While the NBA is suspended for the foreseeable future, the NBA 2K League will begin its third season on Tuesday night with a full slate of games. Like their NBA counterparts in Atlanta, Hawks Talon GC is looking to make a leap from the bottom of the standings into the playoffs in head coach Wes Acuff’s second season. The team almost completely overhauled its roster this offseason, acquiring a new cast of talent through the draft and trade market.
Chief among those additions was star guard Bp (Michael Diaz-Cruz), who averaged 19 points and eight assists on 48.5 percent 3-point shooting last season while finishing in the top five in MVP voting. Atlanta acquired him from Sacramento via trade, and the second-year point guard should help catalyze an exciting Atlanta team looking to rebound from a 5-11 record and 18th-place finish a year ago.
“For us, it all starts with [Bp],” Acuff said. “I think we as a group are expecting to go out there and be competitive, as competitive as the other teams are. We’re expecting to go out there and win nightly. We built a group that we feel should be able to go out there and compete at the highest level.”
Acuff plans on putting the ball in Bp’s hands and letting him go to work, and the team was upfront with its other new additions about their intentions to run the offense through him. As the Hawks have done with Trae Young, Hawks Talon has structured their offense around Bp, a ball-dominant point guard with elite ball-handling and pull-up shooting ability. “It’s actually kind of funny, he really is like Trae Young in a video game,” said shooting guard and Atlanta native Kel (Mykel Wilson). “The Hawks did a great job building around Bp this year.”
Like Lloyd Pierce, however, Acuff maintains that despite his team’s explosive offensive personnel, he wants Hawks Talon to assume a defensive identity. That hinges largely on the play of followTHEGOD (Kwan Niblack Jr.), one of the best defensive wings in the league, and first-round pick Lee (Levi Lamb), who is expected to start at center. MrStylez (Andrew Valle), the lone holdover from last year’s team, should help provide secondary shot creation around Bp as second-round pick Kel helps space the floor and create in isolation.
“I feel like I represent a Cam Reddish type of guy,” Kel said. “I’m a great shooter and I feel like we have great chemistry on the court.”
As one of the 2K League’s preeminent trash-talkers, Kel has quickly become the vocal and emotional leader of his new team, which Acuff expects to help galvanize Hawks Talon on the court. Kel won’t have the benefit of smack-talking opponents in person, but the mic on his headset will get plenty of use as the league continues remotely. “I try to get in [opponents’] heads as much as possible, to where it throws them out of the game and they’re scared to make a mistake, because they know I’m gonna say something,” he said.
With so many new players on the roster, Atlanta could take time to fully come together, but the team’s offensive approach is fairly simple and the team kept an open line of communication through the offseason with practices, strategy sessions, and team meetings over FaceTime and Zoom. Earlier this spring, Hawks Talon participated in the Three For All Showdown -- a three-on-three tournament featuring 2K League and celebrity teams -- to help get comfortable with one another before the season.
Shortly after that tournament started, the league pushed back its start date due to COVID-19, leaving players and coaches unsure of how or when the season would proceed. But unlike in the NBA, 2K games can be played remotely, which not only helped players stay in form during the delay, but allowed the league to safely move forward with the season. It’s far from an ideal setup, but in a time when most other team events aren’t doable, the 2K League should count itself lucky. “The biggest way it’s changed is we can’t be around each other,” Acuff said. “So we’re not strategizing as a group in the same room, but the approach has been the same.”
Hawks Talon will face their first test of the season on Tuesday night against Mavs Gaming on ESPN2. Led by point guard Dimez (Artreyo Boyd) -- who averaged 16.7 points and 8.7 assists last year on over 50 percent shooting from deep -- the Mavs finished with the second-best record in the league a year ago and should offer a useful measuring stick for the young Hawks. With lofty expectations for the coming season, Atlanta could hardly ask for a better challenge.
“I can understand how everybody views us going through a rebuilding process because of what the Hawks’ record was and what they went through last year,” Kel said. “But practicing with this team, realistically, I expect nothing but a championship.
“I want our organization to be able to have something to brag about.”