Trailing only the Brooklyn Nets, virtually unmarred by Kyrie Irving’s indefinite IRL absence, the Lakers’ 83 overall team rating is the second-best in this year’s edition of NBA 2K. After their two top-11 players, LeBron James (96 Overall) and Anthony Davis (93 Overall), and the 31st-ranked player, Russell Westbrook (86 Overall), the team’s roster levels off in the mid-70s.
No rotation player outside of the team’s Big Three has a rating higher than 78, or lower than 74. Of those tightly grouped 10, a few stand out as having a particularly good chance of boosting their in-game rating by a bundle of points before the season’s end.
Let’s go through who could earn the biggest reputation boost.
With their best years behind them, Dwight Howard (78 overall) and Carmelo Anthony (78 overall) are pretty much known quantities at this point in their respective careers. Although both have a chance to earn significant minutes in the Lakers’ rotation, it’s unlikely they do so by straying far from the kind of role player-level production we’ve seen out of them in recent years.
And although I expect Austin Reaves to earn real minutes in the Lakers’ rotation this season and contribute as a quality shooter and defender, he hasn’t yet been given a virtual counterpart. Without a base rating to start from, it’s impossible to say whether it might jump. However, if he’s given a rating in the 60s, as undrafted rookies often are, I wouldn’t at all be surprised to see Reaves make the biggest in-season ratings jump of any Laker if he starts to get significant playing time.
4. Kendrick Nunn (78 Overall)
Starting the season on the shelf due to a bone bruise in his knee doesn’t help his case, but the Lakers certainly expect big things from the fifth highest-paid player on the team. After two seasons in South Beach averaging just under 20 points per game on about league average shooting, Nunn took his talents to Hollywood for the mini-mid-level exception of $4.9M. While his 87-rated Outside Scoring leaves little room for improvement, Nunn’s 52-rated Defense could see some serious gains.
Given the chops as a chaser he displayed in the preseason, Frank Vogel may be able to extract more value from Nunn on defense than his reputation as a matador in Miami might suggest. And even if he’s able to prove his defensive mettle, it may be tough to continually affirm his offensive prowess and maintain his current rating on that end due to the Lakers’ other backcourt scorers’ head starts.
3. Malik Monk (76 overall)
After almost 20 minutes of run in the Lakers’ opener, it seems like Malik Monk’s torrid preseason may have earned himself an early opportunity to solidify some steady minutes.
While “The Microwave” was limited to just six points on three of five shooting, Monk’s two triples were indicative of his ability to heat up in an instant. If Monk emerges as a consistent bench scoring option for the Lakers, his 76 outside scoring should climb quickly. Still, his slight 6’4 frame limits his defensive upside as represented by his 55 rating on that end.
But with more room to grow than Nunn, Monk has a better chance to boost his overall rating as the season goes on.
2. Kent Bazemore (74 overall)
Entering the season with a 74 overall rating, Kent Bazemore seems like the exact kind of player traditionally awarded a mid-season 2K ratings boost. A wily vet with some distinct skills, Bazemore could be walking into the most significant role of his career on the best team he’s ever been a part of. Not once in his career has Bazemore ever averaged more than 30 minutes per game. Through two Laker contests, he’s at 27 per night, an average that would be the third-highest of his career. At 32 years old and on the Lakers for the second time in his 10th NBA season, Kent Bazemore may be quietly poised to take on his biggest challenge yet.
Among the Lakers' myriad wings, none have quite the combination of defensive versatility, basketball IQ, and shooting that Bazemore provides. While he’s unlikely to make major progress on his sub-70 Inside Scoring, Playmaking, or Rebounding, Bazemore may have the runway to prove himself an excellent defender, easily bringing his 70 rating in that category up into the 80s.
And after shooting a career-high 41% from long range last year, Bazemore has only to do it again in order to see his 80 3-point shot rating rise. He’s also steadily improved as a free-throw shooter, meaning his 68 rating there may be more representative of a younger version of himself and could bounce up.
1. Talen Horton-Tucker (76 overall)
Like Nunn, though six years younger, THT has begun his own third NBA season on the IR after needing surgery to repair a torn ligament in his thumb. Still, as anyone even remotely familiar with the last remaining homegrown heir to the love of Laker nation will know, THT is a whole heck of a lot more talented than his per-game numbers imply. Already one of the game’s most dynamic drivers, an improving shooter, and equipped with the wingspan and lateral agility to successfully guard three to four positions, Horton-Tucker has the rare foundation of an All-Star caliber player. Though his injury and age may prevent him from making the jump just yet, it’s only a matter of time before THT’s eventual ascension.
Horton-Tuckers’s 58 inside scoring is anchored by a lack of a post-up game, but should skyrocket as his 82 Layup and 65 Driving Dunk scores rise to match his talent level. At just 20, his mid-60s speed, acceleration, vertical, and strength should all improve as he eventually flexes a more adult physique. His 78 outside scoring could eke up a tad too, especially if he substantively improves his 3-pointer, currently given a 70 rating.
He’s also shown flashes of lockdown on-ball defense, but failed to earn Frank Vogel’s trust in either of his first two seasons after too regularly blown rotations, represented by his 70 Help Defense IQ and 50 Defensive Consistency. Still, he has ample tools to up his 56 defending and 46 rebounding once he finds his footing. Improvement in any of these areas should boost his 2K ratings, but he might not have the room to prove all of it just yet next to so many other Laker guards looking to make an impact. Injuries could of course undermine the possibility of THT capitalizing on his potential, but it’s only a matter of time before he levels up.
Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments below. Cooper is a lifelong Laker fan who has also covered the Yankees at SB Nation’s Pinstripe Alley. No, he’s not also a Cowboys fan. You can follow him on Twitter at @cooperhalpern.