Once you get past the fact that it can’t replace actual basketball, the NBA 2K Players Tournament isn’t so bad. There are opportunities to read into players’ thoughts about their peers (“They be tripping on Bron’s jump shot on here,” Trae Young said) and moments when their personalities shine through. In a barren sports landscape, Devin Booker running virtual off-ball sets for Luka Doncic qualifies as entertainment.
On the other hand, Thursday’s four-hour quarterfinals slate dragged on at times. There was a stretch that went from silent gameplay to an interview with Canadian rapper Nav to a video clip of Larry Nance teaching us how to do lunges.
Thursday’s quarterfinal round saw competitive matchups, improved gameplay, and, thankfully, a Patrick Beverley victory. Here are four takeaways:
Tune In to Patrick Beverley
Coming into the night, I wondered whether there might be stylistic parallels between 2K and real life. Would a player’s virtual shot selection reveal any philosophical underpinning to that player’s actual game? Would the NBA’s most disciplined and methodical players have a similar approach in 2K? Would Trae Young bomb deep 3s with reckless abandon? Would Andre Drummond demand the ball in the low post? For the most part, the answer seems to be no. Except for Patrick Beverley.
Drummond, his quarterfinal opponent, put it best: “This man cold at defense in real life and in the video game.”
The Clippers point guard plays 2K pretty much exactly how you would expect. The defense was clinical and the trash talk was flowing (“You can have the ball, I want to play defense”). The quotes from his postgame interview with tournament host Ronnie 2K could easily have come after a hard-fought conference finals win. Of Drummond, he said: “I think he got rattled. Started playing a little fast. You know me, I’ll do whatever I can to win.”
Compared to the other players, Beverley’s energy was off the charts. In addition to pulling off the win and advancing to the semifinal round, Beverley brought some much-needed joy and entertainment to Thursday night’s slate. His matchup on Saturday against Ayton, who had a strong showing against Young, might be the game of the tournament.
For the most part, conversation was sparse throughout the quarterfinals on Thursday—at certain points you could actually hear the analog sticks clicking—but players did share what they’re doing to pass the time and stay in shape during quarantine. While the answers weren’t necessarily surprising, they did offer a window into how NBA players and teams are managing in the age of social distancing.
The most revealing exchange took place between Montrezl Harrell and Derrick Jones Jr. Harrell said that the Clippers are sending an exercise bike to his house next week so he can keep up with his cardio, and that he’s been working with a strength coach over Zoom. Jones, who has spent his time playing 2K, lifting weights, and riding his bike, said that the Heat have had Zoom meetings and workouts as well. Rui Hachimura initiated a similar conversation with Devin Booker, who said he was working out at first, but that his trainer could no longer come out to work with him so he’s just been “posted up.” (Sorry, Suns fans.) Deandre Ayton has been enjoying the heat in Phoenix and lifting weights in his garage; Trae Young has a treadmill and, of course, an intricate sock-basketball routine to keep his jumper in top form. Patrick Beverley said he has “no off switch,” and has been working out like a “mad man.”
These guys are professional athletes, so it’s not exactly a shock that they’re finding ways to work out and stay in shape. But the details—workouts over Zoom, teams sending exercise bikes—shed some light on the measures teams are taking to keep their squads ready for whenever the NBA, hopefully, returns.
Be Like Luka
Luka Doncic isn’t participating in the 2K tournament, but his presence was felt on Thursday. Both Booker and Jones chose to play with Dallas for their quarterfinal match. (Before the tournament, each player made a list of eight teams, and they select a team from that list for each game; the catch is they can play with each team only once.) Players have seemed to gravitate toward the Lakers, Clippers, and Bucks, which makes sense—those are three of the best, most star-studded rosters in the game. But the Mavs have also been a popular choice, likely because of their 21-year-old superstar.
Booker in particular seemed to delight in playing as Luka, who could have been his teammate had the Suns taken him with the first pick in the 2018 draft. The first half between Hachimura (playing with the Clippers) and Booker was a back-and-forth affair, with both offenses struggling to get going. In the third quarter, Booker moved Doncic off the ball (this is a ridiculous sentence to type—please bear with me, I miss basketball), set a pair of off-ball screens, and knocked down a 3.
“I see you, Carlisle!” Booker followed the same script for the remainder of the third quarter and opened up a commanding lead that would prove to be decisive. It seems NBA players like 2K for many of the same reasons fans do: They enjoy masquerading as their favorite players.
We Finally Got the Battle of L.A.
As soon as the Clippers signed Kawhi Leonard and acquired Paul George from Oklahoma City last summer, Los Angeles became the NBA’s capital city. The first three regular-season matchups between LeBron James and Anthony Davis and Kawhi and PG were some of the best games of the season, and left everyone looking forward to the first ever L.A. vs. L.A. playoff series. On Thursday night, we finally got it.
Other than extreme disappointment that it took place on Playstation servers rather than in Staples Center, the game was pretty good! Trae Young controlled the Lakers against Deandre Ayton as the Clippers. My favorite part of the matchup happened on the first possession, when Young set his defense in a 2-3 zone. If only there were a host to get the players to open up about their decision-making—I’m very curious to know the thought process there. In any case, it didn’t work. Ayton jumped out to a 22-13 lead in the first quarter that would prove to be insurmountable, even though Young tied it up late in the fourth. (Between this and Booker’s decision to move Doncic off the ball, it was a good night for armchair 2K coaches.) Here’s hoping that, at some point, we get a similarly competitive battle for L.A. in real life.