While some players in the NBA 2K League are busy gearing up for their third season with the team they were originally drafted by, NateKahl is preparing to make a statement with Pacers Gaming, his third team in three years.
For Nate, the opportunity to play on Cody Parrent’s Pacers—he was traded last month from Nets GC in exchange for one of the two Pacers’ 2020 1st Round draft picks—is something he was hoping for since the dawn of the League.
With that hope now a reality, we sat down with the star lock to talk about his familiarity with Coach Parrent, his excitement for what’s to come this season, how he’ll fit into an already-strong Pacers Gaming starting lineup and more.
Q: Nate, how does it feel to now be a part of Pacers Gaming?
Nate: It’s still pretty early in the process, and it’s been great so far. I don’t know if people know this, but Season 1, I actually wanted to play for Pacers Gaming. Coming here now, it feels like it was always meant to be. I’m pretty excited, I think we have a good team.
Q: Cody, what were you looking to accomplish by trading for Nate?
Cody: One, on the court, we all know Nate’s a great player. He’s proven that time in and time out across two seasons. He really understands the game on both sides of the court, obviously (he’s) one of the best locks in the game. I think he’ll also open up the chance for Wolf 74 to play a little more offensively too, which he showed he can do in Season 1 (but we felt he was a little limited in Season 2 with the build he could play). I think having Nate opens up a lot of opportunities for our team. Two, off the court, can’t say enough good things about him. He’s one of the highest character guys in the league in my opinion. Like Nate said, I wanted him here in Season 1 as much as he wanted to be here. I was bitter to see him go to the Knicks in Season 1 and help them bring home that trophy, I’ll be honest with ya (laughs). He’s a high character guy, great for content, great teammate, fun to be around, so we’re excited to have him.
Q: Nate, can you give us your thoughts on how your skillset will fit in with the team?
Nate: Nobody at this point knows what the meta will be for Season 3, so I think once that settles, it’ll have a huge impact on what we ultimately do. Let’s call a spade a spade: Everyone knows that Wolf 74 and I are both locks, so obviously you’d think that our lineup changes will be somewhat catered around that. I think that Wolf is a really good offensive player who’s been limited these last few years, so getting him going on the offensive end will be really important for us. If it turns out that double locks are a thing in the new meta, or if Wolf swings out of the corner and I’m on lock (or vice versa), I think you can definitely look for us in those positions next season.
Q: Cody to that point, give us your reflections on the roster the way it currently is constructed heading into the Season 3 draft. Is this where you want the team to be right now?
Cody: I’m ecstatic. I didn’t think it was possible to get to this point, to be honest, but we were able to do it. Like Nate said, we’re very versatile on defense now. I think all three guys (Nate, Wolf, Swizurk) can play the 2-4 positions. All of them are comfortable in different roles on both sides of the ball. I think it’s the best 2-4 in the entire league, both on the court and off, and in my opinion, off the court may be even more important in this league. We have three high character guys who are great teammates, so super happy about that. I think you gotta have an elite point guard in this league to win a championship. Where we are sitting in the draft, we weren’t in the position at the beginning of the offseason to pick an elite PG, but we were able to make a move to get into that top 4. I’m confident that we’ll be able to get one now. You never know, we might pick another lock now (laughs). And then you swing back and we now have the first pick in the second round to round out the starting roster? On paper, I’m excited. We’ve gotta make the right decision to bring in the right guys or girls on our team that can make a big playoff push, and I’m ready to win a championship. It’s Season 3. It’s time. We’ve been there (in the playoffs), but I can’t wait anymore. It’s time to go, so Nate, let’s do it.
Q: Talk a little bit about the trade you made with the Pistons involving Ramo. Ramo was a player you traded your first round pick last year for. You made a similar trade this year going back. Take us through your mindset when the trade request came in. When a star player makes a trade request like that, what were you hoping to come out of that situation with?
Cody: First things first, Ramo is an outstanding player. He’s one of the best competitors in this league. I had to kick him out at night because he would want to play all night if I would have let him. So, hats off to him for being a great player for us in Season 2. He really was a catalyst to helping us get to the playoffs. We wish the best for Ramo in Detroit. I’m happy for him that he’s got his boy Demon JT with him now, back with Joseph the Truth and DevGoss. With that being said, we just tried to get the most value we could to put us in a position to win. I think the Detroit trade gave us that opportunity. It just happened to be the same team where he came from. They saw a hole in their roster and saw not nearly as much success in Season 2 as they saw in Season 1 with Ramo, so I think that’s how it works out sometimes.
Q: Nate, this is your third team in three years. Is it weird to you to not have consistency, say compared to other players in the league that have been with the same team for three years? Are you comfortable adjusting on the fly because you’ve done it before?
Nate: It’s funny, it’s been three teams, and I think it has to be put into perspective, firstly. When the league started, I didn’t plan on being on multiple teams and be a journeyman. Hopefully I’m here now and I’m set for a while. I kind of know what I need to bring to the table this season and I hope to bring that all year long because I don’t want to go anywhere else.
Q: Swizurk is one of the best sharps in the league, Wolf is back, and you have three roster spots open with a Top 4 pick in the draft looming. Nate, what kinds of players are you looking to play with this upcoming season?
Nate: I would say moreso than anything, I just want winners. I know that sounds so cliche, but that’s genuinely what I want. I don’t want people that are going to prioritize themselves over the rest of the team. I know that comes across as cliche, but that’s just reality. I want people that want to win and that’s literally all they want to do. With that, comes the fact that you’ll need high skills. You need an elite PG. I’ve been saying that for the last 2-3 years. You need guys that’ll just buy into a system.
Q: Nate, what aspects of your game are you working on improving this offseason, on the court or off the court?
Nate: On the court, last season I beat myself up. I don’t think that I had a very good season at all. I definitely could have performed better. I think that this entire offseason in Pro-Am, I’ve been working on seeing the court defensively more as a team. It used to be just me, I would recognize my matchup and I would try to learn that player’s tendencies. I would play Mama, oFab, Dimez and try to learn what they’d want to do in a game and try to stop that. But now, I’ve gotten to the point where I said ok, that’s just not good enough. I need to actually step back and recognize how we as a team can get consistent stops, whether by swinging or playing conservative defense. We need to learn how to mesh that throughout the entire game. I’ve been working a lot on that this offseason.
Q: Cody, Season 1 you had the 13th overall pick in the Draft, Season 2, you don’t even have a 1st round pick because of the Ramo trade. Now, you sit here, first time as a GM with a top 5 pick. How does that change your mindset going into the draft, knowing you’re in a prime spot?
Cody: I can tell you that the team group chat is poppin’ all day, every day. I won’t drop any names, but Wolf was playing in a game just last night, and he texted me immediately and said, “I’m playing this guy RIGHT now,” and we had been talking about him earlier. That guy was a point guard, a top 5 projected kind of guy, and Nate’s already looking at him. If Nate’s excited about someone, than I am. If Wolf’s excited about someone, then we all are. If Swiz is excited, then he must be REALLY good (laughs). We’re all talking constantly, and my job is to listen to my players, to the community, to teammates of these top prospects, and also to dive into the NBA 2K League Lab, who I work with on a consistent basis, to aggregate all of that data to put it together when it’s go time in February to find who those top 1-5 players really are. Then we’ll figure out who meshes the best with our current roster. As Nate said, the number one priority in Indiana is to win a championship. That’s it. We have to find some winners, and having a top 5 pick will be a lot of fun.
Q: Nate when you’re in those games and group chats, talk to us about what it’s like to be an NBA 2K League “scout.” What traits are you looking for?
Nate: It varies by position. On point guard, I’m a big BearDaBeast fan. I like that play style for a PG, a player who can break down the defense is important, but can you also make those first and second level reads? How effective are you at that? If you don’t do that, how do you react when the adversity hits? Do you talk when you play? Are you a leader? That’s what I want in a point guard. And to be frank, that’s what we’re all looking for.
Q: Nate, what advice do you have for prospects who are about to enter the Combine for the first time this fall?
Nate: Prioritize your winning percentage first and foremost. If you don’t win, you’re not going to get placed in the draft pool, point blank. Number 2, try to be efficient. You don’t want to take a ton of terrible shots that don’t fall. You want your field goal percentage to be high like your three point percentage, depending on which position you play. What I also found helpful too was having good comms while you played. You don’t want to make your team give you the ball for you to make shots. If you’re not good on the mic, people will not want to play with you and entertain anything you’re doing on the court. So, win, be efficient, and have good comms. You’ll have success if you can manage those three pointers.
Cody: My personal opinion is comms over everything. If you got stick, you got stick and it’ll show through in your stats. But, comms are number 1. If you hop on a Combine game and you have a mic check and you’re positive, like Nate said, everything else is going to open up. I have to give a shoutout here to Sam Pham, he’s been making unbelievable content on his own YouTube channel about offensive efficiency ratings, and really diving into each position to help people hone in on what to focus on, whether it’s scoring, whether it’s being efficient in different areas of the court. He’s broken down Combine stats to a different level, and I recommend anyone who wants to make the League to check out his channel.
Q: Nate, you mentioned that you always wanted to play for Pacers Gaming, but you were taken by the Knicks. What was your experience like on Draft Day?
Nate: To be completely honest with you, when the Knicks drafted me, I had no idea. My guy Slay showed up with me (he wasn’t in the pool for Season 1), and when the Knicks had that pick and selected me, I looked back at him and said ‘holy crap!’ I literally couldn’t believe it. Emotionally, I was probably in between. I was even. I was super excited I got drafted, but I didn’t know what to expect because I was so surprised. Hey, it worked out the way it worked out. Won a tournament and won a championship, and now I’m here with Pacers Gaming, so hopefully we can get another one!
Q: Cody, what made you want to pick Nate during the Season 1 draft? What made you mad that you couldn’t snag him?
Cody: Can we delete him off the call first? We need to keep his head as small as possible (laughs). I’ve told this story before, but when I got hired, Nate was one of the first guys in the competitive scene to reach out to me to say congrats, tell me that he was going for the league and tune into my team Island Gang. Something like that, to me, is what I still look for in players today. Please don’t send me your mix tape and your soundcloud link. Let’s make a personal connection. Let me know who you are, where you’re from, and why you think you deserve to be in this league. That’s what’s important to me, and Nate did that right off the bat. I kept following him, we would chat, he would ask questions, when we would learn things from BD on what was going to happen with the league in Season 1, I could tell Nate was all in. He was willing to do whatever it took on the court and off the court. His comms on Island Gang have always been A1. He’s been a leader on both his teams during Season 1 and 2. Obviously won a championship. Guarded the toughest build the league has ever seen in the Championship and won a Finals MVP. He shows up in big moments, is willing to put the work in. He eats, he breathes, he sleeps 2K. We’re on a call almost every day just chatting 2K for an hour. We have that kind of relationship and I’m just thrilled to have him on the squad. It’s been a long time coming.
Q: Can you two talk a bit about the growth of esports overall? Does it floor you that you’re a part of a prominent esports league?
Nate: First of all, esports is growing. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that. Just check the numbers. It’s skyrocketing every month. I still wake up every day and say to myself ‘wow, I get to really do this.’ Once, twice a day I say, ‘I can’t believe I’m doing this.’ My family will joke around sometimes and say, ‘do you really play a basketball video game as a career?’ It’s unbelievable! In terms of the NBA 2K League, I think it’ll just keep growing. The content will keep getting better, the gameplay itself, fans are really starting to engage with that and hopefully they find that entertaining to watch. Obviously the studio atmosphere we all talk about, it’s a big part of what we do. I don’t claim to be one of the best trash-talkers in the league, but it’s good for the league and it makes it a lot of fun. I think you put all those elements together and it just makes for a lot of potential down the line.
Cody: Yes, esports is growing exponentially. I am through the moon, over the moon, in the Milky Way galaxy, you-name-it excited to be a part of this league and work in my dream job in esports. With that said, I am grinding, Nate is grinding, we all need to be grinding across this league every single day if we’re really passionate about it. We can’t be talkers, we gotta be doers. If this is what we want to do and we want to grow this league internationally, it’s time to take that next step. That’s what I’m passionate about. I love being a part of the league and helping it grow every single day.
Q: Nate, what’s one thing that you’ll take from the Knicks and Nets and bring it over to the Pacers?
Nate: It’s learning what I can do that makes my teammates better. With the Nets, I think I struggled with it at times. I think taking what I did well in Season 1 and didn’t do well in Season 2 and bringing that to the table for Season 3.