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.
Coby White, Guard
“Scoring’s in my nature. I grew up, I was known as a scorer and I think that it’s just something that’ll always stick with me.” White said that to Maria Taylor during one of ESPN’s live telecasts from the 2019 NBA combine. He’s not wrong. Went for 30-plus three times last season. That was a University of North Carolina freshman record. In the open floor his legs blur. He wore pink shoes a fair amount at Carolina. His feet looked like Starbursts. Out on the break, it was like his torso hovered over cotton candy. He could power a decent-sized apartment complex with a nice, steady jog. The word frenetic gets thrown around some. The word speed gets thrown around more. He’s a McLaren. Pushes on makes or misses. Doesn’t matter to White. You watch clips of him during the UNC-Harvard game last year and it’s like the Crimson are running in sand.
Cut to Jim Boylen in a Bulls sweatsuit and Nike Pegasuses telling a room full of middle schoolers his favorite food is “a nice steak.”
White’s a caffeine pill. Crafty in the air. Gets into the lane constantly. Contorts his body when he gets around the rim. Hangs, uses the glass. Let’s go to Mike Schmitz and his polo: “White has always been a certified bucket getter.” Roy Williams called him the best scoring point guard he’s ever coached. Now, is that Raymond Felton slander? Undoubtedly. Do I condone such a thing? Good question, I do. Does that mean I don’t love Raymond Felton? It does not, OK. I love Ray. I do. But it totally makes sense to me if someone watches him play and is just like, man, get out of here, dude.
Zach LaVine, Guard
See him in a ’68 Pontiac LeMans. It was a gift from his parents. LaVine may average north of 25 this season. Will probably top 50 once. He’s been toiling away on losing teams for a minute, but he’s built himself a skill set that goes well beyond somebody who’s just a dunker. Posted a picture of himself and Lauri Markkanen with the caption “Must see TV.” You wonder if at some point soon that starts to become correct?
Tries to keep with him the spirit of past Chicago legends. Wore a Pippen throwback from the 1996 NBA All-Star Game to the beach. Posted a picture with post–hair transplant Brian Urlacher.
Cut to Jim Boylen, wearing a hard hat, and writing on a whiteboard the words “compete” and “effort” and “lunch pail mentality.”
LaVine has connections. Had the opportunity to catch an advance screening of Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, the second entry in the Jack Reacher Cinematic Universe and a follow-up to Chris McQuarrie’s 2012 epic, Jack Reacher. Didn’t say whether the movie was good or not, but he did say it was fun. He also got to go to the premiere of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. He’s a good son, took his mom to that one. Some movies have titles that are way too long. I used to have a lot of intense opinions about the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. I don’t anymore. It was cool when Orlando Bloom fought Peter Smith-Kingsley on top of that wheel, though.
Wendell Carter Jr., Center
Tore ligaments in his thumb during a loss to the Lakers on January 15, 2019, and didn’t play another game after that. Showed plenty before then. Kind of a Swiss army machete is what I’d call him if I was looking for something that sounded lively. Can do just about everything except hit 3s. Maybe those come later? I’m not Chip Engelland, but he looks smooth enough taking them. Likes to spike his blocks. Gets aggressive about it. Sometimes he’ll send them into the stands. Sometimes he’ll send them into the backcourt. Incited multiple “No soup for you” comments from Stacey King. In December 2018 he met Russell Westbrook at the rim, turned him away. The mic on the basket picked up Carter Jr. screaming, “Gimme that shit.” King decided to change things up, “Not in Mr. Carter’s neighborhood.”
Cut to Jim Boylen explaining the plot of Hacksaw Ridge to his assistant coaches. Says something like, “Hugo Weaving’s a hitmaker. Loved his vocal performance in Babe: Pig in the City. Something about working with Cromwell just elevates people to new heights.”
On the offensive end, Carter Jr. can hurt you with either hand, turn over either shoulder. I’ve seen him take and make a floater from a step inside the right elbow. That club’s not really supposed to be in a center’s bag. Knows his way around a baby hook. Nice passer. It’s a pretty good-sized offensive arsenal. Call it a smorgasbord, if you want.
Luke Kornet, Forward
Played at Vanderbilt on that raised court with the benches along the baselines. Everyone acts like that court’s weird because it’s different. I’m not here to bully basketball courts, though. I’m a stand-up guy. What I’m here to do is tell you Kornet is long and white like an elephant’s tusk.
Cut to Jim Boylen threatening to remove the players’ last names from the backs of their jerseys because none of them address him as Coach. They call him one of four names: Jim, Jimmy, Michael Chiklis, or James.
I’m thinking more about Vanderbilt’s court. Here’s the thing, it’s actually very smart of them. Nobody else has a court like that. Their home-court advantage is even greater than the usual home-court advantage because they’re used to it. The road team isn’t. Also, at this point, what kind of courts do they always play the Final Four on? Raised, that’s right. There’s a strong argument to be made that every school that doesn’t have a raised court isn’t as interested in winning as it might claim to be.
Back when he was a Knick, Kornet played a round of golf with Mike Breen. MSG Network filmed the whole thing.
It’s severely, astonishingly boring, but Kornet seems like a nice guy and you get to hear Breen say, “Young guy rakes the trap.”
Shaquille Harrison, Guard
Went to Tulsa, was a Golden Hurricane. Walked in the footsteps of titans. You got your Eric Coleys. You got your Marcus Hills. You got your Shea Sealses. Let’s go to Gilcrease and check out the Remingtons. The Stampede is cool. So is the Buffalo Horse. Let’s go to the Bass Pro Shop in Broken Arrow and just hang out. Look at the Yeti tumblers. Look at the compound bows. Look at the trackers. Dream a little bit. Afterward, we can either go next door to Los Cabos, or maybe we swing by Utica Square. Hit up that New Balance store, that Olive Garden. Back when I was gigantic, I once, on a dare, ate 20 Olive Garden breadsticks in one sitting. I was 26 years old. Did not feel great after that. I’m sort of like a child.
Harrison can defend. He’ll hound Coby White and Kris Dunn and Tomas Satoransky all practice long. Plays hard. Led the team in steals last season despite averaging only 19.6 minutes a game in the 73 he appeared in. He’s a lefty. Tries to get to the rim at all costs. Bouncy. Had a career-high 21 in a 20-point loss to the Trail Blazers last season. Probably won’t get too much burn this year unless somebody gets injured.
Cut to Jim Boylen rearranging his weight-lifting belts by color. He runs his fingers over the leather, gets worked up, starts flagellating himself. When the belt connects he screams, “Block out!”
Tyler Parker is a writer from Oklahoma.