The NBA has 30 teams. What if it had 32?
That’s the premise of a hypothetical we’ve been acting out this week. We’re pretending that the league adds expansion teams in Seattle and Virginia Beach — one being a new generation of the Sonics and the other a start-up.
Under this circumstance, we had experts on all 30 teams put together protection lists of eight players. Anyone not on those lists was exposed to the expansion draft and the two new franchises.
So the Seattle Sonics and Virginia Beach Knights wound up with these teams:
Starters: Tyler Johnson, Wesley Matthews, Iman Shumpert, Kenneth Faried, Greg Monroe
Bench: Jamal Crawford, Tyson Chandler, Ryan Anderson, Bojan Bogdanovic, Jeremy Lamb, Thabo Sefolosha, Amir Johnson, Frank Mason III, Mario Hezonja, Jake Layman
Starters: George Hill, Tim Hardaway Jr., C.J. Miles, Taj Gibson, Robin Lopez
Bench: Lou Williams, Evan Fournier, Trey Lyles, John Henson, Marcus Morris, Bryn Forbes, Nick Young, Ian Clark, Thomas Bryant, Isaiah Whitehead
How would these teams do? Probably not well, initially.
But we decided to simulate the first season for each, using NBA 2K17.
My methodology, briefly:
- Start a “My League” and take control of all 32 teams, making it so that Seattle and Virginia Beach would take these exact rosters after an expansion draft. The 2K expansion draft only lets you pick 13 players, so I tinkered to get both the Sonics and Knights to 15 bodies. Then I made their lineups and distributed minutes.
- Turn off injuries. That’s not realistic, of course, but I figured it’d be the best way to avoid random weirdness in a one-year simulation. Lineups stayed the same all year.
- Simulate straight through the entire season and playoffs, using the 2016-17 schedule. Next season’s isn’t loaded into the game yet, and everyone plays 82 games against similar opposition anyway.
I downloaded an up-to-date roster so teams could have their 2017 rookie classes. That’s not perfectly scientific (and nothing else here is, either), but the roster I used was one of the best-reviewed available on the PlayStation network.
The Seattle and Virginia Beach expansion teams did stunningly well.
Seattle went 44-38 and finished as the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference. Virginia Beach was 40-42 and landed the No. 7 seed in the East.
The Sonics proceeded to beat the Clippers and Spurs in the first two rounds of the playoffs before they fell to the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. The Knights swept the Raptors as the seventh seed in the East, then lost to the Celtics in six.
The Finals were what you’d expect: Golden State sweeping Cleveland.
How’d these teams do so well? I have no idea. 2K is odd sometimes.
George Hill was pretty decent for the Knights. He averaged 16 points, eight assists, and four rebounds while shooting 40 percent from three. C.J. Miles was effective on the wing, averaging 12 points and five boards with a team-best 43 percent mark on three-pointers. Lou Williams chipped in 15 points and five assists off the bench. Both Robin Lopez and Taj Gibson got north of eight boards per game, but nobody got to 10.
Tyler Johnson, formerly of the Heat, led the revamped Sonics. Johnson’s counting stats were fine: 17 points, six assists, and four rebounds as a full-time point guard. But he had a shaky 48.4 effective field goal percentage, so he wasn’t efficient at all. Wes Matthews was good for 15, four, and five. Jamal Crawford contributed an extremely Jamal Crawford 11 points on nine shots per game off the bench.
Virginia Beach wasn’t great at anything, but the Sonics’ success came from elite team defense. They gave up 103.1 points per 100 possessions, third-best in the league behind the Rockets and Warriors. Lopez, Gibson, and John Henson combined for about five blocked shots per game. They were a really sturdy front line.
The most fun thing about this was bringing the Sonics back to life.
There are devoted gamers out there who build sleek, modern-looking Sonics jerseys and make them available for everyone to download and use. Folks make new logos, and they design new arenas, and all that stuff.
My fictional Sonics were playing in something called the Amazon Arena, which sounds highly Seattle.
Today I played video games for work and brought the Seattle Sonics back into existence. They forced Blake Griffin into a three-second call pic.twitter.com/6KZrJxOZGG— Alex Kirshner (@alex_kirshner) August 9, 2017
That looks great, doesn’t it? Shouts to my man tyler42575.
The Virginia Beach Knights also stitched together a nice home atmosphere. The people of the Virginian coastline were longing for a team, and now they have one.
In real life, any expansion team would probably be bad for a while.
That these two fared well in a video game doesn’t change that. Sorry, everyone.
But this exercise is a decent reminder of how many good players there are in the NBA. No new team will ever get to pick a great player in an expansion draft, and this is a league driven by great players.
But if the NBA only allows seven or eight protected players per team, there’s a chance for the new teams to build some depth. Every player on both of these fake teams is a legitimate NBA talent.
Also, bring back the Sonics.