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NBA 2K22 predicts the 2021-22 Boston Celtics’ season (Part 1)

I spent $70 on this game, I might as well put it to work.

NBA All Star Weekend Photo by Jack Arent/NBAE via Getty Images

While the NBA 2K series has grown progressively more cynical through the years, neglecting gameplay improvements or new features in favor of more and more aggressive monetization, it still holds a place in my heart (even if I don’t purchase it yearly anymore). As a fan of franchise modes in sports games, I’ve started dozens upon dozens of franchises, played manually or simulated years into the future. With 2K22 now here, and me desperate to make my $70 purchase look a little less foolish, I had the thought of taking my franchise mode addiction and applying it here at CelticsBlog.

We’re going to take this year’s Boston Celtics and run them through a couple of simulated seasons in franchise mode to put 2K’s predictive power to the test and see what it comes up with. Mayhaps we’ll even revisit this at the end of the year, to see just how accurate (or, more likely, inaccurate) this ended up being.

So, let’s lay down some ground rules for how this is going to work. We’re going to be simulating a single season using 2K22’s MyNBA mode, and we’ll be using the Celtics roster as-is with minimal changes. We’re keeping it realistic though; 2K may think that Enes Kanter is as good as Robert Williams and Al Horford (his rating has been inflated for years at this point), but the actual Celtics will not be deploying him as a major rotation player, so neither will we.

We’re also not making any trades or signings. It would be way too easy to turn a package of, say, Josh Richardson and some picks into Draymond Green. That’s cheating. The only actual change to this roster we’ll be making is swapping Marcus Smart’s position to point guard, as he’s still listed as a shooting guard in the current roster.

Injuries will also be turned off; though the randomness of injuries has an impact on every team’s season, we’re going to keep this simple. This article would be quite boring if the simulation ended up being “the team was bad because Jayson Tatum spontaneously combusted in the second game of the season.”

Let’s go month-by-month and see just what 2K thinks of this year’s team.

First Simulation:

October/November: 6-15 record, -2.6 point differential, 13th in East

Well, that’s not exactly the kind of start you want to see. The Celtics limp out of the gate with a 6-15 start, sagging down near the bottom of the Eastern Conference at the start of December. Jayson Tatum isn’t hitting shots, and the team is languishing in 13th place despite a better (but still bad) point differential than most of their neighbors. Not helping matters is a ghastly 1-11 record on the road.

They do offer some signs for optimism, though. Specifically, a pair of satisfying big-ticket wins over the Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers. However, this team is clearly performing below their real talent level.

December: 16-19 record, -0.2 diff, 8th in East

At least we didn’t have to sweat out that tough start for long. The Celtics got back on track in December in a big way, with a 10-4 record despite a remarkably tough schedule. They piled up most of those wins against presumptive playoff teams, knocking out the Sixers, Jazz, Blazers, Lakers, Warriors, Knicks, Bucks, Clips and Suns in December. Not bad at all!

It has to be said: it’s unreal how, even with the benefit of the PS5’s beefed up hardware, 2K slows down to a snail’s pace when simming a season in franchise mode.

January: 27-25 record , +0.8 point diffential, 6th in East

This seems like a good time to mention that Virtual Jaylen Brown has been going off. Three months into the season, Brown is leading the team with 24 points per game, and he’s doing it on unfathomable shooting splits of .528/.447/.767. Those are Kevin Durant numbers, and they’ve helped continue to put the Celtics’ early season doldrums in the rear view mirror.

The Celtics have broken over the .500 threshold right now, and scored a nice win over the Miami Heat while climbing to the sixth seed of the East. Fourth place is within reach — the Knicks currently hold it, with just a 1.5 game advantage — but breaking into the top three is starting to seem highly unlikely. The Sixers (37-13), Bucks (37-13) and Hawks (36-15) have very much distanced themselves as the conference’s elite.

February: 32-31 record, +1.0 point differential, 5th in East

A bump in the road. The Celtics continue their upswing at the start of the month, but the wheels come off just before the All-Star break, as they lose four out of five games. It’s not all bad news though — the other mid-tier playoff hopefuls are struggling as well, and the Celtics actually gain ground in the conference and move up to the fifth seed.

At this point, Tatum has reclaimed the team lead in scoring from Brown, posting a 25-7-4 stat line on .476/.390/.901 shooting splits. He’s rewarded with a spot on the All-Star team. Brown hasn’t cooled off at all, but voters don’t seem to care about his obscene shooting splits, and he’s snubbed.

Elsewhere on the roster, Dennis Schröder is thriving as the team’s third-leading scorer, shooting a surprising 40% from three on decent volume. Josh Richardson, however, is decidedly not thriving; he’s been the team’s inarguable Least Valuable Player with a miserable .386/.281/.926 shooting line.

This is also the point where I realized I’d made a critical error when setting up the sim. While perusing other teams in the conference, I looked into the surprising, third-seeded Atlanta Hawks and found some unexpected faces: Malcolm Brogdon and Royce O’Neale. I’d forgotten to disable the AI controlled teams from trading with each other, and the Hawks had leveled up their offense into a verifiable death machine in the process. Whoops.

Old friend Isaiah Thomas, by the way, is now an Indiana Pacer.

March/April: 45-37 record, +2.4 point differential, 5th in East

The Virtual Celtics conclude the season on an absolute tear. They go 13-6 across the final month-plus of the season, and beat every single Eastern Conference team they face. Despite this, they remain stagnant at the fifth seed, held at arm’s length by their impending first-round playoff opponent: the New York Knicks. Still, the Celtics are red hot — even Richardson has improved — and look like a team that can make some noise in the postseason.

Also, check out this bonkers overtime win against Memphis.

Awards season snubs the Celtics entirely. They win none of the major awards, and have no players featured on the All-NBA, All-Defense or All-Rookie teams. Giannis Antetokounmpo takes home his third MVP and second Defensive Player of the Year, Evan Mobley wins Rookie of the Year, Andre Drummond wins Sixth Man of the Year, Isaiah Roby claims Most Improved Player and Nate McMillan wins Coach of the Year. For some reason, only four players are named to the All-Rookie second team.

The Miami Heat defeat the Brooklyn Nets(!) in the Play-In Tournament(!!) and our playoff field is set.

First Round: Knicks 4, Celtics 2

Ah! Well, nevertheless...

In a series that would prompt takes hotter than the core of the Earth if it happened in real life, the Celtics’ season-long rivals oust them in the first round of the playoffs in a six-game series. The Knicks were just a step ahead of Boston all season long, and after the two teams exchanged wins for the first four games of the series, New York took two in a row to secure the win — including a 138-106 demolition on Boston’s home court in the clinching game. All of these games were close except for that unfortunate Game 6 and a wild 153-132 Knicks win in Game 4, but the series may have been decided when the Celtics couldn’t hold onto a late lead in Game 5 in Madison Square Garden.

Fulfilling their role as a team meant solely to make the Celtics miserable, the Knicks suffer a gentleman’s sweep against Philadelphia in the second round. The 76ers then lose to Milwaukee, who advances to the NBA Finals to face the Los Angeles Lakers. They get swept. LeBron James wins Finals MVP.

What did we learn?

For starters, the AI being able to make trades was unfair. That’s my bad. Sorry, Hawks. Also, running the season with a set lineup that never changes is unrealistic. Every team adjusts their lineup, and in this case, someone like Richardson would never have held down that starter role while playing as poorly as he did for that long. We were essentially playing with one arm tied behind our back. Additionally, I think assigning Schröder as the set-in-stone third scoring option was a mistake. He had a great individual season, but I think the team might have benefitted from more flexibility offensively after Tatum and Brown.

I think that mean’s it’s time for a second attempt! I’m gonna run this thing again applying the lessons we learned here, and we’ll see if the Virtual Celtics can have more success. Keep an eye out for Part Two coming soon!