Next up in our “Seasons in Review” series, we take a look at Blazer5 Gaming, who raced out to the league’s best regular-season record on the strength of two MVP candidates.
Check out the latest installment of this series, where I evaluated the highs and lows of Pistons GT and how life will change after Ramo.
Current roster: OneWildWalnut, MamaImDatMan, King_Peroxide, LavishPhenom
Protections: OneWildWalnut, MamaImDatMan
Offseason transactions: Acquired King_Peroxide from Bucks GG for a first-round pick. Retained LavishPhenom at the cost of a third-round pick.
Draft picks: 2nd round (36th overall), 4th (69th)
The Good: There’s a ton of good to cover. B5 became the first team to sweep their TIPOFF group, making the Finals. They rampaged through the TURN en route to win, still the most dominant stretch in league history. They started the regular season 6-0. They nabbed the league’s best regular-season record, at 12-2. Blazer5 featured two MVP candidates; Walnut and Mama combined for a remarkable pick-and-roll combo. Walnut won MVP and took home DPOY honors as well. The Blazers finished in the top 3 of nearly every single offensive metric and far outpaced the league in both points and rebounds per game. They were the No. 1 seed for a more-than-obvious reason.
The Bad: The Blazers faltered late. They were shocked by the Kings in the opening round of the TICKET, and looked nowhere near their early dominant self in the last few weeks of the season. A late lineup change and an epically unlucky animation contributed to Blazer5’s second shocking upset of the season, this in the first round of the playoffs at the hands of eventual champion Knicks Gaming. Beyond that, there’s not much to complain about. The perimeter defense wasn’t quite as strong as the interior defense, and the team perhaps didn’t integrate Shotz as well as they could have post-patch… but that’s about it.
The Good: Literally no one else can return two MVP candidates and the MVP himself. That’s the kind of talent Blazer5 will have going for them in 2019. The team likes LavishPhenom a lot, and consequently he’ll be back for season two. They traded their first-round pick to Bucks Gaming for King_Peroxide, a capable secondary scorer whom they hope can replace Shotz. It’s a classic contender-mode trade, and it helps that Peroxide just happens to be playing extremely well on NBA 2K19. But the future is all about Walnut and Mama, and that’s a pretty good future to have.
The Bad: Important third option Shotz is gone, selected by Hawks Talon GC with the first pick in the expansion draft. The Blazers are betting their first-round pick that King_Peroxide is capable enough to replace Shotz’s output. That’s not necessarily the most cost-effective gamble, but everything’s made more comfortable by the cushy safety net provided by Walnut and Mama. That sort of safety net makes everything, including having just two draft picks, a lot more viable.
The Big Question
Is this the year?
It’s championship or bust for Blazer5. That’s the mindset of the players and of the organization after trading a first-rounder for Peroxide and swapping a third-rounder to retain Lavish.
This could be the year. Blazer5 was the best bet all season long, and might well have won it all had the first round of the playoffs been in a series format (or perhaps not; the Knicks just had their second magical run). They have two bona fide stars and they believe they’ve got the right complementary piece. They’ll have another year of experience in late-game situations, and manager Cameron McAlees will be even better at the whole 2K thing in 2019.
It also might not be. The league might catch up to Walnut and Mama. Can Walnut win MVP, or play at an MVP level again? I think he can, but the talent gap won’t be as large this season. There’s no guarantee that Peroxide perfectly replaces Shotz. The Blazers looked shaky late in the season and flinched from their implacable lineup integrity. Do they have the right balance of change and constancy to get over the hump?
This could well be the year for Blazer5 Gaming. It may well have to be.