NBA 2K League This Week: How Raptors Uprising have become league’s best

Jake (Legit 973) Knapp, left to right, Maurice (ReeceMode) Flowers, Eric Trent (TimelyCook) Donald, Kenneth (KennyGotWork) Hailey, Gerald (Sick One) Knapp and Anthony (Wuan) Rivas are shown in this handout image provided by Raptors Uprising GC. (Raptors Uprising GC via CP)

Week 5 of the 2020 NBA 2K League is just about to get underway.

Here’s a quick look back at some of the highlights from Week 4 and what to expect coming into this week.

You can check out the NBA 2K League every Tuesday evening at 7:00 p.m. ET on Sportsnet ONE and Sportsnet NOW.

Uprising update

After a week off, Raptors Uprising GC has just one match this week.

In its Friday affair with Nets GC, the Uprising will surely be happy to get back to action and carry on the momentum that has catapulted them to the top of the standings, with a perfect 6-0 start to the season.

With nearly an entirely new roster, the Uprising was considered to be a wild card by many around the league this season. But thanks to a belief from MLSE esports manager Shane Talbot, who acts as the Uprising’s general manager and coach, the roster they’ve assembled around star point guard Kenneth “Kenny Got Work” Hailey has turned him into an MVP candidate and has made the Uprising the best team in the league.

The signs that the Uprising were poised to do something special came early, during pre-season, when Talbot noticed that Hailey had reached another level and the team constructed around him complemented him perfectly.

“The question marks around our team this year always were we know Kenny is an elite 2K player, he’s 100 per cent a professional 2K League player, but is he a top-of-the-league elite point guard?” Talbot asked. “We saw pretty quickly that yes, with the right team around him, the right strategy and the right aggressiveness from Kenny looking to score as opposed to looking to facilitate — which has been his tendency in the past — we saw that he was able to reach those heights.

“Then similarly, we play a three-game series and you could tell that second game they’d make some adjustments to stop Kenny and now all of a sudden the box score was completely evenly distributed, so we’d get efficient shooting all around. … So at that point I was like, ‘OK, we both have an elite point guard who can take the game into his own hands as well as a very strong team around him that can produce when we need them, too.’”

The results have been spectacular so far and a lot of this success can be attributed to the drafting Talbot did.

Only Hailey and centre Jerry “Sick One” Knapp were retained from last season’s team, meaning the rest of the roster had to be filled via the draft. Taking some input from Hailey and Knapp, Talbot constructed his roster primarily on the basis of cold, hard facts, leveraging advanced analytics to help identify the best fits for a team built around Hailey.

“We worked with our partner IBM to help us determine, through really advanced data analysis, are these players capable of performing at the level that they need to relative to the rest of the draft class?” Talbot asked. “We knew that the scouts, the community accounts who were looking to promote certain talent within the pro-am scene were not hyping up the guys that we were looking into. I don’t place a ton of value on the hive-mind mentality around who the top talent is just because for two seasons I’ve seen it be wrong really consistently.

“So we were a lot more comfortable going with really thorough discussion with our existing players who we trusted about whether these guys were the right fit and also looking at a really deep data analysis.”

This methodology worked for all but one player on the Uprising, Anthony “Wuan” Rivas, who Talbot explained clashed with the rest of the group. While Rivas is still a member of the team, he isn’t with the Uprising at the moment in the club’s gaming house.

Had Rivas also worked out, he would’ve been a very nice piece for the team to have. But as evidenced by the success of the club so far, the core pieces are certainly in place now and all they’ve done since getting together is win.

Unlike many teams, the Uprising has a certain — as Talbot put it — dynamic and flexibility that others simply don’t. Where as other teams try to exploit weaknesses within the NBA 2K game system, the Uprising has no need to do that and are able to just play basketball and adjust to strategies on the fly.

“What people like about watching Raptors Uprising right now is that we’re playing basketball,” Talbot said. “We’ve got a lot of different ways to score and we’ve got a really sound defence. We’re not trying to exploit things within the game where we spot an opportunity to rinse and repeat and easily score points.

“If you’re more limited to a single trick it becomes easier for your opponents to scout you and counter you.”

The Uprising are certainly not one-trick ponies, unless you count winning as a trick. In that case, this season they’ve certainly been the best at that so far.

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Around the league

The Uprising isn’t the only team that managed to play a flexible style. Other teams Talbot said have caught his eye so far include the fellow undefeated Warriors Gaming Squad, Wizards District Gaming, Mavs Gaming and Kings Guard Gaming.

These are all clubs near the top of the standings, so it’s not much of a surprise to see them listed. But given the change to a best-of-three setting in order to earn a win, Talbot believes the legitimacy of the league’s best shouldn’t be in doubt.

“Because of the best-of-three format this year I think we’re really seeing the teams get the wins that deserve the wins,” Talbot said. “So the standings are really a pretty true representation of the ability of the teams in the league.”

Included in this upper-echelon tier should certainly be Blazer5 Gaming, whose star point guard Neadal “Mama Im Dat Man” Nasser is not only the reigning MVP from last year, but looks to be picking up steam again after being named Week 4’s Player of the Week.

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