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Sports Saturday

NBA 2K22 review: The Franchise Mode is as good as ever ... sorry, Zach

The best sports-gaming franchise has done it again, improving the game play, the story mode and, more important, the franchise mode, which takes gamers deep into the workings of an organization.

Patience was not the issue.

Zach LaVine was given more than half the season to make it work, but a 20-22 record with a 57% team chemistry wasn’t getting it done.

I fired the team trainer, shopped for a blockbuster deal and scouted all of the shooting guards just in case, but little video-game Zach wouldn’t come off of his demand of a new deal at $37 million a year, so to the trading block he went.

In the end, LaVine and Alex Caruso were Philly-bound, while the new-look Bulls acquired Ben Simmons and Andre Drummond with an unprotected first-round pick in 2022.

However, the wheeling and dealing didn’t stop there.

Come trade-deadline time, former Celtics coach turned suit, Brad Stevens, offered up Jaylen Brown and Al Horford for Lonzo Ball and DeMar DeRozan with a bunch of picks being swapped. Done and done.

Our toe was already in the defense-first pool at that point, so why not jump all the way in?

Besides, Billy D will coach ’em up.

Coach them up Donovan did, with the Bulls finishing 46-36 in the regular season, Simmons earning third-team All-NBA, as well as All-Defensive first team.

The magical season wasn’t finished, though.

After the play-in round, the No. 6-seeded Bulls pulled off the upset, beating the No. 3 Bucks in a Game 7, while LaVine’s new-look 76ers were swept by the Nets in the opening round. The party ended a round later, though, as a red-hot Toronto squad beat the Bulls in a Game 7, ending the joyride of the 2021-22 season.

But what a ride it was.

That’s why NBA 2K22 remains the gold standard for sports video games.

First, the major changes from last year, and that starts with the game play.

The most notable change in the franchise’s latest version is the shot meter, which is directly related to the type of shot you take. Try and play hero ball and launch a three with a defender contesting it? The shot meter for the perfect shot is going to shrink. But pull off a blow-by crossover on a defender and head uncontested to the rim and that shot meter gets nice and fat to work with.

A quick reminder that last season’s shot meter was so bad on the initial launch that 2K had to send a patch out to fix it.

The mechanics overall are much better, from playing defense to dribbling, they just added a smooth lifelike feel to it.

The same can be said for the game modes.

Playing MyCareer the last five years has been like a bad “Rudy’’ rip-off. Without spoiling too much of the newest storyline, your player — known as “MP,’’ a social-media star for his on-the-court highlights — is knee-deep in maneuvering through the college experience and the NCAA Tournament.

There’s some great special guests along the way, as well as some decisions that directly impact your career path. And once you have reached the NBA there are side activities and distraction like working on your rap career or being “the guy’’ that’s showing up on the red carpets of fashion shows.

The reason NBA 2K22 is getting a solid A- this year, though, was the improvements made to the franchise mode.

As described earlier, taking control of a franchise has never been as fun and detailed.

That’s why little video-game Zach had to go, as 2K immerses you in all the inner workings of an organization, from staff decisions, practice schedules and pacing the team, to in-season roster negotiations and trades.

And the beauty part of it all? If Bulls fans don’t like the massive changes I made to a roster that made it to the second round of the NBA playoffs, I can always summon my Jerry Reinsdorf and threaten to relocate to Seattle and an arena that I created from top to bottom.

So whatever happened to little video-game Zach LaVine? Well, his asking price dropped as free agency went on, and in the end he had to bet on himself, signing a one-year, $22.8 million deal with the Grizzlies.

I can see us sitting down for a cup of coffee soon with a four-year, $100-million offer put on the table.

Done without breaking any tampering rules of course.