It shouldn't come as any surprise to hear that Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic is one of the highest-rated players in the upcoming NBA 2K22 game from developer Visual Concepts.
Doncic is the game's cover star on its base edition when it launches Friday, an honor well earned after an epic start to his career that happens to see him rated among the best of the best on the digital courts.
As always, player ratings are a massive point of hype during the run up to each annual installment's release. Here's a look at the top-rated players in this year's game:
- LeBron James: 96
- Kevin Durant: 96
- Stephen Curry: 96
- Giannis Antetokounmpo: 96
- Joel Embiid: 95
- Kawhi Leonard: 95
- Nikola Jokic: 95
- Luka Doncic: 94
- James Harden: 94
- Damian Lillard: 94
- Jayson Tatum: 90
Note that 2K is once again going for a more grounded approach to player ratings. There's no "99 Club" like the one found in Madden, and there certainly isn't a player flirting with triple digits.
As of now, just four players boast a 96 rating. Doncic checks in just two points lower as one of three names at a 94, and Jayson Tatum's 90 is the last before things drop off into the 80s.
Granted, ratings will swing dramatically once the season starts. Some will climb, some will fall. For now, we're left debating on whether a reigning MVP like Nikola Jokic—the first center to win the award since Shaquille O'Neal two decades ago—should be the highest-rated player in the game.
Maybe the biggest other point of contention right now is that four-point gap between Tatum and Damian Lillard.
Even Tatum himself wasn't too thrilled:
There are layers to any conversation about player ratings, though. It's hard to even sort them by positions anymore. Jokic and Embiid are technically the highest-rated centers of course. But somebody like LeBron James technically has a classification as a point guard and forward.
They all impact the digital game differently, too. Stephen Curry might be the same 96 overall as Giannis Antetokounmpo, but the way they take over games is totally different. One likes range, the other is a slasher.
As an aside, 2K Sports also issued the top-rated rookies, which is a more cut-and-dry affair without major surprises:
The one thing to keep in mind about any ratings conversation these days is that...it's not as important as it used to be. Curry is a 96, sure, but his three-point rating is a 99, with no other player in the league coming within four points. Zion Williamson doesn't appear on the 90-plus overall list, but he's got a league-best 97 dunk rating.
The game has also made efforts to better individualize each player. Stars have signature moves and overall feels that make them unique when using them on the court. It's aimed at getting even closer to the perfect simulation, but the other side effect is it ends up negating some of the impact of overall ratings. Players won't necessarily care if Zion isn't a 90-plus if he's bullying everyone in the paint unlike anything else in the game.
This is something heavily reflected in one of this year's noteworthy biggest upgrades to gameplay: The transition of signature dribble moves from pre-canned animations to being controlled directly by the player.
A developer diary explained:
"KD's big hesi crosses, Harden's around/thru the leg moves, Steph's quick machine gun crosses, and Luka's methodical rock back and forth dribbles are all now under the gamer's direct control rather than a preset movie. The speed stick that we introduced on new gen last year also returns. So flicking the stick quickly results in quicker dribbles while slower flicks give you more rhythmic ones. There are around 50 unique signature size-up packages to choose from, each with its own distinct advantages."
Still, overall ratings are the most front-facing representation of how players stack up in the latest release before it actually goes live. It's also fun to debate whether the ratings got it right or made a big omission.
As always, these are launch ratings—effectively placeholders until the season begins and things start changing. The game is released Friday, when players can get their hands on the freshly-rated players and revamped gameplay tweaks for themselves.