It’s time. All the people in the world feeling some love of one kind or another are going to fork over cash for things like plants and edibles. Who knows, if you’re one of them, you might even go to a business that provides delicious edibles prepared for your consumption. If you’re really lucky, you’ll be watching John Wick Chapter 2.
All fun aside, it’s Valentine’s Day this week and our esteemed editor, Gabe, thought it might be a good idea for me to dig deep inside and find a little love for players in the lottery. Below, I want to briefly touch on a few players that I’ve fallen for during the 2016-17 season. I elected to focus on young players and tried to stay away from being too obvious with some of my selections, though a few “no duh” players snuck into the mix.
Zubac is a fun one. He was inactive or a DNP for Luke Walton during most of the season, but he has played in every game for the Los Angeles Lakers since January 12th. He’s had some low-minute affairs in the mix, but he’s also cracked 20 minutes quite often. He’s a second-round pick and a project player who is a long way from polished, but he’s produced a lot of moments that I find to be fun. Plus, it’s great to see a Lakers crowd get live for Zubac. In full disclosure, I should point out that I do have a vested interest in his success – I pulled his autographed rookie card out of a box of 2016-17 NBA Hoops cards. Do us all proud, Zubac.
This is a no-brainer, but he’s moved further up my charts for a number of reasons. First, I had the opportunity to catch him in person for the first time on Sunday. Let me tell you, the young man can cook. His defense has taken some deserved criticism this year, but he’s just such a joy to watch play basketball. He’s also remarkable for other reasons. He’s been healthy so far. Joel Embiid just picked up a meniscus injury, has barely played any basketball since being drafted three years ago and is essentially a year older than Towns. Some will take what I’ve just said as an unfair criticism of Embiid and his terrific numbers produced so far this season, but that’s not what I’m getting at. I’m pointing out that Towns is special. Not just because of his skill and on-court results, but also because he’s been relatively healthy and we, as basketball fans need that now more than ever with his teammate Zach LaVine and promising Milwaukee Bucks forward Jabari Parker both picking up season-ending ACL injuries.
Chriss was a hot topic heading into the draft. There were words said and written about Chriss sneaking into the top five, maybe top three spots in the draft. He was viewed as the prospect most likely to be a big whiff or a home run. On Friday night, he turned away Chicago Bulls star forward Jimmy Butler – at the rim. He played really good basketball in all areas except one – he racked up fouls in a hurry. It might be some form of Recency Bias, but he’s looking more like a hit than a strikeout and he’s starting to make the Sacramento Kings front office look bad for trading him, like Gar Forman or David Kahn kinds of bad. My sincere hope is that he keeps doing impressive things and gets his foul trouble under control. We already have the extremely exciting Devin Booker, but if Chriss starts getting wild on a regular basis, the Suns are going to be a lot of fun.
I know, it’s super obvious. Much like Towns, we already know that Giannis is a huge deal. For me this is huge because I took an extra step forward and bought an Antetokounmpo jersey. It’s also important that I write about Anteokounmpo at every chance I get because I first had to write about him for The Lottery Mafia when he was a rookie, I think. I know it was definitely for The Lottery Mafia, but can’t remember exactly which year it was (Editor’s Note: he was a sophomore, and here it is). That assignment blessed me with a special skill that the rest of the basketball world didn’t acquire for a very long time – spelling Antetokounmpo correctly without looking it up. He’s like Towns in the love list because he’s something extremely special and has managed to stay healthy. The piece that Lee Jenkins wrote on Giannis earlier this season is not only fantastic, but another piece solidifying the ever-expanding persona that is larger than life, the Greek Freak. He’s special and we should never, ever take that for granted.
Why do I love Tyler Johnson? Because he almost threw up when he found out how much money he was going to make with his new contract. Because he earned that contract. Because he’s been playing really well. Because he’s a Midwestern boy who reminds me of literally a dozen people I’ve seen in my Wisconsin city in real life, except he’s incredibly good at basketball. It’s also because he doesn’t need all of his teeth and doesn’t care that he no longer possesses a full set in his mouth. Johnson is the kind of guy I like to watch play basketball. The first time I heard his name was after I watched him absolutely yam a dunk on somebody in a Summer League game. He got up like it was nothing and finished with authority, I even made a Vine of it (RIP Vine) which I referenced back to probably half a dozen times as a moment that a player made an imprint on me. And then he stuck around and earned his spot in the league and is now a contributor on a team that tore off 13 consecutive wins and went from an also ran missing one of their most exciting future pieces in Justise Winslow, transforming into a squad that is going to be difficult to deal with over the course of the next six to eight weeks.
Well, there you have it. The league is changing. There are a number of players on teams like the Chicago Bulls that I’m excited about, but they’re currently clinging to a playoff spot. However, don’t miss out on Paul Zipser and Cristiano Felicio. The Utah Jazz and Denver Nuggets also occupy playoff spots as of the time I’m writing this. A lot of teams that weren’t much before, instead regulars here at TLM, have begun their ascent and it seems like it’s only be a matter of time before some of these other teams join them. It’s going to be fun to watch, and you may just find yourself feeling a little love for these players and their teams along the way.