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.
Fred VanVleet, Point Guard
Wichita State has them coming out of there sharpened for battle. I’m still waiting on Cleanthony Early to hit. At one point in time he was the baddest man on the planet. The Shockers shock. They shock you up.
VanVleet turned to lava in the aftermath of his son Fred Jr.’s birth during the playoffs last season. Melted the nets in Milwaukee, little burnt drops of nylon snowing down, flurrying, landing on the court. FREDDY V. Gregg Marshall, somewhere in Wichita, straddling the leg rest of a pleather recliner, banging on his chest and screaming, “That’s how we do it over here! Monica!? Two Advil, please?! I love you so much!” Ron Baker in his Moscow loft clapping hard and shrieking, “That’s my brother! That is my brother! He is my great friend and my brother as well!” Ron Baker plays for CSKA Moscow. They do some wild stuff over there at CSKA Moscow. Back to the season!
Freddy V is about championships. He is about torturing a defense. He is about being terrific. He is about the love of a good woman. I would not give my life for him but I like him a lot. These are his stats in last year’s playoffs from basically Game 4 of the Milwaukee series and on.
I don’t know what to tell you other than he is Flamelord, Lord of the Flame. He is sitting on his throne of flames right now and asking that all his subjects dance for him. I would not be able to live with myself if I did not say, right now, at this point—it is so lit. During the Finals he received multiple all-caps BANGS from Mike Breen. Here’s his performance in Game 6.
That is pornography.
Pascal Siakam, Forward
Chauncey said it well, so I want to let him say it here. From May 2019:
He’s improved every aspect of his game. You look at him right there. He drives closeouts. You put a big guy on him, look what he does to Embiid right here in the one-on-one isolation situation. Left-hand finish. We know he’s become a dependable three-point shooter. I mean, put a smaller guy on him, he finishes. Defensively, we know he competes on that end. Goes the length of the floor. Handles the ball very, very well. Beads, I mean, there’s nothing that he really can’t do at this point. And that motor. That’s what a lot of people say when you talk about Pascal Siakam is that motor. He never stops competing. He never stops playing.
Say it again, Chauncey, please, for the back row. “There’s nothing that he really can’t do at this point.” Check out this guy over here lighting up the night sky. He’s got stardust all over him, shines, a beam of unadulterated light. What’s his deal? He is Spicy P. He is The Cameroonian Dream. He dazzles the cosmos. Been in the league only three years but the leap’s been made. Won Most Improved Player last year and has room to get even better. He’ll bathe in purples and reds, in the remade dino jerseys looking absolutely royal.
That picture looks cool to me. I like it.
Marc Gasol, Center
La Tanqueta. Big Spain. Big Burrito. Big Baby Jesus. Tidings of comfort and big ole boys. Gasol went full Maradona during the championship parade. It was beautiful to see. Who among us does not shake with joy when we get to see a large, bearded man have a good time?
I feel that the Gasol brothers would be a stone-cold blast to hang out with. You can punch the sky with Marc and discuss the merits of Paul Verhoeven’s Elle with Pau. You can go cow-tipping with Marc and he will say, “I feel so alive. Dawg, you have no idea.” and you will say, “Um, actually Marc, I do have an idea. I have a great one. It’s a restaurant called Pretzel Ranch and it’s got sort of an old prairie vibe and we have these really elegant, delicious, soft pretzels topped and stuffed with all sorts of tasty goodies, or the pretzel can be plain if you want. We’re not going to look at you like you’re weird if you order it plain. Plain, you know, that’s totally cool with us.” You can go with Pau to a one-man show exploring the textures and details of velvet in the 1970s, and he will whisper to you, “Well, my good man, I think we made the right decision coming here. This work is painful and yet still so accessible, similar to a great gumball pop breakup ballad. Like, to me, there is a strong correlation between what Harlaina’s trying to do here and Dua Lipa’s ‘New Rules.’ I don’t know if you’ve seen the video for ‘New Rules,’ but I really like the way the flamingos look at the very beginning. Reminds me of the Heat’s Sunset Vice jerseys. I have a James Johnson one and a Justice Winslow one.”
Gran España still has some juice left in the tank. The well has not yet run dry. He put up 33 and six on Australia in the 2019 FIBA World Cup Semi-Finals this past summer. Gasol cooked all comers. Lit them up, went to chewing, went to yelling. When he screams you can see outer space inside his mouth.
Serge Ibaka, Forward
He sometimes looks like a painting. His abs look like eight river stones bound together. A real Mr. Fancy Pants, but in a good way. Came from the Congo. Keri Hilson once loved him. Then they grew apart. Avec classe, Mafuzzy chef. Avec classe.
Want to take a break in the action here to say I think the Raptors’ whole color palette, their entire aesthetic really, is very pleasing to look at. They’ve got underrated jerseys and underrated court designs. Let’s get back to it.
Avec classe is French for “with class.” That’s Ibaka’s de facto motto, words he lives by. Tie-dye shorts and purple bucket hats. Gucci windbreakers and his very own cooking show, How Hungry are You? It’s the only cooking show I know of to feature the line: “Anybody knows Kawhi, he don’t really like to talk. But today he’s going to talk, because I’m cooking beef penis. I’m going to prepare the penis as a topping for a pizza. Let’s get started!” (And Serge points and smiles at the camera.)
Got a ring before Westbrook. Got a ring before Harden. Beat Durant’s team to get it. Sports are wild.
Kyle Lowry, Point Guard
A champion forever. Got the gorilla off his back and now he’s walking taller and smiling wider. His posture’s improved. He’s sleeping better. Those are just a few of the things a ring can do for you.
Decided he’d turn in his opus the last game of the season. In Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals, in Oakland, the last Warriors game ever to be played at Oracle, this is the line he put up: 26 points, 10 assists, seven rebounds, three steals, Jurassic Park making the earth quake on every make. He had 15 in the first quarter alone and made sure to spread the wealth around in the process, give multiple defenders a taste. Dusted Looney a couple of times. Hit Curry with a stepback. Popped a 3 off the dribble with Draymond in his face. All game long he made huge plays. The biggest was probably the bucket he hit on Curry with 2:13 left in the fourth. That put them up six. The shot clock was winding down, and Lowry took Curry off the bounce. He got into the lane, stopped, and faded away. Curry had a nice contest. Didn’t matter. The ball bounced high off the back iron, touched the tip top of the backboard, and fell through the net. Then Mike Breen went to hollering.
It’s good to see hard work pay off. It’s good to see a player find redemption.