We’re at midcourt, the ball is about to go up…it’s Monday Tip-Off! Get your week started here at the NLSC with a feature that’s dedicated to opinions, commentary, and other fun stuff related to basketball video games.
“You run a basketball video game website. You must be pretty good at them!” I’ve heard that once or twice over the years, usually when people have invited me to play online. Uh, yeah, sure…I’m, like, the best at them. All those years playing basketball games, watching basketball, playing in the local league as a teenager…yeah, I’m amazing, definitely the best. Absolutely, no question at all…
Just in case my intended tone has been lost in writing…no, of course I don’t actually believe that. I do love basketball, and I’d like to think that I have a fairly good knowledge of the sport. I believe I have at least a basic understanding of all the ins and outs, and in turn, that makes me a little more than competent when it comes to playing basketball video games. I’m a lot better when it comes to playing against the CPU, as that’s mostly what I do. I’ve had some record-breaking seasons playing on harder difficulty levels, but when it comes to playing online, I’m probably just a little better than OK. As I’ve said many times before, online is not my mode of choice, so that shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Still, I’ve won online games before, and I’ve definitely won a lot of games offline. I am, at the very least, competent, capable, and have knowledge of what I’m doing on the virtual hardwood. However, there’s one area in particular where I’ve often struggled in basketball video games. One weakness, one Achilles Heel, one aspect of the game where I’ve never really excelled…
…and that’s three-point shooting.
In sim-oriented games, at least. I’ve never had a problem knocking down threes in NBA Jam or NBA Street, but the five-on-five games that have traditionally aimed for a more realistic style, your NBA Live and NBA 2K titles…well, it hasn’t been my forte. Even when I’m playing with some of the best three-point shooters in the league – it’s not like I’m trying to knock down long bombs with Shaquille O’Neal – I find that their percentages over the course of the season leave something to be desired. My skill on the shoot button definitely hasn’t done their real life counterparts much justice.
It’s not as though I’ve never had games where I’ve had players shoot the lights out from downtown, but again, my performances often haven’t lived up to their ratings. It’s something that I’ve reflected on as I’ve aimed to master each new basketball game that has been released, and in recent years, I have found myself improving from beyond the arc. While I believe part of that is due to newer games offering better onboarding and “dice rolls” in the shooting controls, I’ve also identified factors that I believe have contributed to my tepid three-point shooting in the past. I thought I’d share these theories, as it may be useful advice to anyone else who experiences occasional struggles with threes.
First of all, there are times that I’ve definitely been too trigger-happy from long range. A good three-point rating alone is no guarantee for success, especially as the games have become more sophisticated. I’ve definitely had moments where the thought of “I need a three, and he’s a good three-point shooter” or “That’s a good look, I’ll take it” when it probably wasn’t, has been a factor in shooting a lower percentage from distance. While it’s hardly unheard of for a player with the green light to shoot to occasionally go 1/10 from downtown – have you seen some of Kobe Bryant’s games this season? – in my case, when that happens, chances are they weren’t all good looks. Too many heat checks when it was painfully clear that I was ice cold.
It’s all too easy to ignore the midrange game in basketball video games. The three-point shot is alluring, because of the extra point. Getting inside for dunks and layups is a sound strategy, because those are higher percentage attempts, and less risky when you need to put points up on the board. Therefore, the temptation is to either get a shot at the rim, or take the three. I know I’m definitely guilty of doing that at the expense of a sensible midrange jumper, and while pounding the ball inside works out a little better, it doesn’t do much for your three-point shooting.
Another big factor is a habit that I formed a long time ago, in my early days of playing sim-oriented basketball games. Because the technology was more primitive, some of those old games registered a player as having a foot on the three-point line if part of the player indicator overlapped it, even if his feet themselves were clearly outside the arc. This meant you had to be really sure that you were behind the line before you took a three, and over the years, I’d say that I’ve come to overcompensate accordingly. Even if they’re open shots, you’re not setting yourself up for quality attempts when you’re consistently too far behind the arc.
I’m a big fan of the shot feedback we get in both NBA Live and NBA 2K, in terms of the quality of the attempt, the timing of the release, and other factors that affect the chances of success. I have a feeling that I didn’t take enough of those factors into account in older games, and at times probably thought that I was a lot more open than I really was. I’ve also considered that perhaps I never mastered the timing on the shot release as much as I thought I did. The release window is less forgiving from three-point range – as it should be – and I probably relied on superstitions and placebos more than properly nailing down the timing. You know, pump-faking before shooting, shooting from the same spot because you hit from there before…that sort of thing.
Shooting controls and feedback have definitely improved in recent times, and it’s not only benefitted the three-point game, but the offensive game in general. In that respect, less sophisticated controls and shooting logic probably did play some role in my past struggles. If I’m not alone in laying a few too many bricks from downtown, then I’ll say with more confidence that it wasn’t just me. However, I know that my decisions and skills on the sticks, buttons, and keys over the years have definitely contributed, even if it wasn’t entirely my doing.
When it comes down to it, perhaps I’m the Josh Smith of basketball gamers. I love taking threes, but really shouldn’t attempt so many of them. Unless it’s NBA Jam, of course. In that case, it doesn’t even matter if it’s Yinka Dare…