Let’s first start at the end.
As unlikely as it might have seemed to utter the phrase in the not-too-distant past, Warriors Gaming Squad are the champions of THE TURN powered by AT&T. They defeated 76ers GC in Saturday’s final at the HyperX Esports Arena Las Vegas.
“To be here, right now on this stage is crazy,” said Type, the center for WGS who was named tournament MVP. “I did feel like me and Bsmoove worked hard enough to be here and it feels great to be rewarded with a championship.”
Catch up on his top plays from yesterdays final. ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/jp0Y0ruqYz
— NBA2KLeague (@NBA2KLeague) May 12, 2019
But it wasn’t always this easy. In fact, the road here has been a windy one filled with challenges that would test any player’s patience. No one knows that better than Type and Bsmoove, who each lived it firsthand.
Both are enjoying the spoils of a process that’s been in the works for some time. It included a turbulent first season, was buoyed by a strong draft class in March and is just now starting to take the shape that team management has long envisioned.
“Sometimes it could feel like a dark time.”
That’s how BSmoove, who joins Type as one of two returning players to this year’s squad, describes last season in Golden State. It’s a season that saw WGS win just two of its first 12 games before finishing with a 4-10 record in the regular season to end the campaign at the bottom of the standings.
Some of the issues were a matter of tough luck, with the team dropping eight games by four points or less. Some of it was roster construction, with the team trying to find a way to fit two skilled frontcourt players (Vert and Type) next to one another, even when that set-up didn’t align to the style of basketball WGS head coach Tommy Abdenour wanted to implement.
That meant necessary changes would be on the horizon for Season 2.
The first shoe to drop was retaining Type, who would be converted to center permanently and have the freedom of the paint to himself, and Bsmoove, who possesses an offensive arsenal that he admittedly didn’t get to fully put on display last season.
The next order of business was to collect draft assets. After having already been awarded the No. 2 overall pick in the 2019 draft via the Draft Lottery, WGS drew interest on the trade market for Vert, who had a productive season as a third-round pick but whose fit was redundant in the frontcourt. The team traded him to expansion Lakers Gaming in exchange for the No. 10 overall pick in the draft.
Now armed with a pair of top-10 picks, WGS set their sights on two players who not only filled immediate needs but were also fits for the culture they were continuing to build. Enter Gradient, a top lockdown defender, and CB13, one of the most prolific point guards in the draft pool.
Here’s how Abdenour describes the arrival of two players who he pegged as ideal additions for his system:
“We knew Gradient was going to be a great defender, so that’s why we keyed in on him early, understanding that this year you might need a really good defender. I think he’s shown right now he’s a top defender, top two, at worst. In my opinion, he’s the best lockdown defender and I think he proved it in this tournament.
GRADIENT DOING IT ALL!
He gets the putback layup at the buzzer to cap off a 22-point quarter for @WarriorsGaming 👀
— NBA2KLeague (@NBA2KLeague) May 11, 2019
“Then we got extremely lucky that CB13 fell to us all that way at 10. We didn’t necessarily know if it was going to happen, but it did, and we’re happy it did. He’s also got one of the toughest jobs in the league, managing everything and trying to get everyone involved. And while his stats don’t show it, he cares about winning. Finding him at 10 has been incredible for us.”
For Type, the payoff of adding those two players helped ease the sting from last season’s rough finish.
“As bad as we did last year, we got two of the best players in (CB13) and Gradient on this team,” he said.
The team finished up their draft by adding Jin, who brought a level of experience with him after playing with Wizards District Gaming in season one, and Chiquita, who made history as the league’s first female player.
With the construction of the roster complete, the real work began of seeing how all the pieces meshed. According to those involved, it was evident from early scrimmages that the makings of a special team were present, as the group clicked almost instantly.
“The chemistry on the court was there,” Bsmoove said.
Like any team, it was a matter of taking the positive results from practice and converting it over to the main stage, where it counts.
“Not only are they skilled and versatile, but they’re all very smart,” WGS general manager Rustin Lee said. “They’re very high-IQ players and they play unselfishly. For us, that’s a winning formula. We were just waiting for it to materialize here.”
WGS got off to a 3-2 start in the regular season. The record was less important than the process, which was evident in Week 4. They blew out their first opponent, only to turn around and suffer a let down to an inferior foe in the nightcap.
“When this team was put together, we were going to be one of the best teams,” CB13 said. “We’ve shown flashes of that. One game we’ll beat a team by 38, like we did the Wizards, and we’ll lose by 19 to the Jazz. I think the talent is there, but once it gels it’s going to be special.”
The loss to Jazz Gaming pushed them into the seventh seed heading into THE TURN, the league’s first in-season tournament and first outside of New York.
A two-point win by WGS in their tournament opener was followed by a dramatic second-half comeback spurred in part by Gradient’s 23 points and tough defense to take down second-seeded Mavs Gaming. It set up a semifinals showdown with the team that had beaten them just a week prior, Jazz Gaming.
There would be no doubt this time around, with last season’s holdovers supplying the offense. Bsmoove scored a game-high 22 points, while Type added 20 of his own in the double-digit victory.
A championship game matchup against reigning TIPOFF champions 76ers GC awaited, a team making its third overall appearance in the finals of a tournament. On the other side were WGS, who had yet to advance this far in a tournament in their history.
So what does a team do that is preparing for its biggest game to date? Nothing.
The players decided to bypass the customary pregame scrims that were taking place in the back rooms on the second level of the HyperX Esports Arena. It was a strategic decision as the group didn’t want to risk messing up their shot timing from the monitors used in the practice room to those used on stage.
“We just said we’re going to go up there and hoop,” Bsmoove said. “And we came out and hooped.”
The bright lights of the championship game proved not too bright. WGS blitzed their way to a 18-5 advantage to open the game against their cold-shooting opponent. They didn’t look back from there.
Type, who isn’t shy of saying he got “robbed” for last season’s Defensive Player of the Year Award, completed his dominant run through the tournament. This is his combined stat line from the semifinals and finals: 34 points, 18 rebounds, eight steals, 16-of-16 from the field.
“Thanks to my point guard, he set me up and put me in the right places every time,” said Type of his perfect shooting performance. “I don’t think that’s ever happened to me back-to-back, so it feels good.”
Hoisting the championship trophy moments after the final buzzer of a 58-39 victory felt even better. Especially for Type, whose mom could be heard throughout the arena cheering on the team while wearing her son’s jersey, a day before he would turn 22 years old.
“Can’t ask for a better birthday present,” Type said.
The present might as well have also been for Bsmoove, who was finally able to reap the spoils of going from last place to now tournament champion.
“I’m so proud for them right now, they’ve earned it,” said Abdenour of his returning duo.
If there’s any doubt that they have earned it, people haven’t been paying close enough attention. What’s the first tournament title for the franchise might just be the beginning of something much grander.
As improbable as it seemed just nine months ago when season one wrapped up, WGS is in the process of rewriting its history.
And it all started in part to two retained players and a vision.
“I know what we got, and we got some of the best players in the world,” Bsmoove said.