6. Chris Andersen, Miami Heat: “Birdman”
Superhero, rapper, Oscar winner… and Miami Heat role player. The frequently used “Birdman” moniker works so well for Chris Andersen because his outrageously tattooed body and surprisingly vertical style do not seem exactly human. Even the most casual NBA fans have taken notice of Andersen in recent years, as he jumps off the screen like a raptor in a chicken coop. His rim protection and ability to rebound and finish near the hoop often made him a closer for the Miami squads who saw the Finals for four straight years. Now 36 and near the end of his road, Birdman won’t soon be forgotten in annals of postseason goonery.
5. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks: “The Greek Freak”
Like the titanic men populating the mythology of his homeland centuries and centuries before him, Giannis Antetokounmpo is larger and more powerful than life. The 20-year-old has a body that’s freakish in most ways, standing at 6’11” and seemingly still growing. And, like Anthony Davis, Antetokounmpo has an uncanny knack for actually being able to use his ridiculous frame. He’s mobile, skilled, and has the instincts of a hunter. Once he matures and plays through more of his raw mistakes, this oversized utility man may earn a nickname that refers to more than just his unusual physical features.
4. Zach Randolph, Memphis Grizzlies: “Z-Bo”
You know a nickname’s good when you start using it so casually that it seems like an actual name. The way Randolph tells it, this tag doesn’t mean too much of anything — it’s just something he was called in middle school, and it’s stuck ever since. But in these two syllables there is, somehow, an evocation of the force that Zach brings to the court. Say “Z-Bo” out loud, and you’ll start to feel fear of getting clobbered in the paint, trying to hold your ground as the Memphis Grizzlies’ workhorse lowers his shoulder and breaks you down, over and over again.
3. Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz: “The Stifle Tower”
The Utah Jazz are much further along in their rebuilding process than they previously anticipated, and it has a lot to do with the emergence of this 22-year-old. The French-born Gobert has been the fourth-most effective defensive center in the NBA through his sophomore season, earning a starting role and a quickly rising reputation in Salt Lake City. One might even say he stands as tall as one famous Parisian tower by the rim, stifling each and every penetration with a calm moxie that’s rare for such a youngster.
2. DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings: “Boogie”
Cousins, like the genre of his nickname, doesn’t proceed at a typical beat. The outspoken, emotionally volatile center is extremely talented, and extremely entertaining. And while the always tumultuous state of his franchise hasn’t always made for the best display case for his immense skills, it has been an appropriate backdrop for his iconoclastic mentality. Boogie is a joy, albeit a difficult one, and it’s almost hard to imagine how he’d fit in with an organization that provided him with less shaky ground. DeMarcus is the undisputed king of unlevel NBA territory, for now.
1. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors: “The Splash Brothers”
It’s fun to say, and it’s damn accurate. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson are well on their way to proving themselves as the best shooting backcourt in league history, if they haven’t already. What else can you say about a pairing that’s got someone who scored 37 points in one quarter (Thompson) but who isn’t even the MVP candidate of the two? That’s Curry, whose playmaking and world-class handles and vision open the way for the endless long-range assault that the two produce together. The Splash Brothers hold the NBA’s most appropriate, and most fun, informal title.
— John Wilmes