We made it. Three full months of 2K League gameplay has brought us to the pinnacle of the regular season — THE TICKET powered by AT&T. A fresh spin on the fan-favorite tournament cranks the intensity up to 10 and adds a new level of intrigue to a season that has had plenty of twists and turns already. The only teams in THE TICKET are teams that missed the top-9 playoff cut, a huge change from the first two seasons. The biggest change, however, is the addition of the “raid boss” format, with T-Wolves Gaming waiting at the end of this crazy adventure like Bowser waiting at the end for Mario. We’ll recap the regular season next week before the playoffs, but for now, it’s time to give THE TICKET the ole’ Monday Notebook preview.
THE RAID BOSS
T-Wolves Gaming (8-8)
Well, well, well, here we have the Season 2 champs. It’s a bit of a surprise to see them in THE TICKET, but considering we have traditional powers like Blazer5 Gaming and 76ersGC in here, maybe we shouldn’t be too surprised. T-Wolves Gaming have had a rollercoaster season. Sometimes they look like the dominant team we saw drive to a title last season, but other times they’ve looked anemic on offense. There hasn’t been one specific problem to even point too — their efficiency and shooting numbers are all slightly above league average — but it’s more been an issue of things just not all clicking at the right time. For them to win, they need Bear to be scoring and taking care of the ball, JMoney to be creating shots off the dribble, JoJo and Big Saint to be hitting 3s, and Feast dominant on the boards and scoring in the pick and roll. All of those things have happened at some point this season, but usually not all at the same time. Lucky for them, they only have one job: Win the last series of the tournament. If you’re asking one team to win one series in the clutch, ignoring the fact that they lost said game to the Magic just one week ago, T-Wolves Gaming led by BearDaBeast still has to be pretty high up on that list.
Blazer5 Gaming (8-8)
A 4-0 start. An 0-5 slump. A 4-3 finish. Say hello to your Season 3 Blazer5 Gaming squad. It’s been a weird season for them, there is no ignoring that. They didn’t even figure out their best lineup until the last couple weeks of the season and were just a few minutes away from avoiding THE TICKET all together. Alas, here they stand with nothing left to lose and everything to gain. Their record may not show it, but Mama and Walnut were still incredible this season. Among PGs this season, Mama was 2nd in VORP, 3rd in PPG, 3rd in 3P%, 3rd in efficiency, and 3rd in PER. He may not be the MVP this season, but he is still arguably the best player this league has to offer. Walnut was not far behind as a Center this year. He ended up leading the whole league in rebounds and was 2nd in blocks. Add in his position-leading efficiency and league-leading FG%, the incomparable pick-and-roll combo of Mama and Walnut remained just that, incomparable. Their issues on the wing did extend into this season offensively as the team had one of the lowest made-3 per game numbers of any team at only 6.3 a game. If this team wants to win THE TICKET and make the playoffs, they are going to have to catch fire from the perimeter. Or, just hope that Mama and Walnut dominate…which come to think of it isn’t a terrible strategy all things considered.
It is a borderline miracle that this team is even here. Let’s not forget, this team started 0-6. And here they stand at 7-9. Truly, a miraculous comeback led by a few key positional changes and some intense Radiant magic down the stretch. Their schedule also eased up a little, but a turnaround like this is more about them than the teams they played. Moving Steez to lock and Breadwinner to Center unlocked everything. This league build is extremely dependent on having the 1, 2, and 3 being able to move off the ball and hit shots. Steez has proven to be a very dangerous offensive player out of the left corner and his on-ball defense has been almost as good as any lock since about the midway point of the season. Having him, Radiant, and Scretty all on the perimeter hitting 3s has transformed a stagnant offense into one that went 7-3 in the 2nd half of the year and looked more like the 76ersGC team we’re used to. Was it in time or was it too little too late? We’ll know by the end of this tournament, but I certainly wouldn’t want to play this team right now.
Hawks Talon GC (7-9)
I present to you the team with the strangest season in the league. Any of the three teams we’ve talked about already are easy candidates, but there is one huge difference, all of their star players ended up having above-average seasons. As it stands now, Hawks Talon has a 7-9 record despite BP accounting for a negative VORP and one of the lowest efficiency metrics among all point guards. Was he still productive? Yes. But Bp did not have a Bp-esque season. His PPG went up like every PGs did this season, but every other number he had vs. last season was down. APG, FG%, 3P%, TS%, eFG%, VORP, PER, all of it down, yet this team is right in the thick of THE TICKET. The difference is that his team picked him up this year. Kel has the 3rd highest VORP of any sharp this year, MrStylez actually had a really underrated season at PF, and Lee held his own all season long against some difficult matchups at Center. At the end of the day, the magic of Bp is that numbers over the course of a season don’t matter. He’s going to win you games by himself sometimes. If they want to win THE TICKET, though, it’s going to have to come from that whole team.
Grizz Gaming (7-9) vs. Lakers Gaming (3-13)
All eyes are on Goofy 757 to see if he can replicate his Season 1 Knicks Gaming magic with Grizz Gaming in Season 3. He’s going to have a tough adventure to the Finals, possibly having to go through that very Knicks Gaming team if they can take down Lakers Gaming in Round 1. Vandi has been on fire recently too which definitely helps, but the inconsistency that has hampered this team all season could rear it’s ugly head again in this tournament. Consistent offense will be their savior, but they need to focus on SAV first because he flat-out gets buckets. Bottom line: You don’t finish 4th in PPG by just hitting Square or X over and over, the kid can score. Grizz have had some problems this year against high-powered offensive players, including losses to Regg, ShiftyKaii, BP, Splashy, and the whole Raptors team. It’s a fun 1st round match-up for both teams.
Knicks Gaming (7-9) vs. Pistons GT (3-13)
Just when we thought he couldn’t do anything else, Ramo comes out here and dominates at PG. Well, dominates on the score sheet at least. Pistons GT has yet to win a series since he’s made the move and has only won a single game, but PG Ramo has been a fun story! Whether it leads Pistons GT to the playoffs is another thing entirely. Lucky for them, they got a great match-up with Knicks Gaming in Round 1. Knicks Gaming’s defense on the perimeter has been shaky this season, leaving a spot for Ramo to attack. On the other side, Pistons GT’s defense hasn’t been much better and Duck and Malik have become one of the league’s elite backcourts. Malik has been a revelation for this team in Season 3, currently leading all sharps in VORP and 2nd in PER. Can Knicks Gaming re-capture the magic of Season 1? It’ll have to come from six guys who weren’t on that team. Either way, these teams match-up really well against each other offensively, so we could see some really high scoring games.
Magic Gaming (7-9) vs. Pacers Gaming (4-12)
Magic Gaming are in luck. They get to play a team they beat last week in Pacers Gaming. They swept them 2-0 in a series that was never truly competitive as Magic Gaming swallowed up the Pacers defensively. This team loves playing against slow offenses since they also play a slow offense. Once they get you into their tempo, this team has actually been really lethal. They can’t win games by trying to outscore you in a shootout, but they can hold teams under 60 points with ease and if Reizey is on his game, this team has a clear formula for winning. For Pacers Gaming, the question begins and ends at PG with BOHIO. When he is playing well, they do win games. The problem has been that he hasn’t done it consistently when given the chance. Many piled on the Pacers for moving him off of PG when he was struggling, but he didn’t leave them with much of a choice and since moving back, things haven’t really improved. If the team can catch fire from 3 and get back on track defensively, an upset could brew, but getting matched up with Magic Gaming was not what this team needed.
Gen.G Tigers (6-10) vs. Cavs Legion GC (4-12)
A few weeks ago, Cavs Legion was sitting at 4-5 right in the thick of the playoff race. Thing didn’t exactly go as planned. Lucky for them, Gen.G went through almost the exact same thing. This team started incredibly hot, even making it to the Semifinals of THE TIPOFF, but after that, things slowed down. I called them the “Dark Horse” of Season 3 when they were 5-3 and they responded by dropping seven of their next eight and finishing 6-10. I can’t help but feel like I deserve some blame. Either way, this match-up favors Gen.G. Their high-powered offense keeps chugging at almost 70 PPG and the only teams they’ve struggled with this year are high-offensive output teams. The brand of basketball that Cavs Legion play fits right into Gen.Gs strategy. If Cavs Legion can get Gen.G to play their tempo, they have a chance, but ShiftyKaii doesn’t really know how to play slow.
Heat Check Gaming (5-11) vs. CLTX Gaming (4-12)
Uh…Celtics? You good? You know you’re supposed to LOSE games when your superstar doesn’t play, right? Since Fab has been out, CLTX has gone 3-1 over four series and the addition of FT has been an awesome late-season story. He’s only played one series, but dropping 50 in Game 3 to take down BP and a Hawks Talon GC team that needed a win is wildly impressive. It’s a feel-good story that could quickly turn into a meaningful one if this team catches fire and pulls off some upsets this week. For Heat Check Gaming, I’ve quite enjoyed their new offense. It’s been almost entirely centered around TBGShitay and Hotshot playing a really efficient brand of basketball, with Glennratty acting as more of a sharp/secondary ball-handler. Can it turn around their season and win them THE TICKET? That remains to be seen.