NBA 2K21 Big Gameplay Changes Announced, Demo Coming Soon

2K Sports announces a series of significant changes to how NBA 2K21 will play compared to previous games.


2K Sports has announced more details on NBA 2K21, including news about a demo and how the gameplay is changing on current-generation platforms. Big changes are coming, including the pro stick getting a major overhaul and the addition of a new shot meter and shot types. Alongside signature moves, it'll be an adjustment for veterans.

We break down all the major changes below.

Players can test out some of these new features through a free demo will be available for NBA 2K21 on August 24 for PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. The demo won't be available on PC and Stadia, it seems. In previous years, 2K released a demo of sorts called The Prologue, but it's not clear if this is that or something else.

Basketball For Everyone

Regarding the current-generation gameplay updates for NBA 2K21, the developer said this year in particular it is trying to make the game appeal to a "wide range of fans." Players who want a hardcore simulation experience will have it, while the game is also aiming to appeal to newcomers.

"One way we set out to accomplish this was through building out a robust set of sliders and carefully mapping the appropriate settings to all the various modes in our game," gameplay director Mike Wang said in a statement.

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"I'm pretty confident that longtime fans of 2K basketball will notice the improvements and appreciate what the team was able to accomplish," he added.

The "pro stick" has been updated to give players more control on offense. "In past games, you could hold the pro stick in any direction to take a jump shot. That was limiting us from utilizing the right stick as a fully featured dribble stick. So this year, we're making a pretty significant change to how the Pro Stick works," Wang said.

Here is the new setup:

  • Hold RS down = jump shot
  • Hold RS left or right = escape dribble moves
  • Hold RS up = signature size-ups
  • Tap the RS = quick 1-to-1 dribble moves
  • Tap the RS with Sprint held = quick momentum dribble moves

Wang said it will take only a few games for the new control setup to feel "second nature." With the new pro stick controls, players should have more freedom to play with style and flair.

"Along with the remap, the moves themselves have been overhauled to be much more responsive and chain-able," Wang said. "Street moves have been moved to a tap of the left trigger as well, so you won't be firing them off by accident when you're breaking down defenders in the Park."

New animations have been added to NBA 2K21 as well, including James Harden's "around the leg dribble" and Kevin Durant's "hesi cross" move. Former player Nate Robinson is also in the game, and he performed new motion capture to bring some "unique moves" to NBA 2K21.

New Shooting Mechanics

The pro stick changes also impact how shooting and finishing baskets works in NBA 2K21. "We really wanted to make scoring the basketball a skill both from the perimeter and at the rim, so we brainstormed and prototyped a number of various shooting mechanics for this year's game," Wang said.

NBA 2K21's shooting mechanics are going back to an idea originally tested in NBA 2K17. In NBA 2K21, the shot meter has changed from timing to targeting. This can be disabled, and you can revert to the shooting controls from NBA 2K20, if you want.

"So instead of trying to stop the shot meter when you reach the perfect release window, you adjust the pro stick in real time to hit the ideal center aim point," Wang said. "The target window resizes dynamically based on player ability, shooting range, and how well the shot is contested and can also shift to the left or right based on the shot’s degree of difficulty. If you miss the target too far to the left or right, your shot will miss in that direction."

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NBA 2K21's new difficulty sliders will also apply to these new shooting mechanics, so players can fine-tune the experience to be as easy or challenging as they want.

"You also won't be penalized for using the entire shooting motion to find the sweet spot. In other words, you don't have to time your release when you’re shooting with the pro stick," Wang said. "But if you want to take it to the next level and know your release, you can lock in your timing and aim by either centering the pro stick or by tapping one of the triggers when you reach the apex of the shot. The lock in will be indicated by a brief flash on the shot meter. If you can time AND aim well, you will give yourself the best chances at making the shot."

Wang also confirmed that the new aiming system also applies to layups, so players will need to have a "good touch" near the rim, the developer said.

"As you're driving you can still hold the pro stick in any direction to start a layup, but this year, you'll want to quickly swing the stick to move the aiming tick to the center of the target," Wang said. "Aiming layups well can help overcome shot contests and help you finish through contact."

"If you can master shooting with the pro stick, you'll have a higher ceiling for getting greens and making tough shots, so I'm pretty sure it's going to be the shot method of choice for many competitive 2K players," Wang added. "But since I know some will ask… yes, there is an option to disable shot aiming if you really want to go back to last year’s controls."

Additionally, there will be more shot types for NBA 2K21, including James Harden's fadeaway.

On defense, players can expect improvements in the form of block targeting that should make it easier to knock away shots. There will also be more options in the paint to stop offensive players for scoring easily.

Bigger Point Guards

For NBA 2K21's MyCareer mode, the developers have increased the height limit for point guards to 6'8". The change came directly from a request by NBA 2K21's current-gen cover star, Damian Lillard, according to 2K.

More Updates

NBA 2K21 also introduces improvements to the signature dribble styles that were added for offensive moves in NBA 2K20. For this year's game, signature moves for defense have been added, including those based on Russell Westbrook, Giannis Antetokounmpo, LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Pat Beverley, Andre Iguodala, and Draymond Green.

Wang also confirmed that the Badge system from NBA 2K20 is coming back for this year's game. "I think you’ll find that more badges will have merit and fight for a spot in your badge loadout, giving you more effective tools to take over games in a more varied fashion," Wang said. "And here's some good news that I know the community will appreciate. We removed Quick Draw and put release speed back into the Jump Shot Creator. So that's one thing you won’t have to waste your precious badge points on."

Next-Gen Details Later

Wang said players who pick up NBA 2K20 on current-gen platforms will find a "great step forward," but the game is also coming to PS5 and Xbox Series X where it's going to cost $70 USD. Wang said players can look forward to gameplay details for "all the goodies" on PS5 and Xbox Series X in the coming months. What we do already know about the next-gen versions of NBA 2K21 is that they will offer drastically improved loading times and better graphics overall, but the full featureset for the new editions has not been confirmed as of yet.

NBA 2K21 has very large shoes to fill, as last year's game sold an astonishing 14 million copies to become the highest-selling entry in the franchise of all time.

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