Without question, NBA 2K3 is one of the most accurate representations of professional basketball to date. From posting up on the block to driving through the lane for a layup or a monstrous dunk, nearly every facet of the sport is executed very well, though that's not to say that there aren't some chinks in NBA 2K3's armor. There's still a lingering problem with the inconsistency in shot percentages and in the passing game, as well as a few nagging issues with basic dribbling movement when you're trying to navigate through a crowd of defenders. Still, in the grand scheme of things, these problems will largely go unnoticed by all but the hardest of the hard-core basketball fans, making NBA 2K3 a worthwhile purchase for anyone interested in the sport.
NBA 2K3 features the ESPN style and presentation.
Like other games in Sega's 2K3 series, NBA 2K3 has not only been revamped to include the new ESPN interface, but has also received an upgrade to its franchise mode. Of course all of the basic options are still there--you can trade players, sign free agents, and take a look at your own roster, all of which can help you put together a competitive team before the season begins. When it does actually start, you can look at all kinds of statistics for teams and individual players or even see who leads the league in a specific category and which rookies are on top of their games. You can also monitor the all-star voting ballots in the hope that one of your players is at the top of the list. Based on all this information, you can then decide whether you want to try to trade for another player through traditional means, which entails direct negotiation with another team, or take a less proactive approach by putting your own players up on the trading blocks to see what kinds of offers you'll receive from other teams. If you're playing with a top-notch team, these options are obviously not as enticing as they would be for a team that's down on its luck and trying to build a solid franchise, but over the course of the season, some of your players may fall victim to various injuries, forcing you to look for a suitable replacement if one doesn't exist on your bench.
At the end of a season in franchise mode, you'll see the recipients of various awards, such as rookie of the year, sixth man, and the league's most valuable player, as well as players who have been voted as All-NBA first team, All-NBA second team, All-NBA third team, and All-NBA defensive team. But more importantly than all of that, you'll see which players are retiring as well as which players have been put on the free agent market, two things that can really impact a team. If you don't feel like taking the high-price free agent route, you can focus all of your attention on the rookie draft, which allows you to get surprisingly detailed information on each player entering the draft, down to the player that he most closely mimics in the NBA. For example, it might say that a rookie center plays like Shaquille O'Neal--as rare as that may be--and it's one of the nicer little touches in the game that makes the draft much more interesting. If you want to get an even better idea of an individual rookie's skills, then you can schedule workouts, though you have a limited number of workouts since they're essentially based on how much money you're willing to spend. Eventually, you'll reach a point in the off-season where you can start training players, and one of the more interesting aspects of this particular feature is that you can train a player in one of several different specific categories, ranging from post defense to perimeter offense. The whole off-season process can seem a little intimidating, but those not willing to put up with the gobs of information being thrown around can let the computer do most of the work.
The franchise mode has been revamped.
In fact, if you don't particularly care about constructing a franchise or you want to avoid off-season high jinks altogether, then NBA 2K3 offers several other modes to choose from. There's a street basketball option where you can basically play a game of two-on-two or five-on-five without any refs on some of the most well-known street courts in the country. You can even adjust the weather and time of day, so you could play in the middle of a downpour at night. There are also season, playoff, and tournament options, so you can play through a single season, jump right into the playoffs, or make a custom tournament. Lastly, NBA 2K3 features a practice mode, in which you can have a friendly scrimmage against another team, practice free throws, or get the timing down on your shots.
But as fine-tuned as you think your stroke might be, it doesn't seem to matter sometimes in NBA 2K3. You'll undoubtedly vocalize your frustration when you see a star point guard miss three layups in a row or one of the best post-up men in the league miss three or four shots taken five feet away from the basket. This doesn't necessarily pertain to a player being either hot or cold, because your entire team seemingly goes cold at once. Incidentally, this particular problem mostly springs up when your team has pulled ahead, so in essence, it's the equivalent of the rubber-band AI used in some racing games--to keep the score close, the game puts an invisible handicap on your players. Unfortunately, that still doesn't explain why some shots don't go in even when the score is close. It would've been preferable to have the defending team step up its defense, but in this case, you'll simply miss shots that players in the actual sport would rarely miss.
The odd shot-percentage system is annoying, but it can inadvertently motivate you to play better on offense and make sure that your player has a completely open shot. Thankfully, you'll have a number of weapons at your disposal to do just that. When you have the ball, your player can do a number of juke moves, such as spins or crossovers, that will occasionally let you break past a defender for an easier shot. Also, NBA 2K3 introduces a new ball-fake move where you can fake that you're going in one direction and then immediately go in other, increasing the chance of blowing by the defender. It works quite well, particularly when driving to the lane, because defenders will scramble into the paint to block your shot, only to cause a foul. However, it's worth noting that this particular move is mapped to the Z button on the GameCube controller, so it feels a little awkward when executing it initially.
Get ready to miss open layups, even if you're using one of the best players in the league.
Another addition to NBA 2K3 is the midair adjustment. If you're a point guard driving through the lane and you see a center coming over to block your layup, you can adjust the shot in midair so that the defender misses the ball completely. It's pretty cool looking and works well against opponents (particularly when controlled by humans) who like to have a big man waiting around near the basket.