Assuming that you have any modicum of interest in sports gaming or the NBA, I'm probably not breaking any news by telling you that NBA 2K14 hit brick-and-mortar stores and online retailers on Tuesday.
2K Sports' hallowed release, which is currently riding out its last moments of monopolizing the market before EA Sports returns with NBA Live, has again been met with widespread critical acclaim. It currently has a Metacritic score of 87 (on a scale of 1-100), and has received seven reviews—none lower than an 8/10.
This should all be expected by now. 2K Sports cornered the market on basketball sims for a reason. It churns out a quality product each year that feels unique and even closer to the virtual reality we all strive for. But those reading this likely already know that. You've been playing the game since the time it took you to drive home from your local store on midnight Tuesday. Your eyes are probably more bloodshot that Jesse Pinkman on some sweet blue.
But, knowing the ritualized people that sports gamers are, most probably haven't stepped too far outside their comfort zone. The time with the game has either been spent starting an Association with a favorite team or beginning the long journey to NBA superstardom in My Career.
Trying "new" things is what you do after the initial satiation period. Well, with well over 24 hours having passed since the game came out, I'm here to help you move on from using the same team over and over. Specifically, to use ones that are actually better than their overall ranking.
With that in mind, let's check in on a few of those teams that you may have ignored in your excitement.
My preseason NBA picks are still under construction, but let's just say I'm not bullish on the Rockets as a championship contender this season.
Their acquisition of Dwight Howard puts them somewhere in the conversation—only toward the middle of that tier rather than a "true" contender. They're still one or two pieces away, most notably at point guard and power forward if the whole Twin Towers thing doesn't work out with Omer Asik.
As a video game team, though? I'll be damned if I had more fun than any other roster so far.
In many ways, Houston was meant for a game like NBA 2K14.
James Harden is the perfect combination of quick off the dribble and lethal from behind the arc. In a few online games I've used the Rockets, I've spent the first quarter employing the pick-and-roll to get my opponent to go under screens, only to start pulling up with jumpers as the game went along. Harden's defensive deficiencies—and there are many—are less pronounced in the video game setting.
Using Harden as a pseudo point guard renders Jeremy Lin a bit useless, but that's easily fixed by subbing Patrick Beverley or Aaron Brooks into the lineup. Beverley is a better defender and Brooks is better at spacing the floor; both work fine, depending on what you're looking for at a particular time.
Chandler Parsons, the underrated cog in this "Big Three," serves a vital role as a floor-spacer in a game where spacing was so obviously emphasized by the developers.
And then there are the big men. While I'm lukewarm on the logistics of playing Howard and Asik together in real life, the video game version makes the Rockets far better than their 13th defensive ranking.
Howard, with his elite athleticism and size, has long been one of the game's most difficult players to stop on both ends. Running pick-and-rolls with Howard and Harden is as fun as it should be in real life, and D12 protects the rim arguably better than any player in the league.
Now, imagine having two of those. Asik isn't the same offensive force in real life or the game as Howard, but his defensive presence is critical. Protecting the rim was an emphasis for developers—you can block dunks now, so yay!—and having the Asik-Howard duo clogging up the middle makes things difficult for just about anyone not named LeBron James.
Los Angeles Lakers
The developers at 2K Sports did a fantastic job this year of balancing NBA 2K14. Defenses play truer than ever, understanding where they're supposed to be and responding arguably even more intelligently than they would in real life. For the first time I can remember, playing defense is fun—and I mean that outside of the usual cheesing to get steals and get back on offense.
Sports video games are an offensive medium. Always have been, always will be. It's just the way things are, even as developers continue to get better at creating accurate sims every year.
And because of that, the Lakers are once again a formidable opponent in NBA 2K14. In the virtual world, Kobe Bryant's ruptured Achilles hasn't made his skill set atrophy just yet. Vino is a 93 overall, the best shooting guard in the game, and boasts the same athletic ability as the man who went down this past April in Golden State.
I'd imagine NBA 2K14's Dynamic Living Rosters will make adjustments to that as the season progresses, but for now, Kobe Bean Bryant is great as ever. He'll knock down countless jumpers from the elbow, hit just about every shot you take with him in the fourth quarter and still pretends to be interested in playing defense in the game.
He's joined, of course, by NBA 2K Ayatollah of Splashola Steve Nash. The 39-year-old Nash isn't your typically beloved player within this framework; he's kind of slow-moving, not that athletic and has a tough time defensively. But when used properly—as a spot-up shooting maven and runner of multiple pick-and-rolls—he can be deadly.
Pau Gasol was a favorite of mine in NBA 2K13 because of the improved post mechanics, and not much has changed on that front. Nick Young and Jodie Meeks take over the semi-athletic, three-point shooter roles.
Everything relies on Bryant being a superstar within the game, which could change pretty darn soon. For now, though, have at it, Lakers fans.
The fracturing of opinion on Rudy Gay within the NBA punditry has been well-covered.
Those I speak to—I tend to gravitate toward more statistically-minded folks—borderline abhor Gay's status as a "superstar" They look at his shooting peripherals and the fact the Grizzlies lost next to nothing after trading him last season and chalk the former UConn star up as wildly overpaid and overrated. There are others, mainly ex-players, who will defend Gay's skill set to the death.
If you need a frame of reference, here's a good clip from ESPN's NBA Countdown that gives you the broad strokes.
Those familiar with the NBA 2K series know which side the game falls on.
Gay has been one of the game's most user-friendly non-superstars for years. He's quick and explosive with the ball in his hands, soaring up for at least two or three instant replay-worthy dunks every time out.
Controlling Gay on defense is also your best friend, with his athleticism and solid on-ball defense rating (82) making him a solid option for the Carmelo Anthonys and LeBrons of the world.
Oh, and he can shoot from the outside well enough that opponents have to respect him.
Though the Raptors wouldn't be on my top-five list or anything, some of Gay's teammates aren't too shabby, either. The criminally underrated Kyle Lowry can do just about everything at an above-average level like in real life. DeMar DeRozan plays a lot like Gay without the outside shot.
But it's the two youngsters, Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas, who really play above their overall ratings. Ross (70 overall) is a video game goldmine with his three-point efficiency and elite athleticism. Valanciunas (68 overall) is borderline unusable offensively, but is a really good defensive piece when used on the block or as a rim protector.
You're not going to win many games with Toronto online, but it's a preferable experience to playing with the similarly ranked Charlotte Bobcats or Boston Celtics.
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