The Friday Five: My Top 5 Favourite NBA 2K Games

The Friday Five

Welcome to this week’s edition of The Friday Five! The Friday Five is a feature that I post every Friday in which I give my thoughts on a topic that’s related to NBA Live, NBA 2K, and other basketball video games, as well as the real NBA, and other areas of interest to our community. The feature is presented as either a list of five items, or in the form of a Top 5 countdown. This week’s Five is a countdown of my personal Top 5 favourite games in the NBA 2K series.

In the five years that I’ve been writing The Friday Five, I’ve covered a lot of topics. I’m always thinking of what to write about next, and when some topics come to mind, it occurs to me how I should’ve discussed them a long time ago. Such is the case with today’s column, which is a countdown of my Top 5 favourite games in the NBA 2K series. I covered my Top 5 favourite games in the NBA Live series almost three years ago, so it’s about time I compiled a similar list for NBA 2K. I’ve admittedly changed my mind a little in regards to my top NBA 2K games, while my list for NBA Live does remain the same as of now.

As always, I have to stress that this countdown is a list of personal Top 5 favourites. It isn’t meant to be an unbiased, definitive list of the five best games in the series so far. These rankings are influenced by my own enjoyment and overall satisfaction with each release, not just an evaluation of their quality. It’s a list that’s intended to start the conversation, not end it. If you disagree, that’s fine; it’ll be interesting to compare notes in the comments section once I’ve finished having my say. Without any further ado, these are my Top 5 favourite games in the NBA 2K series, at least as of March 2018.

5. NBA 2K11

Michael Jordan dunks on the Trail Blazers in NBA 2K11's Jordan Challenge

I know that NBA 2K11 is a game that would top a lot of people’s lists, and for good reason. Its gameplay still holds up quite well nearly eight years later, which speaks volumes. It also includes the Jordan Challenge, which heralded the introduction of all the classic teams we’ve come to expect in NBA 2K games. I’ll admit that I was still getting into the series when NBA 2K11 came out, having been a long-time NBA Live gamer. As such, it’s a game that I’ve appreciated more and more through the years as I’ve gone back to play it. These days, I would definitely rank it among my favourite games in the NBA 2K series, and one of my favourite basketball games, period.

However, I don’t hold it in quite as high regard as other basketball gamers do. I’ve seen some people suggest that NBA 2K11 has yet to be surpassed, and I think that’s selling a few of its successors short. One of the areas where I feel the game doesn’t hold up as well is its controls. At the time, the NBA 2K series had yet to adopt right stick dribbling controls, and even though I’ve come to get a feel for the old Isomotion approach, the concept still feels a bit clunky to me. With that being said, NBA 2K11’s old controls are one of the very few drawbacks of an otherwise excellent release, and at the time, the most successful game in the NBA 2K series.

4. NBA 2K12

Magic Johnson vs. Larry Bird in NBA's Greatest in NBA 2K12

The Jordan Challenge and its retro teams were a hit, so when a lockout kept Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson, and the other Class of 2011 rookies out of NBA 2K12 at launch, it made sense to compensate with more historical content. NBA’s Greatest is, simply put, one of the most impressive modes ever seen in a basketball video game. While it lacked the statistical challenges and specific games of the Jordan Challenge, the presentation for each era – from the overlays to the audio and video filters – more than made up for that. It was a nostalgic walk through NBA history, with the reward of unlocking the featured teams upon winning each of the games.

Shortly after the lockout ended, tipping off player movement and allowing rookies to sign with their teams, updated rosters came through for NBA 2K12. It was as if the game had never been released without them. For the first time, I found myself drawn to My Player, and although I didn’t get very far into a career, my interest had been piqued. Although NBA 2K12 still features Isomotion moves on the left stick, I like the adjustments to the controls that were made from NBA 2K11, which is why it ranks higher on my personal Top 5. It’s a close race between the two games, and I’ve found myself appreciating them both even more upon revisiting them in recent years.

3. NBA 2K16

Stephen Curry celebrates in NBA 2K16

Suffice to say, “Livin’ Da Dream” was not one of my favourite MyCAREER stories. I felt it was a missed opportunity, and too restrictive in the background Spike Lee had in mind for your character. Throwing away most of your rookie season in favour of lengthy cutscenes was also a mistake that I’m glad 2K has learned from. Still, even with that in mind, NBA 2K16 is one of my favourite games in the series. Although I didn’t particularly care for the MyCAREER story, I definitely came to enjoy playing 2K Pro-Am. I even felt inclined to spend a little real money on VC, in order to upgrade without playing through Year 2 of MyCAREER.

For various reasons, I struggled to enjoy the current gen versions of NBA 2K14 and NBA 2K15. Having gone back to them in the years since, they’re both better than I remember, but NBA 2K16 feels like a marked improvement. In my opinion, the motion system is a bit tighter and more responsive compared to the previous two releases. It was the first current gen game in the series that I really enjoyed and felt addicted to, so it ranks up there in my Top 5 as a result. A few gameplay annoyances and my dislike of “Livin’ Da Dream” keep it from sitting higher in the countdown, though. As an aside, its intro is rather bizarre, but kind of cool at the same time.

2. NBA 2K13

Dunking in NBA 2K13's MyCAREER

After NBA 2K12 piqued my interest, NBA 2K13 was the game that finally got me into the series’ career mode. The newly renamed MyCAREER drew me in, and even though I’ve traditionally been a franchise gamer, it was the mode that I ended up playing the most that year. I had a very memorable run as a member of the Denver Nuggets, earning a starting role and taking over as the team’s point guard when Ty Lawson was injured for the season, even though I created a shooting guard. It was through that experience that I realised I preferred playing point guard on the virtual hardwood, and have chosen to be a playmaker in every NBA 2K game since.

It felt like I couldn’t stop playing the game, and a big reason for that was NBA 2K13’s introduction of right stick dribbling controls. While they still felt a little different to what I’d been used to for so many years in NBA Live, I much preferred them to the left stick Isomotion approach. For me, an NBA 2K game had never felt better, and I thoroughly enjoyed gameplay across all modes. The inability to block dunks was a drawback (albeit one I took advantage of), but little touches such as a flash at the perfect release point were welcome additions. NBA 2K11 tends to be most people’s pick for the best game of the previous generation, but NBA 2K13 is mine.

1. NBA 2K17


I’ve seen a few videos and Forum posts naming NBA 2K17 as the worst game in the NBA 2K series. While everyone is entitled to their opinion, and the experience does differ greatly depending on which mode you’re playing, I just don’t see it myself. The game admittedly does have some issues with the infamous Brick Wall defense, but it also feels much more responsive on the sticks compared to NBA 2K16. I also liked the adjustments that were made to the Shot Meter and shooting mechanics, especially when it came to free throws. There are some annoying legacy issues, and the tuning updates weren’t always to my liking, but I generally enjoyed the gameplay experience.

Beyond what I found to be pleasing gameplay improvements, my affection for NBA 2K17 comes from MyCAREER and 2K Pro-Am. For the first time since NBA 2K13, I really enjoyed MyCAREER. To date, it’s the best story since NBA 2K adopted that approach, in large part because it’s the least intrusive. The “Orange Juice” mechanics were something new, and I enjoyed the Justice Young character. I also ended up playing 500 games of 2K Pro-Am with the NLSC squad, as we sometimes jumped on for multiple sessions per week. It may seem like an unconventional choice, but I do think last season’s game is my favourite in the series, at least so far.

Once again, let me stress that this is a personal Top 5. It certainly isn’t intended to be a definitive ranking, as my personal bias is very much a factor. With that being said, what are your Top 5 favourite NBA 2K games? Have your say in the comments section below, and as always, feel free to take the discussion to the NLSC Forum! That’s all for this week, so thanks for checking in, have a great weekend, and please join me again next Friday for another Five.

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March 17, 2018 9:38 am

A lot of the games blend together for me, but I think 2K9 may be my favorite from a historical context; it’s very much its own game, and is very different from 8 and 10, whereas a lot of the newer releases just blend together. I don’t own a copy anymore, but I feel like if you messed with the sliders it still wouldn’t feel dated today. A lot of the games at that time suffered from the game speed being too fast.