The developers at NBA 2K14 have done a great job of keeping most of the player ratings under wraps ahead of the game's Oct. 1 release, but such information inevitably leaks eventually. TheReal2KInsider.com has been a great source for that in recent years, and it has once again come through with ratings for NBA 2K14.
Many of the ratings are expected, while others will surely create some arguments, but several stand out at first glance. There were plenty of breakout stars last year that became superstar-caliber players, and while their initial ratings in NBA 2K13 may not have reflected that, it won't be an issue this year.
Here are three rising stars that have improved significantly over the past year in both real and virtual terms, as they have received their due credit in NBA 2K14.
Which player was most deserving of a ratings bump in NBA 2K14?
Many observers questioned Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard's ability to translate his skills to the NBA level as he dominated lesser competition in college at Weber State. It didn't take long for the explosive scorer to silence his critics, as he averaged 19 points and 6.5 rebounds per game en route to NBA Rookie of the Year honors.
The skepticism surrounding Lillard stretched as far as video games last season. Lillard was rated a lowly 70 when NBA 2K13 was released, according to TheReal2KInsider.com, but he climbed steadily as the season progressed. Lillard is now among the best point guards in the game at 84 overall, and he possesses some exciting signature skills, including acrobat, shot creator, catch and shoot, and pick and roll maestro.
After a disappointing 2012-13 campaign, the Blazers are viewed as a potential breakout team this season due largely to Lillard's continued development. Add in the likes of LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews, and it's tough not to be excited about the Blazers. If Lillard continues on this upward trend, he figures to be rated even higher by this time next year.
Due to the pesky Indiana Pacers, the Miami Heat very nearly missed out on the NBA Finals last season. While the Heat were able to survive a grueling, seven-game battle with the Pacers, center Roy Hibbert gave them all they could handle. Without a reliable center on the roster, the Heat struggled to contain the 7'2" star. Hibbert's numbers were down a bit last regular season, as he averaged just under 12 points and 8.3 rebounds per game while shooting a career-low 44.8 percent from the field.
Hibbert rectified that in the playoffs by averaging 17 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks per contest. He was an absolute force on both ends of the floor and is now one of the NBA's best pivots. Hibbert was only a 79 overall in last year's game but, despite his pedestrian regular-season numbers, was bumped up to an 81 overall in NBA 2K14.
Hibbert also has some great abilities in defensive anchor, eraser and hustle points. He is among the best shot blockers in the NBA, and his ratings will reflect that this year. Driving to the paint will be a dangerous proposition for Indiana's opponents due to his wing span and impeccable timing. NBA 2K14 has captured that well, and his presence will make using the Pacers extremely popular.
Veteran stars like Tim Duncan and Tony Parker received much of the credit for the San Antonio Spurs' run to the NBA Finals last season, but the emergence of younger players such as small forward Kawhi Leonard played a big role as well. Leonard made huge strides during his sophomore campaign, as he averaged 12 points and six rebounds per game along with 1.7 steals and just over one three-pointer made per contest. Leonard is already one of the league's most-versatile players, and he's only going to get better.
Leonard had a stellar rookie season as well, but that only netted him a 76 overall rating in NBA 2K13. Now that he has proven he is for real, the developers couldn't help but jack his rating up to 82. Those in charge of NBA 2K14 also did a fantastic job with his superstar skills, as he boasts the active hands, interceptor, posterizer and corner specialist abilities.
Leonard is essentially the personification of a Swiss army knife—he can hurt his opponents in so many different ways. That promises to be the case in NBA 2K14, and it's great to see Leonard receiving the recognition he so richly deserves. Leonard may always play second fiddle as long as Duncan and Parker are around, but his importance simply can't be overstated.
Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter