Next up in our “Seasons in Review” series, we take a look at Grizz Gaming, who wasn’t nearly as bad as they initially looked in season one.
Check out the latest installment of this series, where we took a look at Bucks Gaming, who struggled to find their identity all season long.
Current roster: AuthenticAfrican, UniversalPhenom
Offseason transactions: None
Draft picks: 1st round (7th overall), 2nd (27th), 3rd (42nd), 4th (59th)
The Good: As far as rebounds go in the NBA 2K League, Grizz Gaming was second only to Magic Gaming, and I’m not talking about on-the-court rebounds. After their poor performance at The Tipoff, the Grizz were the butt of many jokes in the community and widely predicted to finish in last, and deservedly so. Grizz Gaming kept it close against Heat Check during group play but was thoroughly embarrassed in every other matchup, losing by a combined 77 points to CLTX Gaming, Pacers Gaming and Mavs Gaming, including a 91-52 shellacking at the hands of the Mavs. And while the team only finished 6-8, they played a whole hell of a lot better in the regular season than in the opening tournament and certainly were not the worst team in the league.
Fueling that rebound was AuthenticAfrican, the proven most versatile superstar in the league. The Canadian was a pleasant surprise for the Grizz—an understatement—playing at an elite level at center, small forward and point guard and nearly taking a team which, let’s face it, wasn’t exactly oozing with quality, to the playoffs. The highlight of the season was AA scoring 84 (84!!!) points in a triple overtime thriller against 76ers Gaming in week 10, cementing his status as a true franchise cornerstone.
The Bad: Now imagine if AuthenticAfrican had a first-round pick to work with. The Grizz all but wasted the 15th slot in the draft on Winner_Stayz_On, who put up good combine numbers (first among all point guards in assists per game) but couldn’t get on the court. Internal issues were obvious, subtweets from teammates abounded and while we don’t know everything that went on behind the scenes, Winner ended up the 6th man. I don’t doubt that Winner could be a good player on the right team in the right system, but that team and system was not the season one Grizz.
It also took just a bit too long for GM/coach Lang Whitaker to adjust to 2K gameplay. Whitaker is an NBA guy more than a 2K guy, and his inexperience showed in the early going. The need to be a tactical mastermind in season one was eased a bit with the strength of the Shot-creating Slasher and having a guy like AA to run it, but I wouldn’t count on something like that in season two. Plus, the defense was an absolute mess (dead last in points per game allowed, per 2K Analytics). Whether that was a talent issue or a coaching issue would need more intense scrutiny, but it was obvious rotations and communication were lacking. But as I’ve said before in these reviews, having a guy around who came into the league inexperienced and unknowledgeable on 2K is less of a problem in season two.
The Good: When you have AuthenticAfrican, how bad can things possibly be? As far as 6-8 and worse teams go, that’s a pretty good situation to be in. Find the right point guard in the draft and you’re really cooking. UniversalPhenom is no slouch either and was the clear-cut second option most of the season (though you could make an argument for DDouble toward the end there). With a more experienced Whitaker and an increased confidence that this team can find its footing early better than last season, all you potentially need is one more piece at 7th overall to become a threat. And with the versatility of AA, you may not even need to go for a point guard at 7.
The Bad: If the Grizz whiff on their picks, boy are they in trouble. I said UniversalPhenom was the second choice in Memphis in season one but if it remains that way I don’t see Grizz Gaming going far. This team truly needs a second star to line up with AA every week if it wants to keep up with the quality teams that have only added talent this offseason. Two wasted first round picks in a row is not a good way to build a franchise.
Also those aforementioned coaching issues could be a problem still. AuthenticAfrican is a decent crutch, but you can’t depend on the Shot-creating Slasher and 5-Out forever. The defense was an obvious issue. Whitaker will have to elevate his own game if he wants to get the most out of his squad. Is he up to it? We’ll see.
The Big Question
How do you build around AuthenticAfrican?
This is the number one thing that should be on the mind of Lang Whitaker. You have the face of your franchise, now who do you surround him with? I mentioned them picking a point guard with the 7th pick in the entry draft mostly because AA has been playing at center in 2K19. But you don’t necessarily need to do that. You can get creative with a player like AA leading your team. Need AA to play the point? Sure. Need him at small forward? No problem. I said in my Bucks review that it’s okay for them to pass on a PG to go for the best player available. I think the same can be said for the Grizz here, and I think it’s a much more viable strategy for them. With the decreased importance of inside scoring in 2K19 so far, though, it’s a fair question to ask whether you even want AuthenticAfrican at center. A lot of different things can be done here.
And beyond the 7th pick, what do you go for with the rest of your draft? One more versatile player would do this team some wonders. Some shooting would also help—the Grizz were 4th-last in three-point percentage in season one. You also need to figure out where UniversalPhenom fits into all of this.
The big question of “how do you build around AA” comes with a lot of smaller questions. It’s these details and how the Grizz answer them that will determine their future success.