NBA 2K16 was released this week, and with it came all the usual excitement surrounding the game. But in addition to a new story mode, sharper graphics, more intuitive gameplay, and of course new rosters and ratings, one element of this particular installment in the long-running series is the inclusion of the 2002-03 Dallas Mavericks. Those Mavs were the first in franchise history to win 60 games in a season, and the club advanced to the Western Conference Finals behind the excellent play of Dirk Nowitzki, Steve Nash, Michael Finely, and others. The team was so popular and exciting that it won over an entire new generation of fans, among them a young boy in rural Virginia named Justin Anderson.
Once news broke that the ’02-’03 Mavs be on the team, we knew here at Mavs.com that we’d need to pick up a copy of the game and see what that squad is all about. And that’s exactly what we did. But before we get to that team in all its glory, we had to check out the current version of the Mavs to see what it’s like to have Deron Williams at the helm of what’s sure to be a really exciting offense.
The best way to figure out what a team is good at is just to play with it over and over again. 2K16 improved the pick-and-roll ball-handler controls so much that now you can command the screener where to come from and exactly what to do after he sets the screen. The Mavs’ offense, of course, is founded upon the pick-and-roll, so it only made sense to try that first.
The Williams/Nowitzki pick-and-pop is about as unstoppable as it gets in the game. Dirk is the most reliable knockdown mid-range shooter there’s possibly ever been, and it’s reflected in the game. He’s money from 15-18 feet, and that makes defending the Mavericks very difficult. Chandler Parsons is also a capable ball-handler and finisher, and both he and Wesley Matthews can shoot it like crazy.
In fact, the entire Mavs roster can shoot it. I simulated an entire season with the ’15-’16 club and, without influencing the gameplan, Dallas shot more threes than any other team in the NBA. The Mavs also connected on those shots at an extremely high clip — even Justin Anderson, who apparently had a bone to pick in regards to his dunk rating.
Some other season stats of note: Nowitzki averaged 20.8 points and 8.3 rebounds with 47.8/38.3/89.3 shooting splits. Parsons put up 16.0 points with 5.8 boards and 3.0 dimes. Williams dished out 7.0 assists and connected an a ridiculous 41.0 percent of his three-pointers and Matthews hit 38.4 percent of his own.
To put it simply, this is a really fun team to play with. Fortunately, as far as playing the game goes, the Mavericks have plenty of versatility all over the floor. For example, you could pair Dirk and Charlie Villanueva together in the frontcourt and play pure five-out basketball. Dallas has more shooting than potentially every other team in the game. It will also be interesting to see what happens in future roster updates once Parsons, Matthews, and JaVale McGee return to full health.
Of course, we couldn’t just stop at the ’15-’16 club. I started a MyLeague with the ’02-’03 Mavericks, and some of the numbers that team is capable of putting up are… well, absurd. First, here are the ratings for both teams.
While Young Dirk might only be an 88 overall, when you’re playing with him he feels like a 99. He’s straight up unfair most of the time, as he’s able to knock down shots from anywhere on the floor: the perimeter, the mid-range, around the basket, and, of course, in the post — though it’s notable that ’03 Dirk is an impeccable post player despite not adding that element prominently to his game until 2005.
Dirk vs. Dirk
Dirk posts up on... Dirk!
Just as the Williams/Nowitzki pick-and-pop is unstoppable, so too is the Nash/Nowitzki rendition. There are many years of actual film to back that up, but it just looks so nice in the game.
Longtime Mavs fans will recognize this play.
Aside from the obvious pick-and-pop, the ’02-’03 team plays exactly like it did in real life. A fast break follows every defensive stop, players are spotting up all over the floor, and the offense is wide-open. Remember that those Mavs featured Raef LaFrentz and Shawn Bradley at center — and occasionally Nowitzki — and each of those players could shoot it. Dallas played modern-day basketball almost 15 years ago. Playing with this team gives you an appreciation of just how far they pushed the limits of offensive basketball all those years ago.
Playing a season as these Mavericks is as rewarding as any franchise mode I’ve ever played on a 2K game. The numbers are monstrous. Here’s a walk through the season. I finagled with some of the coach’s settings before the season to increase the pace and encourage three-point shooting, but the results were negative. Dallas started 6-10. So, as any sensible person would, I reverted back to the original settings and it absolutely paid off. The Mavs won 12 of their next 16 games behind incredible play from Nowitzki. By the end of December he was averaging 29.6 points and 14.6 rebounds per game. Nash, meanwhile, was putting up 21.5 points and 9.1 assists on 50.5/40.6/92.5 shooting splits, and Michael Finely added 19.0 points, 5.6 boards, and 3.3 points. Dallas was the class of the league for that month.
By the All-Star break, Dallas had improved to 32-23 behind a sizzling offense that produced 110.4 points per 100 possessions. An 18-2 stretch from the break through mid-March — including a spotless 9-0 record during the team’s nine-out-of-10 games at home stretch — bumped the record up to 46-25. By the end of the season the team was rolling, finishing with a 51-31 record. Nowitzki led the way with stats that even Wilt Chamberlain would envy.
The rest of the team performed as well. For the season, the club scored 111.5 points per 100 possessions to lead the league. That mark would lead the NBA in almost any season ever. However, Nowitzki didn’t even receive a nod to an All-NBA team for his efforts. Numbers like that don’t come around very often, but I suppose the virtual media didn’t appreciate his performance enough.
All in all, the 2003 team almost makes buying the entire game worth it. There’s so much sentimental value not just in reliving the Big 3 Era, but also in hitting big shots with Nick Van Exel, swatting shots with Shawn Bradley, and using Raja Bell, Eddie Najera, and Adrian Griffin to dive on the floor and pester opponents. That magical team ushered in a new era of Mavs basketball and kick-started a run of success that’s still going.
The Big 3
Nash to Dirk to Fin: The three-man combination lit up the league in 2003.
OK, so the 2016 team is fun, and so is the 2003 squad. But here’s an even better idea: What if we combined them?
I couldn’t play 2K16 without bending the rules of the game somehow, so I decided to combine the best of both rosters to create a SuperMavericks team. And, because I was the de facto GM, I decided I’d take team strategy into my own hands. In true Maverick fashion, I bucked conventional basketball wisdom and set out to build an all-out offensive juggernaut. How does a rotation of Nash/Williams, Matthews/Van Exel, Finley/Parsons, Nowitzki/Villanueva, LaFrentz/Nowitzki sound? Yep, that’s right: 2016 Dirk would be the team’s backup center, playing 26 minutes per game off the bench as the fulcrum of a second unit featuring, among other players, Van Exel and Parsons. There is shooting and scoring all over the place.
I simulated another MyLeague season with the hybrid squad, and this team was a force to be reckoned with. The Mavs surged out to a 42-13 record at the break, leading the league by attempting 33.8 three-pointers per game. By season’s end, the team’s 57-25 record was second-best in the West, and Dallas led the league by scoring 115.7 points per game and 109.9 points per 100 possessions.
2003 Dirk led the team at 24.2 points and 12.2 boards per game, this time around earning an All-NBA Second Team nomination. Meanwhile, 2016 Dirk won Sixth Man of the Year by scoring 15.4 points on 44.5/37.3/88.5 splits, adding 7.4 rebounds to boot. Wesley Matthews was the second-leading scorer on the roster, pouring in 17.2 points. Nash and Williams, the point guards, combined for more than 20 points and 13 assists per game. Not bad.
The best part about running out a Nowitzki/Nowitzki frontcourt is all the ways you can use them in combination. Of course they can both spot up, but you’ve got to test their limits. In 2003, for example, Dirk played some point forward. 2016 Dirk is virtually perfect from the mid-range, so what better way to exploit mismatches than by dragging big men 25 feet from the basket and running a Nowitzki/Nowitzki pick-and-pop?
Two Dirks are better than one!
Ball-handler Dirk (the 2003 version) wears No. 43 because 2016 Nowitzki has seniority. (At least that’s how I think that decision was made.)
There was a pretty big hullabaloo when consumers found out about 2K’s lower ratings this year than in years past. But while it might look like Parsons, for example, is rated too low, he doesn’t play that way. He can dribble, shoot, and finish, plus he’s got plenty of speed and athleticism. There doesn’t seem like much difference between a 79 and an 85 on this game, especially because the ratings are nuanced enough to highlight what players do well. (That’s why it feels like ’03 Dirk is a 99, not an 88. If you use him right, he might as well be a 99.)
Longtime 2K fans will dig the game no matter what, but Mavs fans might find 2K16 a little more enjoyable than any other version in the title’s history. That 2003 team brought joy to many, and with this game you can experience those good vibes all over again, in addition to all the extra stuff that makes 2K games worth playing.