How does NBA 2K decide ratings for rookies? We asked the developers

One of the more exciting moments for a first-time professional basketball player is when they finally learn their official NBA 2K ratings.

HoopsHype spoke to Mike Stauffer, who serves as a producer on the product development side of the video game, to learn more about this process. His group works with the game-play team to decide the official ratings of all players included on NBA rosters.

(Obsessive fans who play the MyLeague mode in the game may also recognize Stauffer as one of the computer-generated head coaches hired by franchises when simulating the offseason.)

This year, even before the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the developers had a tough task evaluating the incoming rookie class because several top prospects had atypical paths to the NBA.

The Golden State Warriors selected James Wiseman with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2020 NBA draft even though, due to eligibility issues, he played just three collegiate games. LaMelo Ball, who was drafted at No. 3 overall by the Charlotte Hornets, had a road far from traditional due to stops in Lithuania and New Zealand before coming to the league.

“Every rating is a projection and when there is less sample size, it is going to be trickier to nail those projections,” said Stauffer. “Even general manager and coaches have trouble figuring out who the best player to take is when it comes to the draft.”

Of course, due to COVID-19, the assessment process suddenly became even more complicated than previously expected. Crucial scouting events like the NCAA March Madness Tournament and the scrimmages during the NBA draft combine. Both events were canceled this year, which made matters more complicated.

Stauffer said that ratings are mostly based on statistics recorded in college or overseas. He said that, like front offices, developers watch tons of in-game footage and study in-depth breakdowns to make everything as accurate as possible.

Developers can look at field goal percentage from each zone on the floor to determine strengths and weaknesses. Defensive metrics like blocks and steals translate pretty well, too.

He admits that their method can have its obvious shortcomings when it is all said and done. For example, there is always going to be information that stats cannot explain, whether it is because of defensive schemes or otherwise.

But according to Stauffer, the goal is for everyone on rosters to have a formula-based starting point for their ratings.

“During a year like this one, where the sample size is smaller, there is going to be a lot more variability and it is going to be tougher for the statistics to show the full picture,” said Stauffer. “We are trying to make the ratings as accurate as possible without having the full picture like we usually do.”

One misconception is that the “shipped ratings” that a player receives when the season starts are finalized, which is how it worked on older consoles when folks purchased a disc at the store.

But in reality, Stauffer and his team are making constant updates to rosters and ratings. This happens every other week and it reflects how the players are playing during the regular season.

It would be hard to forget what happened to 2018 No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz, who had an impressive rating out of the box. After his injuries and his shocking shooting struggles, the developers were quick to adjust accordingly.

“If he doesn’t perform like an 81 then we are very quick to change the rating,” said Stauffer. “We always keep a close eye on the rookies to see what happens when they actually see NBA action.”

But for every case of a Fultz there is a Brandon Clarke. The Grizzlies forward was one of the biggest risers during his rookie season, according to Stauffer, starting at 73 and improving to 80 by the time the season ended.

When players improve that drastically, it reminds Stauffer of when Hassan Whiteside famously recorded a triple-double with 12 blocks in a game. During his postgame interview, he exclaimed that he was simply trying to get his 2K rating up.

Once the season starts and NBA data for rookies become more formalized and players like Anthony Edwards and Patrick Williams step on the floor, expect their ratings to adjust often and accordingly.

“The information on these players is so limited. It would have been really nice to have been able to see them in March and have all the information,” said Stauffer. “But I can’t wait to get next season started, get these new rookies in the game and see how good they really are.”

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