The Friday Five: 5 Things to Remember About Overall Ratings

The Friday Five

Welcome to this week’s edition of The Friday Five! This is a feature that I post every Friday in which I give my thoughts on a topic that’s related to basketball video games, the real NBA or another area of interest to our community, either as a list of five items or in the form of a Top 5 countdown.

As we get closer and closer to the release of NBA Live 15 and NBA 2K15 – October 28th and October 7th respectively – we’re receiving a steady stream of information on both games. Some of the facts and figures that we’re leaning about at the moment are the overall ratings for all of the current NBA players in both titles. 2K Sports are close to revealing their final batch of player ratings, while EA Sports will be revealing lists of ratings on a daily basis through to October 16th.

Back in July last year, I wrote a Friday Five which outlined some of the problems with overall ratings in NBA Live and NBA 2K. I thought that I’d revisit that discussion in this week’s column, as I’m reminded of those issues whenever new ratings are revealed, and debate inevitably arises because someone’s overall rating doesn’t seem quite right. So, without any further ado, these are five things to keep in mind when we’re evaluating overall ratings.

1. What overall ratings are actually used for

Chris Paul in NBA Live 15

It would be wrong to suggest that overall ratings are completely useless, or in no way significant. As I mentioned in my previous article, they do serve a couple of useful purposes. Their first purpose is to provide an overall snapshot of a player’s abilities, tallying up their individual strengths and weaknesses in a single value that effectively rates and ranks them among their peers. With overall ratings on hand, whether you’re an NBA buff or a more casual fan, you can easily tell who’s a star player and who isn’t.

This value is also put to use when trading players in the season/management modes. Yes, as the years have progressed, the games have added extra layers of logic that allow the CPU to determine whether or not they want to pull the trigger on a deal. However, the overall rating – the player’s value, measured in a number and comparable to the rest of the league – is still a huge factor. Offering the CPU an appealing trade comes down to some basic maths: adding up the overall ratings of everyone involved. Bottom line, overall ratings do have significance, and cannot be ignored.

However, when it comes to gameplay, they aren’t the be-all, end-all. Individual ratings, tendencies, and other attributes all play a role in determining how well a player performs, and what their playing style is like. Due to a number of factors which I’ll discuss momentarily, overall ratings don’t always end up looking like the ideal value. A couple of points either way is usually something we just have to grin and bear.

2. Overall ratings can easily be artificially boosted and lowered

Russell Westbrook in NBA Live 15

When it comes down to it, overall ratings have not always been calculated particularly well in previous games. The formula doesn’t necessarily take into account whether or not a certain skill is vital given a player’s position, and athletic ratings in particular tend to be weighted too heavily. As such, even if a player’s individual ratings are fairly spot on, their overall might make them appear overrated or underrated. For what it’s worth, it should be noted that Fernando, who is working on the rosters for NBA Live 15, has indicated that they’ve made some changes to the way overall ratings are calculated this year.

If a player appears to be overrated, there’s a good chance it’s due to their athleticism. Traditionally speaking, jumping, speed, and dunking ratings have greatly boosted a player’s overall rating; Josh Smith tends to be my go-to example here. On the other hand, they can also drag a player’s overall rating down. Average athletes with superb talent and skill, such as Steve Nash, can often appear underrated as a result. Having said all that, a player’s other ratings usually balance things out for the most part, and their overall is at least in the ballpark of where it arguably should be.

Things get even more complicated when it comes to key role players who are specialists and thus very skilled in one or two aspects of the game, but not outstanding in others (Kyle Korver would be a good example here). These players are very valuable to their teams because of the specific skills they bring to the table, but their overall rating doesn’t always reflect their importance. However, it’s the individual ratings that matter the most, so it’s only at first glance that such players seem underrated and undervalued…not unlike their real life counterparts, I suppose.

3. Rookies are incredibly difficult to rate

Julius Randle in NBA 2K15

Having maintained unofficial roster updates for many years, I can tell you that creating the new rookies each offseason was always a pain. First and foremost, it’s a time-consuming task to add them all to the game in the first place. but eventually repetition leads to efficiency. However, it never gets less arduous devising ratings for players who have never played in the NBA, and you know that you’re going to get at least some of them wrong.

The problem is, while you may have a good knowledge of the ratings system –  what kind of range you should be working in for players who are averaging this many points or that many rebounds, how a player’s athleticism can be properly reflected in the game, and so on – rookies are unproven at the NBA level. Sure, you have stats from college and international leagues, as well as game footage and scouting reports, but it always remains to be seen how well their game will translate to the NBA.

After all, you have highly touted prospects who perform well at the collegiate level, such as Adam Morrison, who never quite make it in the league. Then there’s the guy who drafted Morrison, Michael Jordan. He was a player who exceeded all expectations, and then some. When it comes to rookie ratings, there’s always going to be some guesswork involved, some fixing up to do later on when they’ve spent some time in the NBA and you have a better idea of how they’re handling the transition to the big time. I guess what I’m saying is, don’t get too worked up about rookie ratings, as they’ll be sorted out in good time.

4. We all have our own bias

John Wall in NBA 2K15

If his leaked rating in NBA 2K15 is accurate, then Kobe Bryant will be rated 89 overall in both games this year. From what I’ve seen on social media and in our Forum, not everyone agrees with that rating, with Kobe fans feeling that it’s far too low. In my opinion, it’s a tough call with Kobe right now: he’s an all-time great without a doubt, but he’s also at the tail end of his career, coming off a couple of major injuries and the worst season of his professional career. All things considered, 89 isn’t grossly underrating him, at least until we see him back at full strength.

When it comes to evaluating, ranking, and rating NBA players, it’s easy to fall victim to our own bias. Our like or dislike for a player can cloud our objectivity, leading us to declare that Player X shouldn’t be any higher than an 85 overall, or that Player Y deserves an overall in the 90s. Sometimes we don’t want to acknowledge that a great player has slipped a bit, especially if they’re one of our favourites. Similarly, if we haven’t been paying too much attention to a particular player, we might not be aware of how much they’ve improved.

The knee-jerk reaction is to stand up for your favourite player when you feel that he’s been slighted, or scoff at the high rating of a player that you don’t really think much of. However, when you take a look at their production, you may find it a bit more difficult to argue that point of view. When I first saw that Stephen Curry was the number two ranked point guard in NBA Live 15 with an overall of 92, I’ll admit that it seemed a little iffy to me, a few points too high even though he’s certainly a star on the rise. After going back and taking another look at his performance last season, however…well, it seems far less iffy upon second glance.

5. Ratings can always be updated

Victor Oladipo in NBA Live 15

Sometimes, you get things wrong. A player is overlooked – there are over 400 players in the NBA, after all – or as I said earlier when talking about the rookie ratings, you have to make some educated guesses here and there. Sometimes, players have a breakout year, or begin a sudden and sharp decline. Injuries, team morale, off-court issues, or even an expiring contract can all have an impact on a player’s performance, and a hot or cold streak may not last too long.

There are lots of things that you have to take into account when managing a player’s ratings, but the bottom line is, they can and will change. The ratings that we’re seeing at the moment are what we’ll get out of the box, before any official roster updates. They’re based on data that’s available right now, with a bit of guesswork thrown in when you’re talking about rookies and players who are looking to bounce back after an injury-plagued season.

As it stands, NBA 2K15 is set to have more roster customisation features, so we’ll also be able to make some adjustments ourselves if we’re not satisfied with the official rosters. As far as NBA Live 15 is concerned…well, once again, Fernando is active in our Forum, and taking note of our feedback. Hopefully some in-depth roster editing functions will return to NBA Live sooner rather than later, but keep in mind that ratings will change as necessary, and that overall ratings – while important – aren’t everything.

That’s all for this week. Please feel free to have your say in the comments below, as well as take the discussion to the NLSC Forum. Thanks for checking in, please join me again next Friday for another Five.

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September 27, 2014 7:15 am

Well said, Andrew.
I think you pretty much covered everything I’ve been wanting to say but, I’ll add a wee bit more.

1. When players are closely rated, it comes down to a matter preference. Rarely will one player be better than another in everything rather, the formula emphasizes one thing than the other.

2. I see you have Westbrook up there for the overrated portion. 😉 But, I know what you’re saying. We were careful with athleticism being too much of a factor. CP3 has lost a little and we made sure that the PG rating was tailored to a few things that we thought were important. Passing and dribbling, of course. At the end of the day, it’s still a sport and being athletic should count. Westbrook is pretty elite at other things other than his athleticism. His off the dribble metrics from Synergy were very high scoring him in the 94th percentile in the league. We said that should be a factor for a PG in today’s game, the ability to get your own shot off, no matter how frustrating it may be to watch at times.

3. Rookies are tough but, luckily, they’ll change throughout the year!

4. A lot of people have their own biases. As long as they’re close, I can live with that. The main thing is if you’re guy isn’t #1 how far is he from being in the conversation? If he’s close than, again, it’s just the formula favored some things more than others. If he’s not, than I better revise the work.

5. Agreed. I’m most excited about the changes going on this year. I’m here with the team since day 1. I’ve got a system in place that should change ratings quickly throughout the year. I can’t wait to share this with you guys as the season goes on.

Anyways, that’s my 2 cents on all this. Hope this helps.