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NBA 2K18 AI Improvements Blog From Scott O’Gallagher

NBA 2K18

NBA 2K18 AI Improvements Blog From Scott O’Gallagher

2K fans! Scott O’Gallagher here and it’s a pleasure to be back to give you an inside look at the AI improvements in NBA 2K18. So let’s skip the nonsense and get the party started!

Back to the fundamentals

The Adaptive Coaching Engine has changed the game in the sports gaming industry. However, we believed that in order for this system to go to the next level, we really needed to get back to the fundamentals and knock out some deficiencies that have hindered this system. With that said, Shawn, the outstanding engineer that I work hand in hand with, gave me complete control over the major defensive AI decision making. This could be anything from the defender’s hip and facing angle, to what speed and stance he is in. From there, like a real film session, we broke down every cut or action that has hurt us in previous years and figured out the best “basketball” solution on how to solve it.

As you will see in this video, Beal has a situational understanding of all the different off ball cuts Redick has at his disposal.


In previous years, an off ball defensive setting, like moderate, has always meant the same thing. Meaning if you were one pass away you were going to be x feet away, if you were two passes away you were going to be x feet away. This is where we needed to inject some more authenticity to the game because in the NBA, that setting can have multiple distances and responsibilities depending on the situation. In 2K18, your positioning setting is more important than ever!

Here is side pick and roll action by the Lakers. Notice how Harkless is dropping even further than his initial “one pass away” gap distance because of his understanding of the shooter’s abilities and game situation.


Yes, you read this correctly. Your CPU teammates now have the ability to recognize a set and action a team is running and adjust on the fly!  This is one of the biggest things you hardcore X’s and O’s players will recognize immediately. This also plays a substantial role in ACE. Every team knows how hot a player is and can adapt according to the set or action the players are in. For example, you will see certain teams change their pick and roll coverage in a 1-4 spread situation with Steph Curry or Kyrie Irving as opposed to Russell Westbrook. You will also see defenders play tight or back up significantly in pinch post or rub actions.

Coming from semi-transition, OKC goes straight into a 1-4 low isolation. Utah recognizes this and adapts accordingly. I’d also like to point out the difference in pressure between Ingles and Rubio. Notice that Rubio is going to stay closer to George due to his shooting ability.

Here is a high pick and roll look that Philly has been successful with early in the game. Notice how Porter adapts his gap coverage in this situation by leaving Simmons open and daring him to knock it down from deep.

Settling into the half court, Portland goes right into their horns set.

What to watch:

  • Both of the Lakers big drop on the set recognition.
  • Deng tightens up on the wing to limit the success of the downs screen.
  • Nance Jr knows the down screen in coming so he gives space and is in the correct position to play the curl or slip

Many teams will also have individual positioning adjustments in isolation situations. This can change depending on where the player catches the ball and who is the on-ball defender. Notice the difference between how Boston plays a Carmelo Anthony wing isolation compared to Golden State versus Lebron.

One of my favorite parts of this system is that you can play a heavy role as well! Do you see a set or action that’s working too often? Let’s talk about it! No different than a roster update, these can be updated on the fly.


This was something that we overhauled this year and something that you are going to love. Finally the defense is popping to the next location like if you were in a shell drill. Something you are going to notice immediately is the impact of elite defenders off ball. When he can read the pass animation depends on the defender’s IQ. A player such as Kawhi Leonard can sense the pass is going to be thrown while the animation is in motion, while others may be much later to do so. This equates to more off ball deflections and steals in the passing lanes.

A motto for us on the AI side this year was, “you can’t help what you can’t see.” Here is an example where Towns is late to recognize his help responsibilities because his back was to the ball. As soon as he recognizes man and ball, he’s back on his two-nine responsibility.

DOUBLE TEAMS – Double teams have been refactored. New animation coverage for pick and roll and post ups. We have also added doubled team packages for the AI, so they can change their double team coverage in four out sets compared to three out.

ZONE DEFENSE IN THE PRO-AM – You and your teammates can call a zone defense this year and not have to worry about your grades taking a hit.

ADDING TO THE AUTHENTICITY – In 2K17, we added more team specific schemes like “Weak” and Brad Steven’s “trap the box.” We have added a bunch more this year and plan to add/update these throughout the year. Along with that, all historic teams and the Jordan Rules have been updated.

MALONE LANE LINE- John Stockton and Karl Malone made their living off of the pick and roll below the foul line. Since NBA teams do it, we have to do it as well. Look to see teams adjust their pick and roll coverage in this area.

MISMATCH ADJUSTMENT- There is a lot of switching on the perimeter in NBA, the same goes for 2K18. So with that, if you get a big matched up with a guard on the perimeter, look to see the defense adjust and the on ball defender change his defensive pressure on the fly.


In all basketball games prior to 2K18, an off ball cutter or screener slipping the pick early caused the defense all types of problems. This year you can deny on the perimeter and hard hedge effectively knowing that your defense on the back end in there.

Below is an example of great defensive IQ and situational recognition from an elite rim protector. Jackson beats Dragic (the user defender) and Whiteside is there to prevent the easy score. Immediately following the cut, the Pistons’ Anthony Tolliver slips the screen and Whiteside is there to save the day again!

Here is an example where Julius Randle is showing hard after Dame Lillard has been hurting the Lakers in the pick and roll. I want you to look at Zubac’s ability to recognize the cut and slide over to help.


The NBA game has become more spread year after year, so we have simplified our multiple rotation logic as well. We also overhauled our stop ball logic which has made the defensive side of the ball feel good. With these adjustments made, we need to look at all of the help angles and speeds in which the defender move to.


As noted above, since teams can now recognize particular sets and actions, this allows us to have teams like Memphis, ICE the side pick and roll and stay home on the weak side.

Same look, but this time Chandler Parsons is the hedge man, so he shows hard and recovers back to Jordan. Another thing to note is that Marc Gasol, even though he’s a rim protector, knows that Gallinari is a knock down shooter so he’s staying at home in the corner.

As you noticed in the NBA finals, the Warriors would really shrink the floor on Lebron post-up situations. Below is an example where they have shrunk the floor and started to change the “Dig” responsibilities of the defender.

The same cannot be said when Kevin Love has the ball on the block. If he is one on one with Draymond, the Warriors will stay home and live with the outcome.

All pick and roll schemes have been improved on this year.


We pride ourselves on authenticity here at Visual Concepts. So year after year we keep adding all of these team specific defenses, but have never went into detail on how great they are or what they do. All we have ever given you is a wall of text and that wasn’t good enough. I’m happy to say that those days are over. This is step one in helping educate the gamers out there about the beauty in the X’s and O’s. Every adjustment has a visual representation and description on the menu along with pros and cons to that setting.

Don’t worry you MyGM and MyLeague heads! We didn’t forget about you, this year you are able to bring up the defensive setting menu in this mode so you can practice on your defensive schemes.

DIFFICULTY MATTERS – To get the most authentic NBA Adjustments from ACE, you need to be playing on Superstar or Hall of Fame. All skill levels below that will see limited double teams and changes in situational coverages.


Since I’ve been here, all I have heard is, “these team specific defenses are great, but I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.” Now when you turn the Defensive Communication setting on, you will get call out above your head that tells you what you’re supposed to do. This is completely driven by the ACE engine. Keep in mind that this is only for you and the message will change whether you’re the on-ball defender, hedge defender, or the player who’s got one of the main two roles in transition defense.


This year you will see some defenses prioritize the drive by moving to help earlier from particular players.


Getting back to the fundamentals, the pick and roll is the most used play in basketball. With that said, we wanted to pay more attention to that part of the game at the primary level. The first thing we did was move this into our motion system to give you the most responsive pick and roll branching yet. Now defenders, depending on speed and how hard they’re hit, can branch out faster depending on the throw of their stick. For years we have seen players go back and forth into screens until they find longer animations that put the defender in non-advantageous situations and go the other way. We also looked hard at identifying good screeners and making sure they were playing the appropriate content. Going under on a shooter while getting screened by a seven-footer like Steven Adams should be costly and we have made big strides on that this year.


If there was one thing I assumed that you guys were going to love, this would be it. Now with System Proficiency, how the player’s skill set, position and play style fits into the coaches scheme is more important than ever. Gone are the days where teams are not getting penalized for playing players like Iverson, Kobe, Jordan and Carmelo on the floor at the same time.

So let’s get started with the systems.

There are eight different systems:

  1. Balanced
  2. Pace and Space
  3. Seven seconds
  4. Post Centric
  5. Grit and Grind
  6. Perimeter Centric
  7. Triangle
  8. Defense

We wanted this to be as authentic as possible, so instead of myself identifying these coaches, I called my contacts around the league and asked them to identify these coaches themselves. Every coach in the game is graded on each of those eight systems. Each system comes with its pros and cons. These systems prioritize skill sets, attributes, tendencies and badges on a per position basis. These are multi-level, attribute additions and subtractions depending on the system and how well the player fits into the scheme. The coach’s ability in the system adds into these effects. For example, an elite scorer like Carmelo Anthony may fill the scoring void you need at the small forward position. However, since he is a player with a heavy isolation tendency, he does not fit the seven seconds or less system. The same goes for placing Steve Nash in the Triangle. Yes he can play in that system, but he’s not going to be the same MVP guard you saw in Phoenix, simply because he needs the ball in his hands and wants to play in a heavy pick and roll and up-tempo game. This is not always the case, however. Some great players such as KD, Kawhi and Lebron have skill sets that allow them to flourish in any system. But not all coaches have the same capability in each system and even a great fit for a system, like Kobe in the triangle, can be sabotaged by a coach that is out of his depth. It’s important to have a holistic approach to System Proficiency to maximize the effect.

Another thing to note when it comes to System Proficiency is the importance of position. Yes, we’re in an era of “position-less basketball,” but that doesn’t mean you should be rewarded for putting Paul George at center. This plays a crucial role because, like I mentioned above, some coaches are looking for a particular need and skill at that positon. Therefore, I suggest not playing a player outside of his primary or secondary position.


As you can see here, System Proficiency also plays a pivotal role into these two modes as well. Team building has already been fun and entertaining in these modes, now you have another layer to think about when signing a coach or adding players to your franchise.


Being a big historian of the game, I’ve always loved the thought of getting some historical players together from packs and diving into MyTeam. Where I’ve always struggled playing that mode, from a gameplay perspective, is that it became of a matter of gamers just getting the five best shooters or scores and throwing them out there with few repercussions. Since role players like Robert Horry mean more now than ever, I feel like this has only brought more depth to an already outstanding mode and will attract more players like you and I.


Without a doubt, this is one of my favorite times of year. Working on 2K18 was a lot of fun and I’m excited to get this game into your hands. Big shout out to entire 2K team who helped bring this together! What we were able to accomplish this year has set us up significantly for the years to come! No stone has gone unturned when it comes to providing you with the most authentic sports gaming experience to date. I hope you guys enjoy this as much as we did creating it. I’ll see you on the virtual hardwood on September 19th!

Until next time, WinnersWin and I’m out!


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