I don't think I'm breaking any new ground here by acknowledging that video games do not perfectly represent reality.
For all of the groundbreaking technologies and the millions of dollars elite companies spend pouring into games, they're still trying to predictably craft the most unpredictable thing in the world—real life. That's especially the case with sports games, where fans will sit and nitpick even the slightest flaw to pieces.
For my money, the NBA 2K series is the most realistic simulated sports franchise on the market. Plenty of others come close, but no game captures the fluidity and grace of its sport the way the developers at 2K Sports have done in recent years. Their latest release, NBA 2K14, has again received widespread acclaim since being released on Oct. 1. It currently sits with a Metacritic score of 86, with the added sense of gameplay realism being cited often as a drawing factor.
That said, it's fun to wade into the unreality. I mean, there's a reason we play the games rather than just watch NBA TV on a running loop. (Which, of course, I've been prone to do. But whatever.) Sports video gamers as a whole like the idea of playing their own games, making their own coaching/roster decisions, etc.
Hence, Association mode remains NBA 2K14's best and most popular game mode. If you're reading this, I'm pretty sure you have a sense of what the mode entails, so there's no need for an in-depth discussion. What is a worthy topic, however, is how to make the best out of your Association experience.
And by that, I mean it's time to talk about youngsters. I'll sit and argue the validity of Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan among the all-time greats until my face goes purple with rage. I have less than zero interest in playing with either player long term in a video game. Same goes for Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce or any other player who can tell me what the '80s like.
Acquiring young players—particularly those with high potential—is key to a successful experience. Whether you do that by means of a fantasy draft or simply firing up the game's trade machine, here are a few guys worth your time in NBA 2K14.
Stephen Curry (PG, Golden State Warriors, 88 OVR)
In my experience playing online, I've become understandably enamored with using the Warriors. With their combination of outside shooting, versatile athletes and solid enough big men (for a video game—David Lee and Andrew Bogut are very good in the actual world), it's hard to find many things to dislike.
Even with all of that talent, I've found myself muttering, "You've gotta stop shooting with Steph." And then I scamper right down the floor on the next possession, run a pick-and-roll with Curry and splash a shot from beyond the three-point arc.
Playing with Steph Curry in NBA 2K14 is a sickness so fun that you never want it to end. Much like we saw during last season's playoffs, Curry has a penchant for hitting shots whenever and wherever he wants. He's one of the best off-the-dribble shooters in the game, and he has a release point that becomes pretty second-nature by the end of your first game.
If you are enamored with athletic guards, I can see where the "intriguing" line ends with Curry. He has a tendency to get blocked more than I'd like going to the rim, and don't dare think you're getting a strip-steal off a turnover. With athleticism and speed tending to get heightened in the video game setting, it's guys like Curry who usually wind up playing worse than they actually are.
In NBA 2K14, that isn't the case. The game's use of spacing and the artificial intelligence's understanding of where to be on the floor allows guys like Curry to sometimes get open even away from the dribble. And in those moments where the little red flame appears under his name, you'll instantly understand why Curry is worthy of an early first-round pick in fantasy drafts.
Bradley Beal (SG, Washington Wizards, 75 OVR)
Those who spent countless hours with their noses buried in NBA 2K13 know exactly where this is coming from. Last season, Bradley Beal was arguably the most unstoppable young player in the entire game. Gifted with a near-perfect shot release, quickness off the dribble and a ton of athleticism, the Wizards guard was the type of rookie we all wished we could be in My Career.
There were two types of players in NBA 2K13 Association Mode: Those who did everything in their power to pilfer Beal from Washington, and those who were doing it wrong.
Thankfully, from a realism standpoint, Beal isn't as dominant in NBA 2K14. Adjustments to the defensive artificial intelligence and the feel of the game as a whole have lessened the impact of players in his strata. Some of his video-gamey tendencies, like the ability to warp-speed dunk, have also been toned down.
That said, don't mistake some toned-down tendencies with Beal suddenly being a useless player. Outside of the Kobe Bryants, Dwyane Wades and other typical selections, the second-year guard is still easily among the most entertaining at his position. You can't tone down the first-step quickness, shooting and athleticism too much—because that's who Beal is as a player.
He's also a strong developmental talent, with a solid "potential" score that vaults him near the top of the shooting guard crop within a couple years. The timing on his jumper is also easy to get down, and it doesn't get blocked a ton, which can sometimes be a problem with smaller guards. (Right, Eric Gordon?)
If you're the type inclined to fantasy draft your team, Beal-Curry could make a deadly shooting backcourt.
Andre Drummond (C, Detroit Pistons, 72 OVR)
I'm not sure if you've heard this or not: The traditional big man is a dying breed. Oh, you have? From literally every NBA writer on the planet? Oh, OK then.
Drummond is one of the so-called last vestiges of the traditional big. He's a 20-year-old man-child, equipped with a solid 270-pound body and the strength to bully nearly any big man down in the post. He's also a springy athlete, looking almost like an evolutionary Tyson Chandler while showing flashes of promise as a roll man in pick-and-rolls and blocking nearly three shots per 36 minutes as a rookie.
Playing with the Pistons a few times, you can sense Drummond's presence instantly. He skies well for rebounds, commands a presence inside defensively and finishes well at the rum, though he's a liability in most other areas of the offense. Even though his 72 overall rating puts him in a tie for 25th best among centers, maybe five of them are appreciably better within the context of the game.
What makes Drummond more fun from an Association standpoint is that he's still such a raw prospect. He's an abysmal free-throw shooter (37.1 percent) in real life, and the game accurately represents those struggles. If you somehow manage to time his free-throw juuust right, you might be able to turn him into a 50-percenter.
Drummond also struggles with most facets of offense that do not involve dunking in the game. He's a bit turnover prone down on the low block, either by dribbling the ball awkwardly when using post moves or making mistakes when doubled in the post.
The great thing about Association mode: You can work out these kinks. Work with him in the camps offered within the mode—both during the season and in the offseason—and allow one or two years of natural progression. By the time Drummond is 22 or 23, he's a formidable beast without most of the foibles.
Which, of course, is exactly what Pistons fans want to hear.
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