Two consecutive playoff exits as the No. 1 seed. Six consecutive first-round exits from tournaments and playoffs alike, dating back to the 2018 Turn tournament. More importantly, zero trophies and just one banner to show from two years of being the best team in the NBA 2K League during the regular season.
Where does Blazer5 Gaming go from here?
Breaking up the Mama/Walnut tandem is a mistake. The two stars provide the most crucial of cores to a winning team. They’re a stellar pick and roll combo and are both terrific defenders. Walnut won MVP and Defensive Player of the Year in season one, and Mama is the presumptive MVP favorite this year. On top of that, they’re good friends, and having two stars who can coexist amicably is much different from just having two stars.
The first step is hiring a coach. The team has never had a coach in two years, and while Esports Operations Director Cameron McAlees wears the headset during games, the majority of the tactical strategy and lineup decisions are made by the players, primarily the core of Mama, Walnut and LavishPhenom.
Time to get a coach…
In this series, they needed a coach. The massive pro-Warriors crowd had the Blazers rattled immediately, and the Blazers conceded a staggering 28-7 advantage to the Warriors after one quarter. They fought back there and in the second game, but a coach will help settle emotions, add a calming voice and most importantly allow the player to concentrate on their play rather than thinking.
That core, while stellar on the court, has made some questionable (in hindsight) decisions. In season one, Gbark2k (now Mavs Gaming’s Grant Monster) was one of the best shooters in the league, but the team benched him and moved power forward DatBoyShotz (now of Hawks Talon GC) to the three, putting Jomar into the lineup for the playoffs. They lost to Knicks Gaming in a one-game quarterfinal.
Over the offseason, the protection/retention system admittedly did them no favors. DatBoyShotz, the league’s best third option last season, was the clear-cut top expansion pick after teams were allowed to protect only two players before the expansion draft. He would have fit in well this year, adding an extremely talented third option—either post scorer or stretch four—beside the Mama/Walnut pick and roll.
This year, the team traded the No. 17 overall pick to Bucks Gaming for King_Peroxide. Peroxide averaged 13 points per game across 11 regular-season games, shooting 49% from the field and 42% from three. Jomar once again made his way into the lineup late in the year and had some great moments, including a game-winning dunk over Grizz Gaming. He scored 11.6 points per game on 57% shooting (47% from three). But he’s a slasher, though, not a secondary ballhandler or a sharpshooter.
But Jomar in the lineup—and Peroxide as well, at times—exposed a key weakness in the Blazer5 core. The team leans so heavily on Mama and Walnut that when they need to turn elsewhere, they often don’t succeed. Warriors Gaming Squad’s defense suffocated the Blazer5 offense, holding them to just 10-for-29 shooting from beyond the arc (34%). Going up against the best pick and roll defense in the league, Gradient and Type, the Blazers were frustrated and held in check more than ever. They had no one to turn to to briefly relieve Mama.
They’ll have another late first-round draft pick this season. They’re still a contender, despite two straight bitter disappointments. They have to make that first-round pick count, and they can’t trade it for an asset that will wind up sitting on the bench come playoff time. Their drafting history is impressive, highlighted by Walnut and Mama in 2018 and then nabbing Daveed at the end of the second round in 2019. The Mama/Walnut/Lavish/Jomar core is the core of a serious title contender (Jomar is a terrific sixth man, and don’t forget that Lavish is a solid sharp as well). But they need more, no matter what the meta—Mama’s point guard-driven play, Walnut’s paint mashing—will be in season three.
They’re shaken now, and must bounce back. It won’t be easy. But they’re still 26-4 and still a dominant team.
Next year, however, they need to be dominant when it counts.