After finishing in the Top 5 of the league in PPG during Season 2 (19.9), Bucks Gaming’s Arooks could justifiably sit back and feel satisfied with his performance. But he won’t.
The Bucks finished 8-8 and missed the Playoffs for a second season. While Arooks made strides to improve his personal game year-over-year, the Bucks GG vet acknowledges his ultimate mission of winning a championship is an incomplete one. Between he and Plondo coming back for a second season together, a postseason berth is there for the taking.
Beyond just success in the league, Arooks, now entering his third season, is starting to set his sights on the bigger picture of what the NBA 2K League means to the community at large. As he becomes both a player striving for a ‘ship and a veteran 2K ambassador in a unique position to help younger players make the most of their talents, the skilled off-baller sat down with NBA2KLeague.com to talk about how he’s looking to get the job done both on and off the court.
Question: What’s your honest assessment of Bucks Gaming’s second season?
Arooks: We had an interesting team. We started off really strong but had a roller coaster season as far as win streaks, losing streaks go. Win one. Lose one. We made a deep run during THE TURN in Vegas, making it into the final four. Overall, I think we became too predictable and teams caught up to our style of play. We didn’t have much to counter that. That ultimately did us in I think in the long run, as far as closing out games. We had close games during the last three weeks of the season, and we just couldn’t get over the hump. But we were way better last year than in Season 1. We’re one step closer I think to making the Playoffs in Season 3 and winning a championship. But for Season 2, it was a good group of guys that I played with and we battled. We got better every day. We just couldn’t get over that hump.
Q: You finished in the Top 5 for PPG last season, which is an impressive achievement. How do you evaluate your success? Is this something you can definitely build on and around next season?
A: Yes. Coming into Season 2, I hadn’t played my best Season during Season 1. It was sub-par, mediocre at best. My goal was to figure out how to play better and also help the team at the same time. I had gone from point guard to off ball during Season 2, so I was more focused on what I was able to do best. I feel like that helped out way more than I had expected. I was proud of my performance because I knew I was locked in. I grinded to get better. During Season 1, I think I took the game for granted a little bit. I was so good that I thought it would be easy, but it can’t be easy playing against other great players who play just as much as you. So Season 2, I came in with a different mindset as far as what I wanted to do, how I could make the team better to put us in the best position to win. I felt like, for the most part, I did that. Obviously not all of that turned into wins and a Playoff berth, but I felt like we were competitive at all times. That’s what it’s all about, give me a chance to win. We were competitive against every single team, and that’s all I asked for. Going into next year, yeah it’s all about getting better again. It’s not being content and complacent over where we’re at. Plondo and I will look to improve our team in the draft and go from there. We know the job’s not done. There’s another level that we can go to, and we just have to put in the work.
Q: And speaking of putting in the work, what aspects of your game are you trying to improve on the most this offseason?
A: Yeah nobody’s perfect, there’s always something to get better at. For me, definitely passing. You can always get better at passing, getting my teammates the ball. I’m the type of person who looks for my shot a lot, but the other team knows that too, so me passing the ball more correctly in press situations is something that I’m always trying to get better at. Also, I’m looking at leadership, especially me knowing I’m going into my third season in the NBA 2K League, knowing we’ll probably pick up a couple rookies in the Draft. Me leading them, helping them feel comfortable when they get out on the stage, I’m looking to get better at that, too.
Q: Since this is your third season, do you feel like there’s added pressure this year to have a more successful season on TOP of being more of the leadership-heavy veteran player? Do you have even more responsibility now in helping your younger teammates get over the hump?
A: I definitely feel pressure. I’ve seen it all. I know what to expect now. As far as play, I don’t think I have too much pressure on that because I know what I expect from myself, and I know what the organization and teammates will expect from me. But it’s moreso just helping players who’ll go through it all for the first time. Some of them will come back from their first loss and need to know how to deal with that, or a losing streak. For some, this’ll be the first time moving away from home. I can help them with that, because it’ll be an adjustment. Obviously I’m used to it now, but it was an adjustment. I want to help my teammates feel as comfortable as possible off the court so that when they’re on the court, they’re comfortable and having fun.
Q: Talk to us a bit about how you and Plondo meshed last season. He’s a heck of a player in his own right, so are you excited that you get to build off that chemistry and first season together?
A: Plondo is a very versatile player. Very low ego, willing to do whatever it takes to win. He actually made a big switch from center to power forward last year so that we could try to switch up our offense. He did well on that. I’m not worried about Plondo because he’s just a gamer. He’ll be good regardless, no matter what the game looks like or what position he’s playing. He’ll mesh around whatever players we draft this offseason.
Q: Did shuffling BigMeek to 6th man ultimately help the offensive lineup mesh more in the second half of the year last season?
A: Piggybacking on what I said earlier, teams started to figure us out. So the issue was, we basically had four power forwards playing at a given time. We didn’t really have a truly set PG. Obviously Chaddynick filled in where he could. SlayIsland filled in when he could. But the PF position was very crowded. Obviously you want to put your best player on the best scoring position, which was the Post Scorer. So we moved Plondo to the 4, but then we couldn’t find that rotation of where players should really play. But with Meek, it wasn’t a chemistry issue thing, he’s one of my closest friends and a great teammate, I can’t wait to see him back in the league. He took the move on the chin and obviously it’s frustrating to lose your spot in anything. He’s just looking forward to Season 3 now. He’s one of the best shooting power forwards in the league. People love to make jokes about it, because when I had the ball, he was my favorite pass. If I got double teamed, I’d always hit him at the end of the shot clock. I knew I could count on him as far as making a play. Whichever team drafts him will be getting a great player. I know what he can do.
Q: Speaking of the Draft, Bucks Gaming has four spots to fill. What sorts of players, both skillset and personality wise, are you looking forward to seeing drafted to fill out your roster this year?
A: We’re looking for players who can mesh with Plondo and I. Myself, I’m an off ball player, but I love to score. My ideal player is someone who likes to score and pass. If I’m scoring seven points and we’re winning, I don’t care. I’m egging my teammates on to score the ball. Obviously Plondo, he can play 1-5, so whomever you plug in next to him is gravy. We’re hoping to draft someone at 12 who can most likely be a PG. It’s not a secret that we’re in need of one. We have to get that pick right first, and then I feel like every position after that can be plug and play. In 2K, just like IRL basketball, point guard is the main position, the head of the snake. You need someone who has the skills and leadership who can take criticism. If I say step it up, I don’t mean no harm, I just need you to play better. Same deal with me, I need my PG to tell me ‘hey, you need to play better.’ At the end of the day, we’re just trying to win. It’s like my relationship with BigMeek. I used to get on him if he was playing bad, but he knew I didn’t mean harm. At the end of the day, we just want to win. That off-the-court chemistry is a big-time thing. You need the skills, but also the right mixture of chemistry.
Q: Will you and Plondo ultimately contribute (either directly or indirectly) to the Draft Day decisions with your upper management?
A: They want us to be comfortable, yes. This year, they’ll look to give us more of a leash with that comfort level, as far as seeing who we’re more comfortable on the court with, who we mesh with, who we think will be a good fit for us, instead of automatically thinking ‘oh, this player will be a good fit with Arooks.’ We’ll have some input as far as who we love to play with, who fits well with us. I think we’ll all come to a decision together once Draft Day comes around. When you see the pick come in, you’ll know it was a group decision.
Q: What are your impressions of 2K20? Are you anticipating that the League builds will look very different than Season 2’s?
A: It’ll be similar I think, but ultimately different, as far as how the game plays. That’s why I feel like teams really need to hit on point guards this year. We got away with it for a while last year, but I don’t think you can do that in Season 3. I like it. Obviously the League build will be different than what players in Pro Am are playing on right now, and I think that’s always exciting to see. The game will be different and I’m looking forward to getting that build and getting ready for the season. At the end of the day, you just have to adjust. Whatever the league puts in front of us, you can’t cry about it, just go out there and play. I’m looking forward to that.
Q: Would you prefer Season 3 to be another stat-heavy season for you, or would you prefer Bucks Gaming gets to the postseason? Or, is there indeed room for both?
A: Of course, everyone wants stats, but I’m at the point now where I just want to win. I’ve been here in Milwaukee for three years now. Before the NBA 2K League launched, I was one of the top winning players in Pro Am, so not making the Playoffs in back-to-back years has stung. Stats look good, but if you don’t have Playoffs to show for it, none of it matters. I’d rather be on the last couple teams playing for a championship than just saying hey, I averaged 20-25 points per game but I didn’t make the Playoffs. If my numbers can go from Top 5 scoring to middle-of-the-pack, and we make the Playoffs, I have no problem with that. If I’m still scoring at a high rate and making the Playoffs, that’s gravy on the top. I’ll go with winning!
Q: When it’s all said and done, how will you personally define a successful Season 3 for Bucks Gaming?
A: I have my mind set on a couple things. One, I want to win one of the in-season tournaments. I need to win one. Making the Playoffs. Yeah, that’s just a no-brainer, and then you worry about winning a championship after that. You always hear people say I want to win a championship, but you have to make the Playoffs first before you can win a championship. I’ll take it step by step. Definitely just having a winning season. Being Top 4 all season. I want Bucks Gaming to be a lock for making the Playoffs all season long. Once I’m in the position of win or go home, I get into desperate mode and I play really well in desperate mode and galvanize everyone around me.
Q: When you look at the NBA 2K League’s growth this year with two new teams, are you proud of the progress the league has made over the course of your career?
A: Yeah it’s still a fairly new league. We’re entering our third year, but we’re still new. When I think about it and look at other esports, they’ve been around for years. We’re only entering Season 3 and it’s gotten better every day since Day 1. From month to month, year to year, it’s gotten better. We’re making the community bigger. We’re not just the 2K20 community. We’re the NBA 2K community. Everyone’s been able to see what 2K and this League’s all about, and I feel like the League has done a great job of expanding globally. I feel like the European Invitational tournament and events like that will help make the league even bigger. Once this league hits year five, it’ll be crazy!
Q: Does it ever floor you that you’re an active player/participant in that growth? How special is it to be a part of the NBA and play video games for a living?
A: I think about it every day, how grateful I am to be in this position. I wake up and I’m doing something I love, that I used to do for free and just because I loved doing it. I don’t take this for granted at all. I’m still amazed that I’m doing it. I always said I wish I had this job when I was 20 years old coming out of high school. I know there’s so much more growth coming and the younger guys are so lucky. I’m trying to make this league grow not just for me, but for the players that’ll come after me. This league is fun. That’s the main thing. It’s heartbreaking seeing some players get the email informing them that they’re not continuing on to the draft pool, people that I know and have played with for three years now to get into the league. But I tell them to keep trying, because it’ll be worth it. The league is fun, people are seeing cities they never thought they’d go to, being in this position is great and it’s worth it.
Q: Do you feel some added responsibility of being more of a 2K ambassador now that you’ve been around the block a couple times at this stage in your career?
A: Yeah I want to play and win, but I’m also thinking bigger picture and how to make the league bigger and more enjoyable to watch. I know it’s not just about me. You have to think that this league is about more than you winning a championship. I always ask my managers how I can do better and reach out more to grow the league here in Milwaukee and the community. A lot of folks know about the league because my management pushed me out there. I’ve gone to children’s hospitals, drove to visit a guy who’s a big Bucks Gaming fan and I gave him my jersey. He was so grateful for it and he even wore it for his senior photos. Crazy! It’s bigger than me. It can only get bigger and bigger. Everyone who’s been in this league for a while pushes it.
Q: Can you recall your favorite Draft Day memories?
A: I remember the draft like it was yesterday. The emails, the phone call that I made the league, going to Madison Square Garden (in New York City), ultimately being picked 10th in the first round, was definitely one of the best experiences of my life. It was such a fun feeling, meeting people I’ve talked and played online with for years. I took everything in stride. We played in the first-ever 2K League event, the draft clash during PAX East. That was the first time we had gotten the word out there about the 2K League. It was new, and I was one of the 10 players to participate in that. It was so fun. We represented the league well and ever since then it’s been great, how the league treats everyone. It’s crazy to go from PAX East in 2018 to where we are now, traveling to Vegas and Orlando… It’s only gonna get bigger.