In the NBA 2K League’s second season we have seen the entire landscape of elite teams change. Among the newcomers to the top of the league’s ranks, Kings Guard Gaming has rebounded from a disappointing inaugural season.
Kings Guard Gaming came into the year facing many obstacles. It finished 4-10 in season one, placing them in the bottom three teams of the league. Then, on the day of the 2019 entry draft, star player Timelycook was suspended for the duration of season two, with the team getting merely a third-round pick in compensation to help fill out its roster.
Yet, Kings Guard never waivered.
The organization showed it did its homework. While season one’s unit proved to lack cohesion on the court, the Kings carefully put together a squad that would fit well together.
The results have been a drastic change from season one: Kings Guard Gaming currently sits at 10-5 with one game remaining in the regular season and in almost-guaranteed position to make the postseason.
Another key difference between this iteration of the team compared to last year’s is the presence of head coach DJ Layton, who has helped reconstruct a roster that was once in turmoil and navigate the team through tense off-the-court situations.
With the addition of coach Layton, it signaled a changing of the guard (no pun intended). Throughout season two, you have seen an entirely different identity with Kings Guard Gaming. Every player seems to be embracing their role and buying into the goal of winning a championship.
We spoke with Layton to get his thoughts on the season so far and what to expect from Kings Guard Gaming as we head into the final weeks of regular season and playoff action.
DIMER: So it’s pretty much official, Kings Guard Gaming is a playoff team in season two. Can you explain what that feels like after so many people counted you out early in the season?
DJ Layton: Until it becomes official we won’t be celebrating anything, but I will say to be in the position we are in feels great. Coming into the season we were almost dead last in projections and power rankings and I think that actually just gave our guys extra motivation and made everyone hungrier. Especially Colt, who went through a tough year last year and was the only returning player.
D: Kings Guard didn’t have the best first season. They also didn’t have a coach. Then, not too long before the draft, they officially announced your hire. What were your expectations for this team when they decided to bring you on board?
DL: My goal for this team was always playoffs. I had 10-plus pages of notes on the team before I even knew I had a chance at being brought in to lead them into season two. I felt like I knew exactly what the team needed in order to be successful and reach our team goals.
D: Kings Guard had a highly regarded draft, as far as talent, in season one but it never seemed to figure out things as far as winning. What did you feel you could bring to this team that was lacking from the first season?
DL: I think the big thing for us this year was finding a group of guys who were a specialist in some aspect of NBA 2K. Last year I believe that’s where some of the problems may have been. They didn’t have a true point guard and they had two guys who could be really good at center but didn’t know who was going to play what.
This year we brought in a true point guard in BP, we didn’t bring in another center because we had Colt, and we brought in Seem as the sharp to fill out our offense. Then we attacked the defense with Zakky, Yusuf and Roman.
D: I brought up how they officially hired you a little bit before the draft, and at that point the roster consisted of retained players WorthingColt and Timelycook. Then on draft day, the league announced the unfortunate season-long suspension of Timelycook. Rightfully so, many expected this to be a major blow for you guys. Could you explain your thoughts hearing the news and how that may have changed your draft plans that night?
DL: Losing Cook was definitely a blow to our organization. He is arguably the best defensive 2K player in the world and there’s no way to replace someone like that. We definitely had to switch some things around come draft night with our strategy.
After round two, we knew we had to fill in our defense so we used our last three picks on guys who we thought could bring a defensive presence to our team.
D: So I’m glad you brought that up: you select three guys who play the lockdown position, similar to Timelycook. Zakyy and Yusuf emerge, as the season progressed, as the two main defenders on the team. Was the thought process with the decision—to take all three guys—to just pick the three best available defenders and hope at least one could supplant the production of Timelycook?
DL: I had a little strategy going into it. Yusuf and Zakky have two different playstyles when it comes to defense. Zakky was an aggressive on-ball lock all year in Pro-Am while Yusuf had excelled as an off-ball lock in Pro-Am and was versatile. The mix of those guys has been great for us this year. We knew one specific player wasn’t going to give us Cook’s production, it was going to have to come from team defense and communication.
D: So let’s fast forward, the season begins and you guys draw arguably the toughest group at the Tipoff. You don’t make it out of that group and everyone has you at the bottom of their power rankings. First couple weeks, you split your matchups but then you rattle off an impressive six-game win streak in the regular season. Could you speak on how you guys were able to do so, regardless of the outside noise?
DL: As an athlete and a competitor, the outside noise should never have an impact on your work, work ethic, or focus when it comes to your craft. You’re always going to have critics, media and social media saying things that aren’t true or trying to create drama. But the great players and teams learn how to put that aside when it’s time to lock in. That mid-season run we had was definitely a confidence booster for everyone and it helped us find our identity.
D: Speaking of identity, many teams have been trying different lineup after different lineup and have been unsuccessful all season long in finding that identity. However, even when the going got tough for you guys, you still pretty much stuck it out with the same lineup, outside of substituting Roman and Yusuf a couple of times at the beginning of the year. Was it always your intention to live and die by this lineup?
DL: Yeah, I mean I think it’s the best lineup for our group of guys and what we do. It fits everyone’s playstyle and I think trusting and believing in the five I’ve put out there since week two has given everyone a sense of confidence. We’ve definitely used scrimmages and practices to try some different things out but when it came down to game planning for teams I never wanted to over think anything. I knew what our five was capable of and they’ve shown it multiple times. It’s just up to them to go out and execute.
D: An underrated part about your team is the role players. Not many people give credit to the guys doing the dirty work but there was a stretch when teams literally game planned for you guys by doubling BP and testing to see who else could beat them. That was around the same time as your winning streak. Could you speak on the importance of that production from your role players throughout this season?
DL: Yeah, getting the production like we have from our players has been a key to our success this year. Everyone is doing their role to perfection almost. Our point guard and shooting guard are both averaging 15-plus points per game, our center is top-five in rebounds, Yusuf leads the league in blocks and 3P% while Zakky is also in the top-ten for 3P%. Everyone has done an amazing job so far doing what they need to do and it’s showing.
D: And speaking of stars, point guard BP has been talked about as a potential Rookie of the Year this season. Not even just as a rookie, BP is considered one of the best point guards in the game. Being a former college point guard in real life and also a point guard in the game of 2K yourself, could you explain how you’ve been able to relate to BP in that regard?
DL: Point guard is definitely the most difficult position to play this year. You have so many responsibilities and your team relies on you very heavily for a lot of things including scoring, getting everyone involved, communicating and setting up the offense. Not to mention you have to do all of this while you have a lock chasing you 94 feet and a sharpshooting rim protector, most times, right there if you beat the lock.
I’ve been patient with BP this year. His progression from the Tipoff tournament has definitely been a bright spot for us. I’ve challenged him to learn and work on his passing and IQ decisions. We all know he’s right up there as one of the best ball handlers and scorers in this league already. And if he wants to take his game to the next level, he knows what he needs to work on and has been doing so in practice and games.
D: So, the biggest issue for you guys seems to be tournaments this year, as you have no finals appearances as of yet. With the playoffs only a couple weeks away, what do you guys feel you need to focus on improving the most to make that final run at the title?
DL: We still feel like we have another level of basketball that we haven’t reached yet. We will definitely be using our bye weeks to focus and tighten up certain things in preparation for the Jazz week 12 and the playoffs following that if we earn a spot.
D: Coach of the year has been brought up here and there throughout the season, whether on live broadcast or by the community on Twitter. Your name gets mentioned quite a bit. This time, last year, did you ever see yourself in the position you are in today, as a coach of a playoff team in the 2K League and a potential Coach of the Year candidate?
DL: No, definitely not. To be in the position I’m in with the 2K League is a blessing in general. I’ve been full-time coaching basketball for a career for the last five years and I have been playing 2K my whole life. So being able to put my two passions together is honestly a dream.
If not for our players and staff producing like they have and working as hard as they do, none of this is possible anyways. We are focused on winning a title and any accolades that come after that would just be an extra blessing.
D: Obviously the end goal is a championship. But at this point, what are you most proud of accomplishing so far this season?
DL: Honestly, just seeing the individual player progression and team progression that we’ve had this year. We’ve fought through so many things this year and I’m just super proud of how everyone has stayed the course to make sure we accomplish what we set out from day one.
D: Last thing, What is one thing someone tuning into the broadcast for the first time should know about Kings Guard Gaming?
DL: Man, if you like exciting plays, exciting dribbles, crazy second half comebacks and a lot of trash talking then make sure you come watch Kings Guard Gaming games!