It’s hard to explain why, but every year 2K Sports creates a firestorm on social media with the release of NBA player rankings. They have mastered the strategy, and know exactly which player rankings will start the dialogue. For some players – think Miles Bridges – there is a reason for motivation to get better. For others, such as Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard, there is validation, as well as an opportunity to introduce themselves further into the national spotlight. In recent seasons, Lillard has graduated from star to superstar to megastar, mainly because his success on the field calibrates well with his popularity off the field. It was exemplified in Lillard̵
For the Trail Blazers to get back in shape as a team capable of pushing for the Western Conference Finals and beyond, the need for internal improvement will be crucial. Players like Nassir Little and Anfernee Simons are given the task of taking seismic leaps, and pillars like CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic must find ways to rise beyond their normal levels. Here we will make our predictions about how they are likely to be assessed, as well as look at what they can do in the future.
NBA 2K21 – 86
NBA 2K22 – 86
One could argue that McCollum put together an excellent case for an upgrade worth a point or two. The 29-year-old comes from the highest scoring season of his career, one that doubled as the second most effective in his NBA season. He also facilitated with a career pace, and, stagnant as it may be, he recovered at about the same frequency as usual.
We’ve already touched on a few ways McCollum can improve, regardless of the rating of a video game, and a significant portion of it comes down to building on last year’s shooting diet. What holds him back is that he comes from one of the “weaker” after-runs after the season. Part of the trade-off of having a defensively deficient backcourt is that McCollum and Damian Lillard must raise their stakes to astronomical levels — or at least somewhat tangibly higher than in the regular season — the NBA Playoffs. The latter did, the former did not, and that keeps McCollum in that boat as a top 30 player, with a bit of give-or-take.
NBA 2K21 – 81
NBA 2K22 – 83
The rise for Powell has been steady and consistent. He came in last season with a 77 overall and finished it in Kobe style with an 81. His pockets are now $ 90 million heavier, but it is a reasonable assumption that it will not keep him down.
The warning for Powell will be in what 2K values more: his 42-game Toronto race, where he had career highs in field goal percentage, 3-point share and points per game, or his slightly less spectacular 27-game came in Portland. Even defensively, the differences are night and day. Do you know who was one of the NBA’s top pick-and-roll defenders last season? Norman Powell in Toronto. You know who also ranked among the dead last in the league? Norman Powell i Portland. Under a refined scheme that plays to his strengths, Powell can see an even higher boost in the coming years. For now, a two-point up feels realistic.
NBA 2K21 – 82
NBA 2K22 – 81
When used properly, Jusuf Nurkic remains one of the NBA’s most uniquely dynamic players across the NBA. Unfortunately, rhythm was difficult to obtain in 2020-21. Nurkic had 19 games with 10+ shots-Portland was an impressive 14-5 in such games-but he also had 20 games with less than 10 shots, and was a bit of a victim for this.
As long as Chauncey Billups’ words were not just out-of-season talk, as has sometimes been the case with former Blazers coaches, Nurkic seems to be closer to the player he was at the end of last season, when he averaged 15.1 points, 11.0 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.3 blocks on 56-67-64 percentages over the last 14 games. He also had career highs in field goal percentage and both 3-point share and marks.
NBA 2K21 – 79
NBA 2K22 – 78
The “little things” are difficult to quantify in an actual game, and the same can be said in video game form. In Cody Zeller, the Blazers want one of the NBA’s foremost screeners, someone who competes for elite-level shots around the rim, and roams the offensive glass with ferocity.
These are ideal moves, especially in a big backup, but Zeller had a small downturn after a career season in 2019-20. He failed to do well in a breakout year from a 3-point interval and saw small drops in his box after being a double-digit scorer in each of the last two seasons. The numbers suggest he may fall by a point or so.
NBA 2K21 – 77
NBA 2K22 – 77
We have come a long way from Covington’s first 13 games of his Blazers period, when he struggled to crack 30 percent shots from the field. Don’t look now, but Covington just had the most effective 3-point shooting season of his career — even though he sacrificed volume — and remained on top as a striking defender.
77 is probably too low for a player who spent much of last season as the starting lineup’s lone defensive positive. Portland had eight players who played 1,000 minutes last season; only one of them, Covington, had a positive defensive box plus-minus. As I like to say, Portland’s defensive rating was No. 29 out of 30 last season with Covington. Without him, they would have ranked 39.
That should be enough to keep Covington from a regression, but many of his other raw numbers were his lowest since the rookie season. For 2K players, Covington may get an upgrade in off-ball pest or interceptor brands, but it’s probably as good as it gets for now.
NBA 2K21 – 76
NBA 2K22 – 77
Do not misunderstand this by saying that Covington and Simons are on a level playing field; according to 2K, they basically have identical effects. Projecting Simon’s modest one-point lift is reasonable in that Simons has tangible improvements as a shooter. According to NBA.com’s John Schuhmann, he had the ninth highest jump from season to season, going from 33.2 percent on 226 attempts in 2019-20 to 42.6 percent on 282 attempts in 2020-21. He is also without peers or fear for that matter as a shooter, as a spot-up shooter, ranked No. 1 in the NBA under a few parameters.
Then there is the fascinating case study of his defense. For a long time, the days for him are in 518th place out of 520 players in defensive boxing plus-minus, as he did in 2019-20. This year he took the jump to 340. Although it is certainly not something you want to brag about in an open conversation, it shows Simon’s ability to make slow, steady improvements year after year.
Derrick Jones Jr .:
NBA 2K21 – 75
NBA 2K22 – 75
Despite the negative aura around the end of Derrick Jones Jr.’s first season with the Blazers, it was oddly enough in some ways the most productive season of his career. He made small jumps as a 3-point shooter, camping out in the left corner and hitting a healthy 35.8 percent of his shots. In terms of skills, there was no degree of deterioration; he remained one of the NBA’s most versatile positional defenders and did not necessarily lose a stroke athletically.
Which makes the case even more curious that he picks up 14 DNPs after the All-Star break. With features and specifications that are too effective to sit on the bench, it is likely that Jones Jr. get the benefit of the doubt with a new coach before any talk of a potential decline begins.
NBA 2K21 – 74
NBA 2K22 – 74
Do you remember the statistics about Anfernee Simons who has the ninth highest jump in the NBA from season to season as a 3-point shooter? Guess a wild guess about who No. 1 on that list was? Tony Snell. Snell went from a shooter of 40.2 percent to one of 56.9 percent, with a season that was topped by career highs.
The warning is that Snell sacrificed volume for the slightly historic numbers. This was the first season of his career where he failed to log 1000 minutes, and he averaged only 7.3 minutes in the post-season. So while he could see a jump or two in the three-point attributes, one has to wonder if he had enough repetitions to see a big jump.
NBA 2K21 – 73
NBA 2K22 – 74
Nassir Little has not quite made the leap needed to necessitate a spot in Portland’s playoff rotation, but the positive in the second season was that he remained consistent with what his strengths were and contributed to his weaknesses. He jumped from a 63.6 percent free throw to an 80 percent, increased his 3-point percentage by 12 percent at higher volume, and took steps forward to shoot in limited and floating areas.
As Blazer’s Edge columnist Kyle Garcia noted, Little also made progress as a shot blocker and hustler, one of the few things he had control over in an inconsistent 2020-21 season. Little’s breakout does not yet have an ETA, but compared to the rookie season, there is a possibility of a small jump.
Harry Giles III
NBA 2K21 – 73
NBA 2K22 – 72
Despite a sample size of 348 minutes in Portland, it is difficult to assess exactly what Harry Giles III is at this time. After brilliantly during a prominent preseason, Giles found it difficult to get minutes right after and before the All-Star break.
This was Giles’ least productive season of his career, and for the most part it had a lot to do with an adjusted shooting diet under Terry Stotts. Almost a quarter of his shot attempts were 3-point, this came after he only took two of them in 2020-21 with Sacramento. There were also not many opportunities for Giles to showcase his high position and vision as the overseer of the other unit. Under Chauncey Billups, he may see a resurgence. But so far, his career has not been stable enough to suggest he is immune to falling by a point or so.
NBA 2K21 – 72
NBA 2K22 – 72
So far in his career, Ben McLemore may not have reached the level his Ray Allen draft comparisons would point to, but he has certainly been consistent. Save for a lower year in 2018-19, he has never had an average of less than 7.5 points per game, using a portable catch-and-shoot skill that can be translated well in Portland. McLemore is not necessarily a standout in defense, other than being aggressive and physical. It is difficult to imagine that the pendulum swings in both directions with its assessment.
NBA 2K21 – 68
NBA 2K22 – 68
Our most satisfying memory of CJ Elleby is probably his breakout game against Philadelphia – the day Portland came in and flashed the 76ers without Lillard and McCollum. But other than that, the rookie season was not enough to guarantee a big jump. Elleby may have had a chance to build his hype train during the Summer League, but he was largely unspectacular for the final against Houston.
We know what Elleby is capable of; his 3-point shot is not super reliable at this point, and he may be prone to blows, but he is someone with a remarkably transient repertoire and an engine on the offensive glass. For now, it is likely that he will remain stable.
Greg Brown III
NBA 2K21 – N / A
NBA 2K22: 69
So far, NBA 2K22 has released 63 different player rankings, the lowest being a two-way match between Isaac Bonga (70) of the Washington Wizards and Santi Aldama of the Memphis Grizzlies. Without having played in an actual NBA game, it is difficult to place him in front of these players. He showed excellent potential with his game over the rim field and into the transition in the Summer League, where he averages 9.0 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game on 57.1 percent shooting. 2K22 has released the ratings of five rookies – Cade Cunningham, Jalen Green, Evan Mobley, Jalen Suggs and Scottie Barnes – and each of them is over 75. One has to imagine that Brown, a second round, will be noticeably lower than that.
NBA 2K21 – N / A
NBA 2K22 – 67
Trendon Watford, the Blazers’ two-way signature, was an exciting study during Summer League games. He doubled down on the versatility that helped him attract interest in LSU, averaging 5.8 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.3 blocks in just 22.1 minutes of play. It’s a jack-of-all-trades to his style of play, although it’s still largely unclear what his best moves will be at the professional level. For now he is an ongoing work and someone to monitor in the future. A mid-to-high 60 rating would be the safest place for now.