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OPINION: The 19 ways NBA 2K can improve

NBA 2K is good, but the series needs improvement to become great

As a game series, NBA 2K has been going for years.

It is well established in the basketball video game sector. There is only one rival to 2K in the form of NBA Live. NBA Live’s patchy releases have meant that 2K has dominated the market over the last five or six years.

That dominance has translated into record sales for 2K Sports and Take-Two Interactive, but the game itself has not improved much over the last few years. There are issues and bugs in the gameplay that have existed over the previous two releases. It is frustrating for fans who spend $60 on the game every single year to receive a product that has been built with very little care.

NBA 2K20 is arguably the worst release in the series since NBA 2K8. There was very little innovation on the gameplay front. It felt like the developers took NBA 2K19, slapped a load of paint on the game, and then released the product as NBA 2K20. The only significant change in the game was the number of advertisements that were plastered over MyCareer and the Park.

I do believe that NBA 2K can produce a quality game; the issues that need to be fixed are relatively minor. All of the improvements suggested will improve the game as a whole. 2K has a strong base, but the features need a little refinement.

PLAYNOW

Player Likenesses - Classic teams have been a part of 2K since 2011. There have been a few issues with classic teams over the years, but there is a massive issue regarding player likeness licensing. Once a player retires, NBA 2K needs to pay the player a certain fee every single year to use their likeness in the game.

Few players refuse to allow their likeness to be used in the game. In most of these examples, 2K has not come to satisfactory financial terms with the player in question. This means classic teams are often incomplete and do not have all of the pieces that made the team special.

The Seven Seconds or Fewer Suns are the perfect examples of incompleteness. Joe Johnson is not on that team in the game. Johnson averaged 17.1 points per game for the Suns and was a critical scoring option for Phoenix. The omission of Johnson makes it pointless to pick the Suns, especially in competitive online games.

The Phoenix Suns in 1993 made the NBA Finals behind Charles Barkley’s efforts. That team was excellent and featured Charles Barkley in the prime of his career. The ’93 Suns are not in the game at all because 2K does not want to meet Barkley’s asking price.

2K Sports need to come to financial terms with retired players and get their likenesses into the game. This will complete the classic teams and allow 2K Sports to add new excellent units into the game.

The list of omissions is long, but there are a few notable names who top the list: Charles Barkley, Reggie Miller, Rasheed Wallace, Metta World Peace, and Lamar Odom.

More Classic Teams - The classic teams are one of my favorite aspects in NBA 2K. There is something pretty cool about having era-defining teams facing off against each other. The ’96 Bulls are regarded to be one of the best teams of all time, how does that Bulls team stack up in the modern NBA?

The inclusion of classic teams solves that argument. It is possible to have the ’96 Bulls playing against the 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers’ title-winning squad in the PlayNow mode of the game. It is pure fantasy basketball.

The classic teams add variety to PlayNow and stop people from picking the same three teams always. I like having the ability to choose between different eras of the league. I have a list of nine teams that should be included in the game.

Full List:

2009/10 Lakers

2008/09 Magic

2016/17 Thunder

2004/05 Pacers

2014/15 Hawks

1992/1993 Suns

2006 Clippers

1988 Sonics

1985 Nuggets

All of these teams would be dope to play.

My personal favorite on this list of teams would be the Thunder team. That was the best team of the Russell Westbrook-Kevin Durant era, and it should be recognized. It was a brilliant side that ran into the Warriors at their peak.

Aesthetics - NBA 2K does an excellent job of replicating NBA arenas in the game. The work that the developers put into ensuring that the hardwood, arena seating, and logos are perfect is hugely impressive.

It would be a refreshing touch to see 2K add new locations in the PlayNow mode. In previous games, 2K Sports had included locations outside of basketball arenas. In the early entries of the series, Rucker Park was in the game.

These kinds of locations bring a different flavor to the game. It can be a little boring to see the same visuals over and over again when loading into a game. These arenas do not need to be related to basketball; wacky locations would add a lot of variety into the game.

G-League Teams - The G-League has grown in importance over the last few years. The G-League has become a legitimate minor league that is very competitive. Five different teams have won the G-League championship in the previous five years.

Moreover, the G-League has increasingly played a role in young players using the G-League as a stepping stone to the league. We have seen players like Pascal Siakam use the G-League to grow as a player before becoming a regular, rotation player in the league.

2K Sports have included the G-League in previous games. In NBA 2K19, the G-League was one of the steps on the road to the NBA for the MyPlayer. The last usage has been decent, but 2K Sports can use the G-League better.

It would be cool to see all of the G-League teams being included in the PlayNow mode. G-League teams would add another layer of content to the game. In addition to this, the G-League rosters being in the game will make it easier for users to build custom rosters.

In the last few iterations of NBA 2K, there has been a feature that allows users to build rosters and upload these rosters into the cloud so that others can download the list. A lot of creators like to make G-League rosters with accurate statistics for the players.

These rosters can take a lot of time, especially when the creator has to make hundreds of new players to fit into the game. These players already being in the game will save time for creators and allow roster builders to spend more time getting the details right.

EuroLeague Teams - EuroLeague teams used to be in the game, but the EuroLeague rosters were taken out in NBA 2K18. It did not make much sense; playing as a European team was fun because the style of play was different.

EuroLeague rules are different from the NBA’s rules of the game. The 3-point line is shorter, which means it is difficult to defend the perimeter effectively. It is very satisfying to get a stop on edge in a EuroLeague game.

I always enjoyed playing as Real Madrid or CSKA Moscow in NBA 2K16. It was a lot of fun picking up a new roster and working out which players could get buckets.

I first found out about Alex Abrines through NBA 2K16. Abrines was the starting shooting guard for FC Barcelona. Abrines’ player model looked nothing like how Alex looks in real life, but he was a deadly outside shooter. Abrines’ deep shooting was exciting, mainly because he was coming to Oklahoma in 2016, and it seemed like he could fix the Thunder’s shooting issues.

Situations Mode - NBA 2K20 was a complete game. The variety of modes meant that the game still feels fresh.

However, I was surprised that there was not a ‘Challenge’ mode in NBA 2K20. Previous NBA 2K titles had a way where you could play through real-life scenarios. The challenge aimed to recreate moments from NBA history.

I think that a ‘Situations Mode’ is an excellent idea as it challenges current players. A ‘Situations Mode’ will not attract new fans to the title, but it will satisfy the desires of a disgruntled fanbase. A large majority of NBA 2K fans are unhappy with the lack of innovation. A new, challenging mode will keep the core fanbase interested.

Mamba Moments - The passing of Kobe Bryant was shocking and incredibly sad. It was a tragedy in every sense of the word. Kobe will likely be included in NBA 2K21 in some way. I like the idea of game mode, where you have to try and replicate some of Bryant’s most significant moments on the court.

This would be a fitting tribute to Bryant; the user is invited to play through Bryant’s most significant moments and learn his history. NBA 2K has previously had a ‘Moments’ mode with Shaquille O’Neal and Michael Jordan. It is time that Kobe gets the same treatment.

MYPLAYER

Rebalance Archetype System - The archetype system was introduced a few years ago, and I was excited by the concept. There would be more unique builds and less chance of the game being unbalanced due to overpowered MyPlayers. In theory, it was an excellent solution to a long-standing problem in the community.

However, the archetype system has failed to meet its primary objective. The game is still unbalanced, and I would argue that the prevalence of overpowered builds is higher today than it was previously.

The critical issue is that 2K failed to manage the weaknesses and strengths of each build effectively. A center who is over 7ft tall and 270 lbs should not be able to outpace a guard down the court in transition.

Point guards have struggled to be active builds over the last two years. There is no discernible advantage to playing point guard; the increased speed is insignificant when the benefits of a Point Forward build is considered. A Point Forward usually has a higher ceiling than a point guard.

I would like to see 2K Sports address archetypes by designing builds with inherent strengths and weaknesses. For example, an undersized center will move quickly, but their lack of size will make defending more prominent players difficult.

MyCourt was previously an essential part of 2K, but this feature has lost luster over the past few years. In previous versions of the game, the MyCourt was used as space where a MyPlayer could improve through basketball drills. It was a great idea and rewarded those who put extra time into the game.

In recent years, MyPlayer’s improvement has been limited to the practice facility. The MyCourt is now only used for HORSE. The MyCourt used to be the right spot for players who wanted to settle rivalries. Two players would have a 1v1 game on the MyCourt, and the winner would get bragging rights.

It is now more common for players to face off at the Stage and play for virtual currency in this kind of match. The MyCourt lacks a distinct purpose.

I like the idea of the MyCourt becoming a place for Pro-Am teams to practice or chill out. Pro-Am has been a big part of 2K, and its importance has grown with the rise of eSports. The MyCourt could be a place where teams scrimmage and work out chemistry issues.

Player Creation Menu - The creation menus for MyPlayers is pretty sparse. There are only a few options for things like skin tone, eye shape, and lips. I would like to see more options added to the creation suite; I want my character to look unique compared to everyone else.

Female MyPlayers - The WNBA came into NBA 2K last year, and it did well. It was refreshing to play with totally different teams. The success of the WNBA leads into my next suggestion.

There should be an option to create a female MyPlayer who has their own unique Career mode story. It could be cool to see 2K Sports write a story in which a women’s college basketball player breaks out and makes the WNBA.

The addition of another MyCareer story would keep the game fresh for longer as there is more content to play through for consumers. 2K Sports could use this model to refine their storytelling. 2K Sports tend to be ham-fisted with the game’s plot and key themes. A WNBA story has the opportunity to explore different ideas without being preachy or condescending.

It is possible to tell a story of a female athlete overcoming adversity without being corny or false. It is a familiar story for most female athletes.

GAMEPLAY

Animations - The gameplay is solid in NBA 2K games. It is fun, and it can be a real challenge on the right difficulty setting. However, 2K has suffered from broken animations and glitches for years. This has been an issue for at least three years, and broken animations can make the game incredibly frustrating.

The glitches usually come on the defensive end of the floor. Going for steals is a crapshoot in NBA 2K as there is a strong possibility that the ball will go invisible. Once the ball is hidden, it is impossible to steal the ball away from the AI. It makes the game unfair as these issues do not plague the computer-controlled teams.

I would like to see a team of 2K Sports developers takes time to fix these errors. I am sure that these errors being addressed will improve the quality of gameplay.

Shot Contests - NBA 2K20 introduced a new shot contest system that relied on different criteria to previous years. The last contest shot system was attacker-sided; it was challenging for the defense to get stops. The new contest system is based on the defender’s proximity to the attacking player.

The new system meant that perimeter defense was much more effective. It became harder to knock down perimeter shots. The gameplay was slightly more balanced between offense and defense. However, the new shot contest system killed layups.

Layups, one of the most efficient looks in basketball, became impossible to knockdown due to the proximity criteria. This is an easy issue to rectify. 2K Sports could adjust the finishing badges so that each finishing badge improves the chance of knocking down layups.

AI Teammates - The AI teammates are currently bad in MyCareer. The AI does not seem to have any basketball feel. I cannot count the number of times where I have made the pass to a corner shooter, usually Cedi Osman, expecting an easy bucket.

This easy bucket never materializes. The AI will hold onto the ball for at least three seconds, which allows the defense to close up. When the AI finally releases the shot, it is a contested three that usually hits the rim and bounces out.

The AI needs work, and this process will take a lot of development time to get perfect. The focus of this development should be refining the AI so that the computer-controlled players play naturally on the court; the AI should not feel mechanical and labored.

Better, More Servers - Online gaming is a core component of NBA 2K. People love playing with their friends. However, the online experience can often be erratic due to lag spikes and crowded servers. 2K Sports have suffered from lag-related issues for years, and it is frustrating for players.

It is annoying when the frame rate falls apart, and movements made on the controller do not translate to the game itself. This is an easy solution for 2K Sports; all they have to do is spend money on leasing better servers.

MYLEAGUE

Contract Values in MyLeague - I love MyLeague. I like the idea of building a dynasty and dominating the league. It is satisfying when a player that you have drafted becomes an integral part of your team’s journey to an NBA championship.

However, MyLeague does have a problem with the contracts expected by young players. This is an issue that arises when the user is four or five years into the simulation. The young players drafted in 2021 or 2022 want maximum money even if this player has only played twelve minutes a night.

The salary expectations are game-breaking. It is hard to make moves in free agency or the trade market if a role player is making a stupid amount of money.

The only escape from a salary cap prison is to trade the player for pennies on the dollar. This is only a temporary respite as this will happen next season with other young players.

The contract values for young players are broken, and 2K Sports need to address this issue. I am a firm believer in building additional criteria into the contract expectations mechanic. Minutes, statistical production, and potential should be all factor into what a young player expects to receive from a team.

MYCAREER

Blatant, irritating advertisement of products - 2K Sports generate a lot of income from sponsorship deals with companies such as Gatorade, Beats, and Mountain Dew. The presence of real companies does add to the immersion of the game to some extent. However, these advertisements have been very irritating over the last few years.

NBA 2K20 was a prime example of corporate influence diluting the product. The event appearances that could not be skipped were advertising spots for these companies. Gatorade and Beats were plastered all over the game and pushed at every opportunity.

The advertising got old quickly. I do not mind passive advertising in the Neighbourhood, but I strongly disagree with products being pushed onto the user. I would like to see these cutscenes and spots removed from NBA 2K21.

MyCareer Free Agency - Once you reach a certain level in MyCareer, it is possible to influence your team’s free agency decisions. The MyPlayer can pick five open agency targets which the front office will work towards acquiring. It is a new element and a reward for the grind of MyCareer.

However, the free agency period makes no sense. It is never explained that the five players selected will join your team in free agency. The salary cap does not matter. In my most recent save, Jayson Tatum, Brandon Ingram, and Anthony Davis all joined the Cleveland Cavaliers on maximum contracts. It was ridiculous and made the save very easy in my second season in Cleveland.

A free agency must work differently. I like the idea of the MyPlayer meeting open agency targets during the moratorium period and convincing the aim to join their team. Right, productive conversations increase the chance that the player teams up with the MyPlayer. It is more challenging and would be more rewarding when a star joins the team.

Better Voice Acting - The MyCareer story has become star-studded over the last few years. Michael B Jordan, Idris Elba, and Rosario Dawson are a few of the names whose presence has graced the series. It is a brilliant marketing move in terms of drawing casual fans.

However, the cost expended on A-List talent means that there have been corners cut with other voice acting talent. Some of the lines said by characters in the game sound disinterested and bored. There is not much life in the acting. 2K Sports need to spend more money on recruiting better voice actors.