It’s difficult to explain why, but each year, 2K Sports creates a social media firestorm with the release of NBA player rankings. They’ve mastered the art of strategy, knowing exactly which player rating releases are going to start the dialogue. For some players — think Miles Bridges — it’s a cause for motivation to get better. For others, such as Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard, it’s validation, as well as an opportunity to further introduce himself into the national spotlight. Over the last few seasons, Lillard has graduated from star to superstar to megastar, largely because his on-court success calibrates well with his off-court popularity. That was exemplified in Lillard’s 2K22 rating, a 94, which placed him among the NBA’s 10 best players.
For the Trail Blazers to return to form as a team capable of making a push to the Western Conference Finals and beyond, the need for internal improvement will be pivotal. Players such as Nassir Little and Anfernee Simons will be tasked with making seismic leaps, and mainstays such as CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic need to find ways to ascend beyond their normal levels. Here, we’ll make our predictions on how they’re likely to be rated, as well as looking into what they can do going forward.
Current Ratings + Rating Predictions:
NBA 2K21 — 86
NBA 2K22 — 86
One could argue that McCollum put together an excellent case for an upgrade worth a point or two. The 29-year-old is coming off of the highest-scoring season of his career, one that doubled as the second-most efficient in his NBA tenure. He also facilitated at a career rate, and, stagnated as it may be, rebounded at around the same frequency as usual.
We’ve already touched on a few ways McCollum can improve, regardless of his rating on a video game, and a substantial portion of that boils down to building upon last year’s shot diet. What holds him back is that he’s coming off one of his “weaker” postseason runs. Part of the trade-off of having a defensively deficient backcourt is that McCollum and Damian Lillard have to raise their games to astronomical levels — or at least something tangibly higher than in the regular season — come the NBA Playoffs. The latter did, the former didn’t, and that keeps McCollum in that boat as a top-30-ish player, with some give-or-take.
NBA 2K21 — 81
NBA 2K22 — 83
The ascension for Powell has been steady and consistent. He entered last season with a 77 overall and ended it Kobe-style with an 81. His pockets are now $90 million heavier, but it’s a reasonable assumption that it won’t hold him down.
The caveat for Powell will be in what 2K values more: his 42-game Toronto run, where he had career-high marks in field goal percentage, 3-point percentage and points per game, or his slightly-less-spectacular 27-game cameo in Portland. Even defensively, the differences are night-and-day. You know who ranked as one of the NBA’s premier pick-and-roll defenders last season? Norman Powell in Toronto. You know who also ranked among the dead last in the league? Norman Powell in Portland. Under a refined scheme that plays to his strengths, Powell could see an even higher boost in the coming years. For now, a two-point up feels realistic.
NBA 2K21 — 82
NBA 2K22 — 81
When used correctly, Jusuf Nurkic remains one of the NBA’s most uniquely-dynamic players across the NBA. Unfortunately, rhythm was a difficult thing to come by in 2020-21. Nurkic had 19 games with 10+ shots — Portland was an impressive 14-5 in such games — but he also had 20 games with fewer than 10 shots, and was a bit of a victim to this.
So long as Chauncey Billups’ words weren’t merely offseason talk, as has sometimes been the case with past Blazers coaches, Nurkic looks poised to be closer to the player he was at the end of last season, when he averaged 15.1 points, 11.0 rebounds, 3.6 assists, and 1.3 blocks on 56-67-64 percentage splits over his last 14 games. He also had career-highs in field goal percentage and both 3-point percentage and makes.
NBA 2K21 — 79
NBA 2K22 — 78
The “little things” are difficult to quantify in an actual game, and the same can be said in video game form. In Cody Zeller, the Blazers will have one of the NBA’s premier screen setters, someone who contests shots at an elite level around the rim, and roams the offensive glass with ferocity.
Those are ideal traits, particularly in a backup big, but Zeller had a bit of a down year following a career season in 2019-20. He failed to make good on a breakout year from 3-point range and saw slight droppages in his box score numbers after being a double-digit scorer in each of the last two seasons. The numbers suggest he could drop by a point or so.
NBA 2K21 — 77
NBA 2K22 — 77
We’ve come a long way from Covington’s first 13 games of his Blazers tenure, when he was struggling to crack 30 percent shooting from the field. Don’t look now, but Covington just had the most efficient 3-point shooting season of his career — although he sacrificed volume — and remained at his apex as an impactful defender.
77 is probably too low for a player who spent much of last season as his starting unit’s lone defensive positive. Portland had eight players play 1,000 minutes last season; only one of them, Covington, had a positive defensive box plus-minus. As I like to say, Portland’s defensive rating was No. 29 out of 30 last season with Covington. Without him, they’d have ranked 39th.
That should be enough to keep Covington from a regression, but many of his other raw numbers were his lowest since his rookie season. For the 2K players, perhaps Covington receives an upgrade in his off-ball pest or interceptor badges, but that’s likely as good as it gets for now.
NBA 2K21 — 76
NBA 2K22 — 77
Don’t mistake this as stating that Covington and Simons are on even ground; according to 2K, they have basically identical impact. Projecting Simons’ modest one-point boost is reasonable in that Simons has tangible improvements as a shooter. According to NBA.com’s John Schuhmann, he had the ninth-highest jump from season-to-season, going from 33.2 percent on 226 attempts in 2019-20 to 42.6 percent on 282 attempts in 2020-21. He’s also without peer or fear for that matter as a shooter, as a spot-up shooter, ranking No. 1 in the NBA under a few parameters.
Then, there’s the fascinating case study of his defense. Long gone are the days of him ranking 518th out of 520 players in defensive box plus-minus, as he did in 2019-20. This year, he made the jump to 340th. While it’s certainly nothing you’d brag out in open conversation, it does demonstrate Simons’ ability to make slow, steady improvements year-after-year.
Derrick Jones Jr.:
NBA 2K21 — 75
NBA 2K22 — 75
Despite the negative aura surrounding the end of Derrick Jones Jr.’s first season with the Blazers, it was, oddly enough, in some ways the most productive season of his career. He made slight jumps as a 3-point shooter, camping out in the left corner and hitting on a healthy 35.8 percent of his shots. Skill-wise there was no level of deterioration; he remained one of the NBA’s most versatile positional defenders and didn’t necessarily lose a beat athletically.
Which makes the case for him picking up 14 DNPs following the All-Star break all the more curious. With traits and specs that are too effective to have sitting on the bench, it’s likely that Jones Jr. is given the benefit of the doubt with a new coach before any talk of a potential decline begins.
NBA 2K21 — 74
NBA 2K22 — 74
Remember that statistic about Anfernee Simons having the ninth-highest jump in the NBA from season-to-season as a 3-point shooter? Take a wild guess on who No. 1 on that list was? Tony Snell. Snell went from a 40.2 percent shooter to a 56.9 percent one, headlining a season pockmarked by career-highs.
The caveat is that Snell sacrificed volume for those somewhat-historic numbers. This was the first season of his career in which he failed to log 1,000 minutes, and he averaged just 7.3 minutes in the postseason. So, while he could see a jump or two in his 3-point attributes, one has to wonder if he had enough repetitions to see a major jump.
NBA 2K21 — 73
NBA 2K22 — 74
Nassir Little hasn’t quite made the jump needed to necessitate a spot in Portland’s playoff rotation, but the positives in his sophomore season were that he stayed consistent to what his strengths were and added to his weaknesses. He made a jump from a 63.6 percent free throw shooter to an 80 percent one, upped his 3-point percentage by 12 percent on higher volume, and took steps forward shooting in the restricted and floater range area.
As Blazers Edge columnist Kyle Garcia noted, Little also made strides as a shot blocker and hustler, one of the few things that he had control over during an inconsistent 2020-21 season. Little’s breakout doesn’t yet have an ETA, but relative to his rookie season, there’s the possibility of a slight jump.
Harry Giles III
NBA 2K21 — 73
NBA 2K22 — 72
Despite a 348-minute sample size in Portland, it’s difficult to evaluate exactly what Harry Giles III is at this point. After shining during a standout preseason, Giles found minutes difficult to come by after right before and after the All-Star break.
This was Giles’ least productive season of his career, and for the most part, a lot of that had to do with an adjusted shot diet under Terry Stotts. Nearly a quarter of his shot attempts were 3-pointers, this coming after he only took two of them in 2020-21 with Sacramento. There also weren’t as many opportunities for Giles to showcase that high-post passing and vision as the overseer of that second unit. Under Chauncey Billups, perhaps he sees a resurgence. But for now, his career hasn’t been steady enough to suggest he’s immune to dropping by a point or so.
NBA 2K21 — 72
NBA 2K22 — 72
To this point in his career, Ben McLemore perhaps hasn’t reached the level that his Ray Allen draft comparisons would allude to, but he’s certainly been consistent. Save for a down year in 2018-19, he’s never averaged fewer than 7.5 points per game, utilizing a portable catch-and-shoot skillset that could translate well in Portland. McLemore isn’t necessarily a standout on defense, other than being aggressive and physical. It’s difficult to imagine the pendulum swinging in either direction with his rating.
NBA 2K21 — 68
NBA 2K22 — 68
Our most fulfilling memory of CJ Elleby is probably his breakout game against Philadelphia — the day Portland came in and blitzed the 76ers without Lillard and McCollum. But outside of that, his rookie season wasn’t enough to warrant a major jump. Elleby may have had a chance to build his hype train during the Summer League, but he was mostly unspectacular until the finale against Houston.
We know what Elleby is capable of; his 3-point shot isn’t super reliable to this point, and he can be susceptible to blow-bys, but he’s someone with a notable passing repertoire and a motor on the offensive glass. For now, it’s likely he stays steady.
Greg Brown III
NBA 2K21 — N/A
NBA 2K22: 69
Thus far, NBA 2K22 has released 63 different player ratings, the lowest being a two-way tie between Isaac Bonga (70) of the Washington Wizards and Santi Aldama of the Memphis Grizzlies. Without having ever played in an actual NBA game, it’s difficult to place him ahead of those players. He showcased some excellent potential with his above-the-rim game and out in transition in the Summer League, where he averaged 9.0 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks per game on 57.1 percent shooting. 2K22 has released the ratings of five rookies — Cade Cunningham, Jalen Green, Evan Mobley, Jalen Suggs, and Scottie Barnes — and each of them are above 75. One has to imagine Brown, a second-round pick, will be noticeably lower than that.
NBA 2K21 — N/A
NBA 2K22 — 67
Trendon Watford, the Blazers’ two-way signee, was an intriguing study during Summer League play. He doubled down on that versatility that helped him draw interest at LSU, averaging 5.8 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists, and 1.3 blocks in just 22.1 minutes of play. There’s a jack-of-all-trades to his playstyle, though it remains largely unclear what his best traits will be at the professional level. For now, he’s a work in progress and someone to monitor in the future. A mid-to-high 60s rating would be the safest place for now.