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The Ongoing Help Defense Saga in NBA 2K22 (Part 2)

NBA 2K22 help defense

NBA 2K22

The Ongoing Help Defense Saga in NBA 2K22 (Part 2)

In part one of this two-part series, I went through why the patch was necessary and discussed game development a bit. In part two, I want to dive more into the patch itself and NBA 2K22 help defense as a whole.

NBA 2K22 Help Defense Issues

nba 2k22

Is This Just A Bug?

First off, is this just a “bug” or not? This is a communication issue to some extent with the patch notes (or 2K simply does not know), but the change to how the AI helped from the opposite corner should not have led to the issues we’re now seeing with a general “stickiness” defenders have to players without the ball. Of course, game development being how it is, your one change can lead to 1,000 new issues, and so this change could just be a bug rather than “as designed” at this juncture.

There is some feeling it’s just a bug because that same help defense is still in there somewhere. Here is an example of the generally solid help defense from OS user Smirkin Dirk:

The best-case scenario is this is just a bug, and it will be fixed (again) like it was before. However, with each passing day it feels like there is less of a chance we get back to the more “traditional” help defense that existed before.

On Ball Vs. Off Ball

One of the major elements at play here is that I think to some extent the “wrong” area was attacked in this patch. The initial change was due to players being upset about extra “unneeded” help coming off players to help defend “open” cutters. But before that was an issue, players were more frustrated by the closing speed of the bigs and how tough the AI defense was on the ball. Besides the cutter help, the team defense was not being dinged in this community all that much.

As the weeks have passed, it’s become more obvious how to beat on-ball defenders with subtle movements and nuance, and so it’s not that challenging anymore to beat your man off the ball. However, this means it’s extra awkward that the team defense has taken a step back at a time where people are finally getting comfortable beating their man off the dribble or with a simple pick.

This isn’t me saying maybe we would have been better off not tuning/tweaking defense at all — I am pro-patch in a general sense, and I do think 2K was better this year about not just going wild patching things after only a couple days. But the better way to attack this (albeit it’s not something that can be attacked in a quick-fix patch because it’s an involved process) would be to look more deeply at the defensive settings themselves to satisfy all parties. This way individuals could tweak the defense themselves without patching something that makes some people frustrated with the outcome — even if we know why the change was made.

I’ll get more into the defensive settings in the next section, but I want to call out again how the defensive “tweaks” you make in the menus only matter in many instances on the ball. If you make changes to your settings, you will only see these changes if they relate to on-ball defense.

To reiterate, this is because of how the help defense is coded in 2K in a general sense. Your changes only matter if 2K wants them to matter. In this case, 2K has help defense rules that cannot be usurped by what you change in the menus. The system is not smart enough to react to what you have changed, and thus it just pretends like you didn’t change anything at all in many instances.

To really hammer home the point, here is the AI defense doing wildly different things on ball vs. off ball — so it was not even the user who made these changes.

Notice how that defense is in standard “one pass away” defense, but then follows the rule of “leave” once Josh Jackson gets the ball.

The AI does not respect Jerami Grant even with the ball in the corner (which is a little odd), and does something similar here:

This shows that the help defense is relatively rigid with its rules, but then the options open up depending on who has the ball. What this means is that it seems like the gap/smother/moderate/tight off-ball settings have little use right now because there is little difference between them.

This ties directly into a longer discussion about defensive options.

NBA 2K22 Has Many “Broken” Defensive Options

NBA 2K22 defensive settings

Defensive settings are an aspect of the game that both the “comp” players and the “sim” players agree are useful and awesome if/when they work. It is also clear that a ton of these defensive settings do not work. This is not news, and it has not been news for years.

I spent time going through some of these issues with the individual defensive settings in a video I put out right before NBA 2K22 came out, and I did it because I did assume some of the same issues would still exist in the new game. After all, this was a transition year with a shortened development window, and I know (as weird as it sounds) you can actually break the game and create more bugs by just removing something that is in the game.

That said, the 2K team has to sacrifice some development time and just strip out all this stuff that is not working and start fresh where needed. All that happens right now with stuff that does not actually work — whether it’s in the “gameplan” pause menu or in the coaching settings of the timeout menu — is create confusion. We can’t come up with solutions to defensive problems if the tools we have been given do not work. It’s only made worse when you give us tools that do not work on top of that because then we bang our heads off the hardwood trying to decipher what’s even useful to tweak.

So how many of the defensive settings even work as intended right now? It’s hard for me to say, but it’s less than 50 percent of them. I’m not sure if any of the “hedge” settings work. It’s unclear if things like “shrink the floor” work as a more global team defense setting. In short, as a user with zero insight into what’s going on behind the scenes in a “dev” build of the game, it would probably be easier to identify what settings do work rather than the ones that don’t.

2K can also be its own worst enemy in a way because the other related issue on this front has always been surfacing these options. I will always say 2K is the deepest game out there when it comes to gameplay depth, but most people don’t even know about half the options in this game.

Stuff like how the help defense button works is still news to people this year when it’s been in the game for a couple years now:

This also goes to things like people not knowing that the passing in 2K is actually much deeper if you want it to be. You can change to icon passing with pass type control and then throw lobs, bounce passes, or regular passes based on your button press. It even goes to something like ACE where we’re still not exactly sure what it does to the AI, or if it’s the reason why some games just feel so weird compared to others in terms of what the AI is doing.

The irony of all of this is that the coaching “gameplan” menu in the pause menu actually does have relatively good explanations for all the things you’re changing. Of course, the problem is that a lot of those tweaks you want to make don’t actually work. Regardless, developers can figure out better ways to onboard users or surface options already in the game. The point is that none of that stuff will matter unless the options in the game work as designed.

The bottom line here is you just have to rip all the defensive settings out and only put in settings that work. If that means we lose options, that’s fine because most of the ones we have now don’t work anyway.

Drop Coverage

I don’t want to discuss drop coverage (specifically with the hedge defender) too much and why it’s instituted so much around the real NBA on pick and rolls, but I do want to say there is a reason why that is the case. The roller is incredibly dangerous and will have a field day if the drop coverage is spotty. The roller will also run roughshod if not enough help comes from the other defenders when that defending big has to step up more on a good shooter in cases where the initial defender is forced to go over the pick. The players spotting up around the pick and roll get the ball more in terms of how pick and rolls end, but this is because the defense tries to take away the roller as a first priority before scrambling to get to the shooters.

In short, the big defending a pick-and-roll action has a lot of responsibilities, but first and foremost he has to stay in front of the action. The AI bigs were bad at drop coverage even before the patch (so the patch did not “break” this much more than it already was), but I want to call it out here since I want to make the point that there’s a reason why so many people off ball the pick and roll action and “user” the big:

This is brutal defense. Lopez should probably have more help, but his angles are a mess and gets dusted without taking anything away.

And here is an example where there’s a harder hedge (so not drop coverage), but now no one helps on the strong side once Fox rejects the pick.

There is no one there to stop the ball — let alone tag the roller if that had come up.

This has been a general issue for years and remains one today. This is a big reason why so many “comp” players play so much off-ball defense in the first place. Yes they like to “cheat” for steals and spam buttons at times, but playing good on-ball D just is not very important when one pick can wreck any good you’re doing “usering” on the ball.

I do want to point out that the AI big is capable of doing the right thing as you can see here:

But with a more spread floor (in the common five-out scenario), you really don’t see AI bigs that can consistently do basic drop coverage to stop the rush to the paint.

Online Vs. Offline

I have seen Czar mention this, and I’ve seen people mention it in the community for years, so I want to weigh in on the topic of tuning gameplay for the online crowd while not making those updates trickle down to people playing offline against the AI. To be clear, right now there’s no real good way for 2K to do that all around in some cases.

I do think this particular update to defense highlights why splitting the update off for just the online community could be a way to go. That said, I’m always very wary of splitting the community up because it’s just an added headache for development. On top of that, if sliders work right, then offline users can circumvent some of the issues that crop up. It’s harder in this case because the rotations just don’t seem to work as well now no matter what, but that seems more like a “tools” problem once again than a reason to split the two communities up.

It’s not to say that I’m totally against the idea of splitting the communities, but unless the 2K development team is big enough to fully support gameplay styles that are diverging that much offline and online to support both, I would try to avoid it. There are exceptions like this snafu where perhaps it makes sense, but I feel like if they go this route, it should be more to tune stuff in Park or maybe to tune AI teammates when you’re in The Rec.

(One other exception could be later in the year once every MyTeam is stacked with insane players who “break” the normal gameplay with regular NBA teams.)

Still, whether it’s online or offline, trying to change the 5-on-5 gameplay modes where it’s just one user vs. another or a user vs. the CPU feels dodgy.

However, an area where I think it does make sense almost all the time to split each community up relates to shooting. That said, as long as “greens” exist, then tuning the shooting is almost irrelevant in a way because there’s still a binary outcome that exists in most situations once certain people get good at timing their shots. You can change contest percentages and all this other stuff, but when you’re good you’re just going to hit a lot more shots than you would in real life.

Of course, that simplifies it a little too much to some extent because not every online user is as good as the next. High-level “comp” players had a bigger issue with the cutter help because their competition was just better. This means giving up an open corner jumper was an easy three points (especially since they don’t usually play on HOF) when it would not be the same “easy” points in your standard PNO or MyTeam game (at least not during this period because there are not too many insane cards out). Plus, not everyone plays five out online like they do in most “comp” games, which is what made this problem worse for them.

Now, again, this is may just be an indictment of the “greens” system, but other people who play online a lot on HOF were more comfortable giving up some open jumpers rather than the easy two points. At some point down the line maybe that would no longer be true, but for now even us “comp” HOF online users were okay with giving up a healthy amount of open jumpers — even if it was from the corner. After all, that’s just a part of NBA life now.

Bottom Line

I could talk more about what’s going on (or not) with double teams and such, but I want to cut this off here because I don’t want to stray too far from discussing the core issue of help defense itself. At the end of the day, we’re just looking for a little clarity and consistency with help defense. Feel free to continue to use the thread that has been tied to these two articles to discuss things further.

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