5 Specific Ways to Improve the Skill Gap for NBA 2K23

For the past few years, 2K devs have talked about efforts to improve the skill gap in the NBA 2K series. Generally, “skill gap” refers to the difference in skill level between elite players and average players. A wider skill gap requires more skill to play at the competitive or advanced level, usually from mastering the mechanics and IQ of the game.

Some strides have been made by 2K, but there is still much that can be improved. With the NBA 2K series continuing to evolve as a legitimate esport title, now is the time to increase the skill gap.

Here are some suggestions on how to improve the skill gap for NBA 2K23, with feedback from the NBA 2K Community as well.

(List is in no order)

1. Remove “Training Wheel” Type Features

Especially for Esport modes like 5v5 Pro-Am or the MyTEAM $250,000 tournament, where the opportunity to earn real money occurs, more emphasis should be placed on organic user-control and to not ‘dumb down’ the game to appease casual players.

  • For Pro-Am only, most CPU related buttons / actions in multiplayer should be disabled so that everything is “organic” and user-controlled – i.e. no CPU-controlled play calls, doubling teaming, screens, etc. These CPU actions continue to artificially affect the gameplay, even when there’s no CPU teammates.
  • Remove the ‘Who to Guard’ arrow. The ‘Who to Guard’ arrow, found in Controller Settings, is another feature that could be axed to promote more organic skill and a bigger skill gap in Pro-Am. If players don’t know who to guard in the most competitive 5v5 multiplayer mode, that should be their own liability vs players who do know where to be and how to rotate. It can also have a positive effect by being less of a visual distraction on the court and promote more team defense concepts.
  • Remove ‘Pass Target Openness’. A little known secret in the Pro-Am community is the effectiveness of over-using the ‘Pass Target Openness’ feature found in Controller Settings. This is basically a training wheels type feature, which automates passing decision-making by it automatically passing to the most open player. Why would a player need authentic court vision when the game can do it for you? It’s long past due to remove this feature from the more competitive Pro-Am mode.

2. Make the Basketball Court Bigger

Although 2K has claimed that the court sizes are true to scale of the real NBA’s court size, something still feels “off”. This is likely due to improperly balanced player movement-to-court-size dynamics. As-is, players cover too much ground with their movement, which in effect does “shrink” the court size.

So this suggests that one of two things need to happen to achieve more gameplay realism: either 2K should increase the court size to allow for more precision of movement between the lines, or to strike the right balance with the court size vs player model size vs player movement variables. What remains to be seen is if 2K will have that technology set up and ready to implement in time for NBA 2K23.

More player movement variation possibilities, as well as a larger court, would have a positive domino effect on the gameplay. It’d take more skill to pull off successful moves and play individual defense, the over-used zone defenses and passing lane steals would be less effective, there’d be a greater risk-reward dynamic, and more.

3. Reward IQ Over Archetype & Badges

Having a good MyPLAYER or NBA build, dribble moves, and badges are important, but 2K needs to get back to just producing a well-played game of basketball. Too often, cheesy components overshadow BBALL IQ and it becomes a contest of who has the best OP build or spammiest dribble set, rather than who has the best basketball strategy. NBA 2K needs to get better at acknowledging and rewarding high IQ basketball gameplay. For example, rewarding the gameplay execution required to achieve a high quality shot, over simply timing a button that is usually just a ‘money’ jumpshot anyways.

4. Encourage Realism, Team Ball, Motion Offense

NBA 2K developer, @Da_Czar has a saying — “don’t play videogames, play basketball.” Generally this applies more in certain modes like Pro-Am and Head-to Head modes (probably less in Park / Street modes, where people expect it to be more arcade). While the game should be fun, for a game that is a self-proclaimed “NBA Simulation”, the goal should be to reduce exploits so much that in order to win, basketball IQ and realistic strategies would not just be a luxury, but an actual requirement to winning ball games.

There is also a big disparity between the type of basketball that is played in the real NBA and in real life and how “comp” Pro-Am teams play in 2K. Real basketball is more free-flowing and team-orientated, yet in 2K we often see a PG with 80%+ usage rate, iso spamming behind a screen, cones stuck in the corner, and spam-ball being rewarded. This needs to change if 2K and the NBA 2K League want to represent the sport of basketball better – which would actually make it more entertaining. If all we saw in the real NBA was a PG iso-ing nearly the entire time, how much would that make fans want to watch something else? This style of play has become repetitive and boring, yet because the play style is rewarded by 2K, it’s been the existing “meta” for years. Time to shake things up and get back to basketball.

At the end of the day, the NBA 2K Developers control the environment for what works and what doesn’t, 2K controls what type of gameplay is rewarded and what is punished. Online gameplay and online players will always do whatever works or whatever the meta is, so it’s ultimately up to 2K to try to create a realistic basketball environment.

Here are a few ways to help with that:

  • Refine or eliminate Badges that encourage largely unrealistic gameplay, ball hogging, or things that happen rarely in real basketball:
    • Handles for Days Badge
      • Even all-time Iso Gawds like James Harden and Kyrie Irving don’t dribble the ball for 90% of the shot clock. Yet this is made possible by this badge.
      • It has a huge impact on competitive gameplay, and by virtue of rewarding this type of gameplay, it in essentially encourages the 2K Comp community to play a very boring type of iso basketball.
    • Circus Threes Badge
      • How often do you even see an NBA player attempting a fade away three?
    • Deadeye Badge
      • This is a very backwards-logic badge that gives boosts to late closeouts / shot contests.
  • Punish Spamming
    • Whether it’s cheesy dribbling, spamming the steal button, over-dribbling, speed boosts or what have you, too many low-skill button or combo mashing gets rewarded. Which is less about stick skills, and more about spamming an exploit or money move.
  • Encourage Team Ball / Motion Offense
    • Increase the Teammate Grade reward for assists, good team passing, and good off-ball movement.
    • Decrease passing lane steals ability. A lot of the reason why teams iso, is they are trying to cut down on passing-lane turnovers. Making passing lane steals more difficult to do or more risky to attempt would encourage more ball-movement. This would encourage and reward teams who run motion offenses more.

5. Turn Off Visible Shot & Dunk Meter

To increase the skill gap, reactions to different actions on the court should be determined by the players themselves, not visual cues that tip them off of whether another teammate or opponent made the shot or dunk.

The shot meter can be turned off, but greens and the dunk meter are still visible, which gives other players an unfair advantage for rebounding and more.

What’d we miss? Be sure to add your ideas for NBA 2K23 to the NBA 2K Wishlist!

Thanks for your feedback!