bring embarrassment to their doorstep. I love to watch him play. He’s improved his handle a wild amount since he was drafted in 2014 and now when he grabs a defensive rebound and pushes it up the floor he takes on the form of a lion. There will be no heroes today. Just get out of his way.
Bobby Portis, Forward
Has two hands. Would be happy to throw them at any place and at any time. Ask Nikola Mirotic. He will tell you that I am telling the truth. I promise to be completely open and honest with you. I felt like I had to get that out of the way early. We were all thinking about it. Tasteful discretion is the name of the game but sometimes that game is boring. Bobby Portis broke a guy’s face, OK? Now it’s been addressed and we can move on.
Started in LR. Rocktown. Former Mr. Basketball of Arkansas. Stayed in state for college. Became a hog. His final year at Arkansas he was the SEC Player of the Year. First time a Razorback had won the award since Big Nasty, Corliss Williamson, won it in 1993-94 and 1994-95. Williamson was a monster. What did the cover of Sports Illustrated say? Hog Wild?
Portis will sometimes tweet “the bears defense is unreal.” Calls himself UNDERDOG. Wants Jalen Hurts to win the Heisman. A fan of The Mighty Ducks and their captain, Charlie Conway. Once dressed as Kid from Kid ’n Play for Halloween. Is extremely, extremely, extremely good at shimmying.
Bobby Portis showing off his handles and hits the shimmy. LOL! pic.twitter.com/5qDzQ3Us28— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) August 21, 2019
That’s a professional-grade shimmy right there. How the pros do it.
Taj Gibson, Forward
Fort Greene native. Has the key to the city of Brooklyn. The actual physical embodiment of the word cagey. Been in the league for a decade. Played at the University of Southern California with DeMar DeRozan. Loves Bernard King. Calls him the Brooklyn Goat.
The Thibs Whisperer. Generally in the right place at the right time. Talks about ice baths the way somebody might talk about smoking some brisket. “For me, I’ve just been using it over the years. I used to hate it. The older I get, the more I started loving it. It helps recovery. But you can tell, the longer I been in the NBA, I started with, first, my ankles. Then I got lower into the tub with my legs. Now I’m going full body. So, it’s a process, but it’s good for you.”
He saw his minutes fall off a cliff in Minnesota last season. From 33 minutes a game the year before to 24 last year. Now he’s in the midst of this Knicksian logjam in the front court, and you’d expect they’ll go down again. I don’t like this negativity and I’m going to cut it out. You can count on him. It’s weird he hasn’t been a Spur. He seems very Spursy. His dunk on Dwyane Wade is more famous, but he had a one-handed putback against the Heat in Game 1 of the Eastern finals in 2011 that was every bit as electric. Turn back the hands of time and revel in the athleticism. In sports, the best kind of extensions are full extensions.
Marcus Morris Sr., Forward
“I would be concerned if it was regular season. I wouldn’t want to miss any regular-season game and, you know, if that was regular season I wouldn’t have done that. My team needs me and I got to be smarter and set a better example, but, you know, like I said in the beginning, we not taking no shit.” —Marcus Morris on the possibility of being suspended after bopping Justin Anderson in the face with a basketball
You know how when you used to play dodgeball you would sometimes use the dodgeball you were holding to block other dodgeballs from hitting you? That’s what Morris Sr. did to Anderson’s face a couple of nights ago. He did what Gordon does to the Poughkeepsie State Flying Cougars in the movie Dodgeball. When they come out of that timeout late in the match and Rip Torn has implored him to get angry and mean.
Won’t blow you away at any one thing, but will be solid to above average at pretty much everything. There’s also just the ready factor. He’s always ready to go. Likes to take the backbreakers. Likes to hang on the rim. He’s good at it. It’s sort of a graceful sway. He lets his legs flail a little, brush up against dudes’ shoulders. I wouldn’t like it very much if I were playing against him, but I think that’s the point.
RJ Barrett, Forward
Maple Mamba, or Ducky. Had 17 in his preseason debut a couple of nights ago. Don’t hold it against him that it was against the Wizards. He showed flashes in Vegas this summer. Can already absorb contact and finish at the rim. Plays through bumps. Voltaic. Canadian built. Probably caught too much hell at Duke for taking shots away from Zion. Like, don’t take so many shots away from Zion, yes, but Barrett can do some stuff. I say put the ball in his hands early and often. Let him get his reps in. This is me telling you I’m a fan. Signed with Puma and it seems like a big get for them. All the other showy names they’ve gotten have been bigs, and bigs don’t make shoes fly off the shelf.
Barrett can dominate a game. Put up 38 against the U.S. U19 team in 2017. Had 13 rebounds and five assists, too. Scored at every level. Led them to a win. I think Knicks fans should be excited about him. Look at all the things he can do. Look at all the toys he has.