NBA 2K21 Review: Not Really an Upgrade

NBA 2K21 is as fantastic on the court as ever, but too little has changed to get excited about the latest edition of the franchise.
Every game in the decades-old NBA 2K series has hit consoles between September and November in time for the leadup to the next NBA season. Makes sense, right? But what happens when, come early September, the pros are still trying to complete the previous campaign because of, oh, I don’t know, a global pandemic that has disrupted just about everything in the world in one way or another? You get NBA 2K21, a game that feels too much like last year’s model.

The game actually makes for a great metaphor for the 2019-20 NBA season. The on-court action is as good as ever, both in the league’s bubble at Disney’s Wide World of Sports in Orlando, Florida and in 2K21. The virtual basketball is just as smooth as the real thing. Quality simulation gameplay has always been the hallmark of the franchise, and that’s no different this year.

But that metaphor works two ways because, just like the real thing, NBA 2K21 is stuck in last season. With no NBA Draft to bring in an influx of new, young talent, there are no rookies. Offseason player movement hasn’t occurred yet, either. Nobody can accuse NBA 2K21 of being just a roster update from the previous game, because it isn’t even that.

The fact that there are no rookies yet created an embarrassing situation when I dipped into MyLeague, the almost completely ignored — from an upgrade standpoint — suite of modes. Playing through MyGM, I guided the Toronto Raptors through a fantastic 2020-21 regular season, having upgraded my lineup with an early-season trade for perennial All-Star Blake Griffin and locking up the best record in the NBA. Upon completion of the 82-game campaign, I looked through some of the awards honorees to find that none of the players on my 68-win team were honored as either All-NBA or All-Defensive selections. Okay, sure, that can happen I guess. Unusual, but not bizarre.

Here’s where it gets strange. I had skipped past the Rookie of the Year winner because I didn’t have any rookies. Turns out that the other teams didn’t have any either. In fact, the options for one of the NBA’s more notable postseason awards were so low that the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Dylan Windler took home the trophy. Windler, a second-round pick in the 2019 NBA Draft who missed this season due to injury, remained a rookie because he didn’t appear in any games, unlike real-life winner Ja Morant or No. 1 overall pick Zion Williamson. What makes Windler such a strange award winner are his season averages: 0.0 points, 0.3 rebounds, 0.0 assists, 0.0 steals, 0.0 blocks.

The MyLeague modes offer no alternative to starting in the 2020-21 season without any new rookies. Well, it does present an option to “Start In Offseason,” but it is designated as “NOT AVAILABLE” for some reason. That means you can’t opt to do a 2020 NBA Draft to inject new blood with made-up players. For that matter, there’s no free agency period before the season starts, and all upcoming free agents are treated as if they signed one-year deals. My Raptors had just one player still under contract after winning the championship: Pascal Siakam. Every other roster spot was open.

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