Today brings us the latest iteration of the yearly NBA 2K series, a franchise that yours truly is hopelessly addicted to — even as 2K Games tries to vacuum every last cent out of my wallet year after year.
Naturally, with every new 2K release comes one of social media’s favorite pastimes — yelling into the void about the game’s arbitrary player ratings. For the unfamiliar (although, how could you be?), every player in the game is assigned a rating from zero to 99 for various basketball skills — everything from three-point shooting to lateral quickness. These ratings are compiled together into an overall rating, and this is how the game ranks every player in the league. Player rankings are always a factory for sports takes, and the sometimes weird and arbitrary nature of 2K’s rating system only adds to the fun.
Last week, the overall ratings for every team’s starting lineup leaked on Twitter. So, in anticipation of the game’s release, let’s take a look and see just how good or bad 2K actually did this time around.
2K19 Rating: 93
My Rating: 93
We start out with the Celtics’ most valuable player, and it’s one of two ratings I think 2K has right on the money (spoiler alert). Irving was a fringe MVP candidate before knee surgery ended his season last year, as he put together the most efficient season of his career, and a 93 rating firmly places him within the upper echelon of the NBA.
My complaints with 2K’s point guard ratings actually have more to do with the other top guards than Kyrie himself. Russell Westbrook (93) and John Wall (89) seem somewhat overvalued, while Chris Paul (90) and Damian Lillard (90) probably deserve a boost. There isn’t a three point difference between either of them and Irving. Why we’re still classifying James Harden (96) as a “shooting guard” just a year removed from a 12 assist-per-game season is fairly confusing — even more so is why he outranks Stephen Curry (95) overall.
It’s all a bit of a mess up there, but that’s a conversation for another time. Kyrie Irving’s 93 is quite good.
2K19 Rating: 84
My Rating: 83
This is a bit of a nitpicky change, to be sure, but it’s one I made for consistency’s sake with my ranking for Jayson Tatum. I see Tatum as a small bit more advanced as an individual player than Brown at this point in time, and I changed his rating to reflect that.
That said, I don’t really have an issue with Brown’s 84, especially if they’re shaping him into a borderline All Defense-level wing player this season. He slightly outranks the Lakers’ Brandon Ingram (82) and the Clippers’ Tobias Harris (82) here, the former of whom might be a little overvalued and the latter, a little under. This is a reasonable bump up from the 81 he finished with last year.
2K19 Rating: 88
My Rating: 88
Gordon Hayward was an 88 when the Celtics’ signed him last summer, and an 88 he remained all year after his leg injury sidelined him for the season. You could make a case for a small rating drop if you really believe he won’t be the same after the injury, but that’s also a change 2K could make in-season if it proves to be true. Meanwhile, if he does work back to his pre-injury self, this 88 has him a point behind Paul George and Jimmy Butler and a tier below the best of the best at the position.
We need to have a talk with 2K about some of these small forwards — Joe Ingles at a mere 79 is a hate crime — but as far as Hayward goes, this seems eminently fair.
2K19 Rating: 87
My Rating: 84
Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m as excited as anybody to torch people online with the new and improved Virtual Jayson Tatum.
That said, 2K went way overboard with this one.
It goes without saying that we’re all enamored with Tatum’s potential, but 2K has placed him seventh-best among all small forwards in basketball, alongside The Coward Ben Simmons. In both cases, that’s bananas. Tatum enjoyed pretty substantial growth during the course of last year, jumping from a 77 to an 82, but another five point jump without having played any NBA basketball seems like too much of a stretch. If he’s playing like Paul George a few months into the year? Sure, give him the bump then. For the opening roster, though, something a little more modest is probably the way to go.
2K19 Rating: 86
My Rating: 90
The NBA 2K series is quite strange about centers, and this year’s iteration appears to be no exception. With Anthony Davis (94) labeled as a power forward, the current pecking order doesn’t seem quite right: Karl-Anthony Towns leads the bunch with a 91 rating, followed closely by 90’s from Joel Embiid and DeMarcus Cousins. While Towns is a stellar player, particularly on the offensive end, placing him as the best center in the league feels like a stretch at this point in time.
The cause of this seems to be that 2K hasn’t quite figured out how to value versatile, do-everything bigs like Horford or Draymond Green (87, labeled as a power forward). The series seemingly still clings to the old-school ideal of the gigantic, paint-dwelling shot-blocker, despite the fact that the NBA has largely started to move away from those sorts of players. Nowhere is this more evident than with Horford: his 86 ranking sits a point removed from Andre Drummond’s 87 and Hassan Whiteside’s 85, despite the fact that neither of whom contribute nearly as much to winning basketball as he does.
So, with that in mind, this is a position that needs a complete overhaul. Davis is certainly a center, considering he’ll be positioned alongside Nikola Mirotic in the Pelicans’ starting lineup, and Green does his best work as the nominal five in the Warriors’ infamous Death Lineup. It’s time we see those two more properly classified, and the game’s priorities shifted further towards defense, lifting up players like Horford, Green, and Rudy Gobert (currently an 87) and lowering ones like Towns, Drummond, and Whiteside.
Al Horford is one of the most important pieces holding the Boston Celtics together, and while age-related decline is certainly on the horizon, at least for this season, we should see him represented as the superlative player he is.
Marcus Smart: 82
Terry Rozier: 80
Aron Baynes: 78
Marcus Morris: 78
Daniel Theis: 76
Brad Wanamaker: 74
Robert Williams: 74
Jabari Bird: 72
Semi Ojeleye: 70
Guerschon Yabusele: 69
As of this writing, we don’t have official ratings for NBA benches just yet, so these are my estimations based off of where these players finished in 2K18. Overall, I don’t think you’ll find any of these surprising. Young contributors who showed growth last season like Rozier, Theis, Bird, and Ojeleye got healthy bumps, and I settled on a reasonable 74 for incoming rookies Williams and Wanamaker — though I’d imagine 2K will place Wanamaker a bit under that. Marcus Morris was pretty much exactly the player we expected him to be, so I didn’t see a reason to change his 78 rating from last season, and Yabusele didn’t see the court enough to earn a bump from his own (nice) rating.
As a matter of personal preference, I bumped up Smart and Baynes from the 80 and 75 they finished last season with, respectively. As I mentioned above, 2K doesn’t always do a great job capturing the value of good defense, and both of these two showed they had game-changing defensive upside last year. Either one could be a deserving NBA starter based on what we know right now, but I don’t believe that’s quite represented in their virtual forms just yet — and based on some of the other ratings we’ve already seen, I’m not sure it will be this time around.