The Friday Five: Weird Player Ratings in Basketball Video Games

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.

From the moment that basketball video games began getting deeper and more sophisticated, properly representing a player’s abilities, skill level, and playing style through their ratings and other attributes became an important area of focus. Both EA and 2K invest a lot of time and effort – and in the case of EA’s partnership with Synergy Sports, money – in making sure that their official updates are detailed, and that player ratings are kept up to date and accurate throughout the entire league.

In years gone by however, and especially before regular official roster updates became a thing, it wasn’t uncommon to see some unusual ratings in the default rosters. Even games like NBA Jam, with its simplified and boosted player ratings, produced some noteworthy oddities. So, for this week’s Friday Five, I’m taking a look at some of the weirdest player ratings that I can recall in various basketball video games.

1. Yao Ming’s Three-Point Rating

Yao Ming shoots a three in NBA Live 2003

Although he had some successful years in the NBA, there’s still an element of “What If?” hanging over Yao Ming’s career. A series of injuries led him to miss a considerable amount of games between 2005 and 2008, and his playing days ultimately came to an end at the age of 30. Although he would play in 77 games during the 2009 season, he missed the entire 2010 campaign, and appeared in just five games the year after before finally calling it a day.

Yao was a multitalented big man who didn’t need to be under the basket to rack up all of his points, but he seldom stepped out beyond the three point arc. That said, he did make a couple of three-pointers in his career, going 1/2 in his rookie season and 1/1 in 2009, with a handful of unsuccessful attempts throughout the years resulting in him shooting 2/10 for his career. That’s far from a terrible statistic for a 7’6″ centre, but it does make his three-point rating in various NBA Live games a bit puzzling.

In NBA Live 2003 – his rookie season – Yao boasted a three point rating of 76, which was good enough to make him an average three-point threat if used in such a manner. From NBA Live 2004 through 06, his rating was in the 30s; a mark more suited to players like Andre Miller, who aren’t prolific three-point shooters, but do attempt them and knock them down on occasion. In NBA Live 07 and NBA Live 08, his three-point rating was bumped back up to 50. I’m not sure how that came to be year after year, but needless to say, it was one of the first ratings to be adjusted in the NLSC roster updates.

2. A bunch of underrated players in NBA Live 2004

LeBron James drives the lane in NBA Live 2004

NBA Live 2004 featured a significant change to player ratings, as the in-game ratings scale was changed from 50-99 to 0-99. Although the 0-99 scale was already being utilised in the raw data within the players.dbf file for a few games prior, the 50-99 scale had been preserved in-game up until NBA Live 2003. The method used to calculate overall ratings wasn’t really adjusted accordingly, and as a result, a lot of players in NBA Live 2004 appear to be a tad underrated, while some benchwarmers have insultingly low overall ratings in the 30s and 40s. Only the top stars of the time are rated in the 80s and 90s.

Even keeping in mind the fact that an overall rating of 75 in NBA Live 2004 was much more favourable than an overall rating of 75 in NBA Live 2003, some noteworthy players were still definitely underrated, in particular the Class of 2003. I guess it’s easy to say that now – hindsight is 20/20, as they say – but even though they were rookies, LeBron James (69), Dwyane Wade (60), Chris Bosh (59) and Carmelo Anthony (63) were certainly not given their due. As far as veterans were concerned, Chauncey Billups felt a bit underrated at 67 overall, while Reggie Miller’s overall was an astonishingly low 61. For the record, Darko Milcic was 62 overall.

To put it in perspective, here are some other overall ratings from the default roster: Antoine Walker (76), Cuttino Mobley (69), Corey Maggette (73), Nick Van Exel (69), Kenyon Martin (74), Ricky Davis (74), Alonzo Mourning (72), Jason Richardson (71), Andrei Kirilenko (69), Juwan Howard (70), Jalen Rose (76) and Kwame Brown (66). Miller was still an effective player who probably should’ve been rated in the same vicinity, while LeBron and company deserved ratings somewhere between that group and top stars such as Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant (97), Tim Duncan (91), Paul Pierce and Steve Francis (87), Jason Kidd (89), and Shaquille O’Neal (92).

3. A bunch of overrated players in NBA Live 08

Morris Almond & Walter Herrmann in NBA Live 08

The PC/PS2 version of NBA Live 08 had its fair share of problems, but as far as fixable issues are concerned, several rookies in the default roster were oddly overrated. These players included Morris Almond (82), Nick Young (76), Sean Williams (84), Walter Herrmann (83), Al Thornton (84), Javaris Crittenton (81), Daequan Cook (85), Alando Tucker (86), and Josh McRoberts (76). For comparison, top two picks Greg Oden and Kevin Durant were rated 79 and 77 overall respectively, and players with similar overall ratings included Chris Paul (86), Chauncey Billups (84), Pau Gasol (85), and Deron Williams (78).

My guess is that this is a simple case of oversight. Most likely, those players were added to the roster and given placeholder ratings based on their college stats and scouting reports, which were subsequently never adjusted to account for a more realistic projection of their performance at the NBA level. Having maintained unofficial roster updates for many years, I can vouch for it being very easy to overlook a few players here and there when you’re trying to maintain ratings for a league of over 400 players. Of course, Young and McRoberts have turned out to be solid role players, so their ratings aren’t quite as bad by today’s standards.

While we’re on the subject of NBA Live 08 PC, I do have an honourable mention: Gilbert Arenas’ clutch rating of 10. Needless to say, with some of the big shots that he’d made in his career at that point, that was somewhat underrating his crunch time prowess. Amusingly, Arenas was of course the cover player of NBA Live that year, and even the intro for the Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 version of the game (revealed earlier in the form of a trailer) featured him hitting a gamewinning shot. Ouch.

4. Various three-point ratings in NBA Jam Tournament Edition

Inflated Three-Point Ratings for Juwan Howard & Dino Radja in NBA Jam Tournament Edition

Now, the NBA Jam series is obviously arcade-oriented with exaggerated abilities and gameplay, so one doesn’t scrutinise its ratings the same way you would with NBA Live or NBA 2K. That said, player ratings are still inspired by the abilities and performance of their real life counterparts. With that in mind, the PC version of NBA Jam Tournament Edition – incidentally, one of my all-time favourite basketball games – features some ratings that seem…well, a little off. Usually it’s just something like a Dunking or Clutch rating that could stand to be a couple of points higher or lower, but most notably, a few players have some very odd three-point ratings.

Take Dino Radja and Juwan Howard, for example. Both have the maximum rating of nine for their three-point ability, yet neither had made a three-pointer in their career at that point. Indeed, Radja finished his brief NBA career shooting 0/3 from downtown. Otis Thorpe had a more conservative three-point rating of six, but he hadn’t made a three in years, and was 3/64 from beyond the arc during his career. Big men who tended to knock down a few threes each year did receive slightly inflated ratings in Jam, as it suited the style of gameplay, but something was definitely amiss there.

Then again, I didn’t really notice any of this until years later. It’s not that I didn’t pay close attention to the NBA in the 90s or watch any games, but resources like obviously weren’t around, so detailed stats weren’t available until the season was over and they were published in almanacs and magazines, or on the backs of trading cards. Additionally, you’re not as critical of things like this when you’re only ten or eleven years old. Besides, I was probably too distracted by the late Yinka Dare’s hilariously terrible ratings…not that they prevented him from dominating all who stood in his way, of course.

5. Darius Miles is a superstar in NBA Live 2003

Darius Miles dunks in NBA Live 2003

I’ve previously mentioned Darius Miles as a player that you had to have in an NBA Live 2003 Franchise Mode game, because he started out with an absurd 87 overall rating. That rating would quickly balloon to 90+ overall within a few years, making him a highly valuable trade commodity, or a dominant star player if you decided to keep him. With NBA Live 2003’s up-tempo gameplay, his Dunking rating of 97, combined with Quickness and Speed ratings of 89 and 92 respectively, made him a beast on offense.

Looking back, NBA Live 2003 (and NBA Live 2002, for that matter) had a few too many players with 80+ overall ratings. It wasn’t too bad though as the rankings were fairly accurate, and the league’s superstars still stood out with ratings in the high 80s and 90s. Miles was definitely overrated, though; in addition to the aforementioned ratings, he was also rated 80 in Inside Scoring, 83 in Dribbling and Offensive Awareness, 87 in Defensive Rebounds and Defensive Awareness, 79 in Stealing, and 88 in Blocking. His Jumping, Endurance (Fatigue) and Primacy ratings also bumped his overall up a few notches.

Looking back, it’s easy to see how his ratings were inflated. He appeared to have a lot of untapped potential, and his numbers in his first two seasons were solid. He was undoubtedly athletic, and Per 36, he did have some good stealing and blocking stats. However, those ratings definitely overestimated his basketball IQ, and even though he did have some decent numbers, they exaggerated his production and skill level. Even in a game where several teams had multiple players rated at least 80 overall, even considering those aforementioned rookies in NBA Live 08, Darius Miles in NBA Live 2003 is arguably one of the most overrated players in a basketball video game.

That’s all for this week. What are some of the strangest ratings that you’ve come across in basketball video games? Let me know in the comments below, and as always, feel free to take the discussion to the NLSC Forum. Thanks for checking in, please join me next Friday for another Five.

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December 7, 2014 9:07 pm

Walter Herrmann was always overrated in Live 07-08 and always a free agent

Could sign him for almost free