TORONTO — The chemistry between star point guard Kenneth (Kenny Got Work) Hailey and centre Jerry (Sick One) Knapp has helped lift Raptors Uprising GC to the top of the NBA 2K League esports standings.
So has the willingness of their teammates to play their roles.
“I think you could look throughout our lineup and say that everyone is just playing their role at an exceptionally high level. And that’s why the whole team is having success,” said Shane Talbot, esports manager at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.
The Raptors, who top the 23-team standings at 6-0, return to action Friday after a bye week to face Nets GC (2-1).
Hailey, who is having an MVP-calibre season, and Knapp have been driving the bus.
The 30-year-old Hailey was named player of the week twice in the first three weeks of the season while the 27-year-old Knapp was a finalist in Week 2.
“You could argue, and I think most would, that Jerry’s playing as the best centre in the world right now. Alongside Kenny, who arguably is playing as the best point guard in the world right now,” said Talbot.
“With the importance of that centre-point guard dynamic in the NBA 2K League, it’s certainly a major contributing factor to our success right now.”
Like the NBA itself, the 2K video game is home to big men with far more than”paint-mashing” skills.
“This meta of the game is playing to Jerry’s strengths, where you need a more dynamic centre,” said Talbot, who jokingly refers to Knapp as his point-centre.
Knapp can move the ball up the floor and open up space for Hailey, either via screens or by occupying the attention of defenders. Not your average centre, Knapp even played a game at point guard for Cavs Legion in 2018 prior to being traded to Toronto in May 2019.
“Some of the passes he makes are passes that guys on passing builds (in the game) would struggle to make,” said Talbot. “He’s really a high IQ player, he sees the whole floor.”
In drafting Jerry’s younger brother, 18-year-old Jake (Legit 973) Knapp, in the February draft, Raptors Uprising now boasts the first sibling combination on the same team in league history.
Jake Knapp has taken over as power forward, completing a starting lineup that also includes lockdown defender Trent (Timelycook) Donald and Maurice (ReeceMode) Flowers.
While Hailey and Jerry Knapp may be the team’s marquee players, they are both laid-back, unassuming types.
“They’re very down-to-earth guys, both very low-ego guys,” said Talbot. “I’d say both have always played for the win as opposed to for the individual stats.
“And in fact, that’s one of the corrections with Kenny we had to make this year — was to say ‘Go off, do what the game has been built for for point guards to be able to do. Take 40 shots, don’t worry about facilitating the ball movement and play a little bit more selfishly.’
“We’ve seen him take over the games. Obviously two player of the week awards through the first three weeks is a good indication that he’s been rising to the occasion.”
Combine Hailey and Jerry Knapp with Cook’s smothering defence and the ability of Jake Knapp and Flowers to step forward when called upon and the Raptors are on a roll.
“The way that you form NBA 2K teams is you’ve got to have a balance of stars and role players,” said Talbot. “Chemistry is a huge thing, especially in our environment when they’re all living in a house together.
“Certainly we wanted to make sure that we were putting people around Kenny and Jerry who we felt would drive chemistry, who we felt they would get along with and they would feel safe with. And that they could trust, both in-game and out-of-game.
“We also need to make sure they could play.”
They are doing it without rookie Anthony (Wuan) Rivas, who remains on the roster but is no longer in Toronto.
“We ran into some chemistry issues with Anthony,” said Talbot without elaborating.
Rivas had been projected to start with Jake Knapp as sixth man. But Talbot said the younger Knapp won a starting job with his pre-season play.
The Raptors’ defence has helped key the offence. Talbot says while their defence is simpler than some other teams, it is run by high IQ players with high-end defensive skills.
Donald leads the way, showing he is still a defensive force to be reckoned with after sitting out last season for contravening the league’s code of conduct on social media.
Donald also has ties to Hailey and Flowers, having played with them in the past.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press