Twenty-year-old basketball wunderkind Luka Dončić has done more remarkable things in the world’s most competitive league before being able to legally drink than any player in history. It’s official. It’s inarguable. Dončić has tallied more triple-doubles (that’s a single game where a player has double figures in three major statistical categories — usually points, rebounds, and assists) before turning 21 than both Magic Johnson and LeBron James combined.
In case you didn’t know, Magic and LeBron are widely considered two of the best players to ever play in the NBA.
When NBA 2K20 shipped in late September, Dončić was rated 87 in the game, tied with 7’3″ Kristaps Porzingas, his Dallas Mavericks teammate. That rating is nothing to sneeze at and probably where he should’ve been coming off a Rookie of the Year debut season. Players like reigning Most Valuable Player Giannis Antetokounmpo and former winner James Harden shipped at 96 and aforementioned all-timer LeBron James shipped at 97. The beauty of sports, which the team at 2K captures on a week-to-week basis, is that things change. Players degrade. Players improve.
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Every week, the team at 2K releases roster updates. Changes to the roster include new real-life injuries to players or roster moves, like the signing of future hall-of-famer Carmelo Anthony by the Portland Trailblazers. Changes also include ratings updates. Antetokounmpo, Harden, and James have all stayed at their shipped ratings, while Dončić’s teammate Kristaps Porzingas has regressed to an 85.
With Dončić’s outstanding play, the development team has moved him from 87 to 90 after the first few weeks and to 93 with this week’s update. A six point swing is the highest rating upgrade so far this year. I can assure you it’s not enough.
I play NBA 2K games a lot, but I mainly sim them. That means I set up a franchise in MyLeague mode and manage it from top to bottom. I sign new players, I make draft picks, I set lineups, but I rarely play a game. Sometimes I watch them, but most of the time I simulate the result. There are lots of us out there simming sports games. I don’t have to explain myself. That’s for another piece.
The point I want to make about Luka Dončić is that Luka’s game is improving and changing faster than the 2K ratings board can keep track of. In the 100+ games I’ve simulated since Luka’s most recent changes, he has only recorded 7 triple-double games. That’s far from the pace he’s currently recording in the real NBA. For comparison, real-life stat machines LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, and Nikola Jokic have recorded 56 triple-doubles combined in the same interval in the virtual NBA.
Players in modern NBA 2K titles are made of attributes, tendencies, and Badges, which correspond to contextual skills not easily ascribed to a numerical value. Dončić’s attributes might be accurate, but his tendencies don’t seem to match just how dominant he is in real life.
I’m not writing this to criticize the 2K ratings folks. On the contrary, I’m simply pointing out that Dončić’s masterful play is too good for his digital curators to properly track. Polling done as late as the evening of Friday, November 22 show that Dončić is currently in third place of league MVP speculation. In the eyes of NBA 2K20, Dončić is the 9th best player in their digital arena.