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Real Mitch Kupchak > virtual Mitch Kupchak
It’s video game week at SB Nation, and to properly celebrate, I’m pretending to be Mitch Kupchak for a day and do a speed-rebuild of our beloved Hornets on NBA 2K20 for Xbox One.
For those who don’t know, NBA 2K20 is the premier basketball video game. It has many game modes, but my favorite is the immersive franchise simulation mode, MyLeague, which is what I’ll be playing to rebuild the Hornets. 2K allows the user to control every aspect of the NBA while acting as the GM of their chosen team in MyLeague. Essentially, I’m playing as Adam Silver and Mitch Kupchak combined into one person.
To make things realistic, I downloaded Xbox Live used “Shammgxd’s” 2020 NBA Draft class, which has detailed renderings of over 60 2020 Draft prospects. Shout out to Shammgxd on Xbox Live for their hard work.
Using the “Start Today” option, I picked up right where the 2019-2020 Hornets left off in real-life. For some reason, 2K doesn’t have the Hornets’ March 11 win over the Heat in their system, so I began the simulation after the March 9 loss to the Hawks. I won’t play any games, because that takes too long. The computer will determine all of the results. Let’s see how it goes:
The end of the 2019-2020 season
Even though Malik Monk is listed as active in 2K, I dropped his minutes to zero and made him a reserve to keep it realistic. To finish out the season, the Hornets’ rotation looked like this:
G – Devonte’ Graham – 34 minutes
G – Terry Rozier – 32 minutes
F – Miles Bridges – 30 minutes
F – PJ Washington – 30 minutes
C – Cody Zeller – 28 minutes
6 – Cody Martin – 24 minutes
7 – Willy Hernangomez – 20 minutes
8 – Jalen McDaniels – 18 minutes
9 – Caleb Martin – 14 minutes
10 – Dwayne Bacon – 10 minutes
Every three-or-four games, I would shuffle up the center rotation and give one of Biz, Cody or Willy the night off, similar to what James Borrego did at the end of the season. Joe Chealey and Nicolas Batum were the two bench warmers. I don’t know why, but 2K doesn’t allow G-League call-ups in “Start Today” mode, so Kobi Simmons and Ray Spalding were not available, which stinks because I would’ve given them playing time.
Terry Rozier and Jalen McDaniels were only players to suffer injuries; Rozier missed three games with a bruised right hip and was replaced in the starting lineup by Caleb Martin, giving Joe Chealey 10 minutes per game for those three contests, and McDaniels missed the final two weeks of the season with right knee tendinitis. Again, kind of annoying that I couldn’t call up Ray Spalding. Get it together, 2K Sports.
The Hornets finished the season 10th in the East with a record of 29-53, winning seven games between the March 11 suspension date and the end of the season. This is strangely similar to what likely would’ve happened had the real-life Hornets gotten to finish the season.
Giannis Antetokounmpo won MVP, Ja Morant won Rookie of the Year, Dennis Schroder won Sixth Man of the Year, Kawhi Leonard won Defensive Player of the Year, and Mike Budenholzer was named Coach of the Year. All of these are fair and realistic.
Devonte’ was beaten out for Most Improved Player by Bam Adebayo, which I won’t argue with, and PJ Washington made the All-Rookie first-team, which I also won’t argue with.
I simulated the playoffs and the Conference Finals matchups were; the 1-seed Bucks versus the 3-seed Celtics in the East, and the 2-seed Clippers versus the 4-seed Mavericks in the West. The 1-seed Lakers got swept in the first round by the 8-seed Kings (lol). An unexpected matchup in the West, but fitting given how wild the end of this season is (potentially) about to be in real life. The Celtics beat the Bucks 4-1 and the Clippers topped the Mavs 4-3.
The Clippers swept the Celtics 4-0 in The Finals. Kawhi Leonard won his second-straight Finals MVP averaging 25.0 points, 9.3 rebounds, 6.8 assists, 5.0 steals and 1.5 blocks per game on 50.6 percent shooting from the field and 45.8 percent from long-range.
Early in the offseason
Jamal Crawford, Pau Gasol, Kyle Korver, Zach Randolph, Joakim Noah, Channing Frye and Jeremy Pargo all decided to hang it up and retire after the season. Strangely enough, Vince Carter decided to run it back for another year.
MyLeague allows you to control literally every aspect of the NBA while you play as a team’s GM, so during the owner’s meetings I changed the Rising Stars Game back to the Rookies vs. Sophomores format. The current USA vs. World format that the NBA uses is dumb. I also bumped the number of All-Stars per conference from 12 to 13, since 13 is the number of players on a normal NBA roster. One or two players per year are usually deserving of selection but get snubbed, anyway.
The 2020 NBA Draft
The Hornets went into the Draft Lottery with the 7th-best odds to land the No. 1 overall pick, a 6.0 percent chance. As usual, luck was not on the Hornets’ side and they slid to the ninth pick. Minnesota got the first pick, followed by Golden State, Washington, Phoenix, Cleveland, Atlanta, New York, Detroit, Charlotte and Chicago.
Going in, there were three targets; get the best player available in the lottery, while also finding a potential backup point guard and backup center.
The Timberwolves took LaMelo Ball No. 1 overall. When the ninth pick came around, the best players on the board were; Killian Hayes, Deni Avdija, Obi Toppin, and Cole Anthony. There’s no way Hayes is slipping past the Hornets; he helps fill the backup point guard role while offering upside as an off-the-dribble scorer at all three levels.
Just like in real life, the Cavs’ second-rounder that the Hornets own landed at 32. The best bigs available were Jalen Smith, Daniel Oturu, Zeke Nnaji, and Xavier Tillman, and the guards/wings left on the board were Skylar Mays, Isaiah Joe, Corey Kispert and Grant Riller. I decided to go with Oturu, even though I’m a huge fan of Riller; the team needs to fill the black hole at center at some point.
Turns out I made the right choice. Despite Riller being taken, many of the guards available at 32 were still available when the Hornets came on the clock with the 56th pick via Boston. Kenyon Martin Jr. and Trendon Watford were intriguing options at forward, too, but I finished off the Hornets’ 2020 draft class with Payton Pritchard. MJ needed to pick a four-year senior at some point.
Obviously, Devonte’s team option for next season was picked up, as was Caleb Martin’s two-year team option. Nicolas Batum accepted his $27M player option for next season as well.
Jalen McDaniels was extended a qualifying offer, though I opted not to extend one to Dwayne Bacon after he said that he wants to move on from Charlotte this summer. Ray Spalding and Kobi Simmons also did not receive qualifying offers.
On the first day of free agency, I threw a four-year max offer at Brandon Ingram just for fun, but of course the Pelicans matched it. I moved on to more realistic goals, like signing undrafted Ashton Hagans and second-year forward Max Strus to Two-Way contracts for next season, both of whom accepted. Undrafted free agent center out of Kansas Udoka Azubuike accepted a two-year, $2.91M offer on the first day as well. Filling lots of holes here.
Figuring that at least some of the current cap space has to be spent, I went out and locked up Skal Labissiere on a two-year, $9.02M deal. He’s still only 24 with size, shooting touch, and a tradable contract if he doesn’t end up being a good fit.
Jalen McDaniels accepted his $1.92M qualifying offer, filling the last available roster spot the Hornets had for the 2020-2021 season. That’s a wrap on free agency.
Preparing for the 2020-2021 season
The first step was to assemble the Hornets’ 2020 Summer League roster. Here’s what we got after examining the pool of players (I could only pick one random player because the team is so young):
G – Killian Hayes
G – Caleb Martin
F – Cody Martin
F – Jalen McDaniels
C – Daniel Oturu
6 – John Konchar
7 – Payton Pritchard
8 – Ashton Hagans
9 – Max Strus
10 – Udoka Azubuike
Unfortunately, they only won their preliminary round games and lost as soon as the Summer League tournament started. The 2020 Summer Hornets were short-lived.
It’s pretty quiet (aka boring) after Summer League ends. The only things to do (simulate) before the start of the 2020-2021 season is send players to “training camps” that raise their attributes. Miles Bridges was sent to the “perimeter defense camp,” raising his defensive IQ, defensive consistency, lateral quickness and steal ratings.
The 2021 draft class (thanks again to Shammgxd on Xbox Live) was loaded up, marking the end of the offseason.
Heading into the 2020-2021 season, this is how the Hornets’ rotation was mapped out:
G – Devonte’ Graham – 32 minutes
G – Killian Hayes – 26 minutes
F – Miles Bridges – 30 minutes
F – PJ Washington – 30 minutes
C – Cody Zeller – 26 minutes
6 – Terry Rozier – 28 minutes
7 – Malik Monk – 24 minutes
8 – Skal Labissiere – 18 minutes
9 – Daniel Oturu – 14 minutes
10 – Cody Martin – 12 minutes
Udoka Azubuike, Nicolas Batum, Payton Pritchard, Jalen McDaniels and Caleb Martin are the benchwarmers for now.
What’s gonna happen with these five players? How will Martin, McDaniels, Pritchard and Azibuike develop while receiving zero minutes per game?
I guess you’ll have to check in later this week and see what happens during the 2020-2021 season in the At The Hive Hornets 2K rebuild! Gotcha!