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The WNBA will be in NBA2K this year and no one is more excited than Mystics' Aerial Powers

The WNBA will be in NBA2K this year and no one is more excited than Mystics' Aerial Powers

WASHINGTON – Aerial Powers has played videogames her entire life. Call of Duty, Apex Legends, NBA2K, she plays everything. She’s a gamer.

Never did she imagine that she would actually become a character in a videogame, and in less than a month the Washington Mystics forward will be. For the first time ever, the NBA2K franchise will feature WNBA players in this year’s edition to be released in September.

“I never thought that we were going to ever able to be in a videogame and now I’m in one,” Powers told NBC Sports Washington.

Entering digital gameplay is not a first for the WNBA. In 2017, NBA Live created by EA Sports introduced the league into their game in a groundbreaking move.

While monumental, the effort put in the addition of the WNBA seemed to be lacking as opposed to the men. There were glaring omissions: consistent commentary, online play, and franchise gameplay just to name a few. Playing with the WNBA teams also had graphics that appeared to be from older editions. It lacked realism that has become custom in many live-action video games. Two years later, proper attention is coming from NBA2K.  

Earlier in the season 2K screened all of the players to get their hair texture, their skin tones, everything. Certain superstars, like A’ja Wilson of the Los Vegas Aces and Breanna Stewart of the Seattle Storm, were scanned in for NBA 2K20. They used the latest motion capture technology to give them the proper representation in the game.

Former WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne was not one of those with the added simulations. Players expect that level of detail to grow to others in future years.

“[NBA Live] really didn’t hype it up. They didn’t do the graphics. The hair was not right, it looked stiff. The facial expressions weren’t expressive, but now [2K] has that,” Powers told NBC Sports Washington.

“I’m appreciative that [2K] took the time,” Powers told reporters on Thursday. “Because, you know, the guys already have that, they’ve had it for years. The fact that we’re able to get that now, it’s just going to make everything better, more advanced. People are going to want to play it.”

If it’s not understood already, Powers is the gaming aficionado of the Mystics. All of her teammates were quick to point to her when asked about the new gaming partnership.

Even without a gaming background, the rest of the Mystics easily understand the significance of being included in NBA 2K20.

“It’s awesome that young boys and young girls and even adults who play games will now be able to play as a WNBA player. It’s huge for our league,” Delle Donne told reporters on Thursday.

The only one that did not show an eagerness about being in the game was Mystics head coach Mike Thibault.

“Why would I be worried about NBA2K,” Thibault asked reporters jokingly. “I know I’m supposed to be in the game but I don’t know anything about it. I’m sure they got me yelling and everything else. I would like them to just make sure it’s edited for officiating.”

Powers expects that the new elements of NBA2K will add to the legitimacy that she believes is still lacking about the league.  The league’s reach will expand to a new audience that might not have been exposed to women’s basketball. Those that dismiss the sport from a lack of awareness will now have another avenue to be introduced. 

“Most of our haters are guys. Now, maybe we can start changing the mindset of the younger male generation to be more supportive and open of women’s basketball,” Powers told NBC Sports Washington.

And if their minds don’t change, Powers can just showcase her own ability in online play. Although she already knows NBA2K is going to shortchange her in their ratings.

“I think I will be underrated and maybe by the end of this year they’ll get me right,” Powers said. “I’m excited. I’m going to be playing myself online, beating people. I’ll be talking junk and they’re not going to know it’s actually me. It’s gonna be great.”

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Wizards, Rui Hachimura get a glimpse at Rookie of the Year favorite Ja Morant

Wizards, Rui Hachimura get a glimpse at Rookie of the Year favorite Ja Morant

For a game featuring a 7-16 Wizards team and the 8-16 Grizzlies, Saturday's matchup packs plenty of intrigue. 

With Rui Hachimura showing plenty of promise in Washington and Ja Morant nearly running away with the Rookie of the Year Award, we're all in for a classic battle of two of the game's best newcomers. 

Outside of that for the Wizards, Saturday night should absolutely be a win. The Grizzlies are 24th in NET rating (25th offense, 21st defense) and while their young core is as promising as any in the league, they don't quite know how to put together wins yet. 

Here's a breakdown of two players the Wizards should be wary of. 

Ja Morant

As we stated earlier with Morant, he's been far and away the best rookie this season. He's averaging 18.7 points, 6.4 assists and 3.2 rebounds on 46.3 percent from the field and 42.2 percent from three. 

Morant had the generational physical tools and exciting upside that got him drafted second overall, the question was whether he'd be able to put it all together at the NBA level, especially playing the hardest position in the league as a lead guard. 

It's safe to say he's answered almost all of those questions just 19 games into his career. 

The Wizards will have to contain his drives to the rim and force him into contested jump shots, which is a lot easier said than done for this defense. 

If they can't keep him in front and he starts breaking down the defense off the dribble, look out. He could mess around and get a triple-double. 

Jaren Jackson Jr.

Before the Grizzlies drafted Morant, Jackson was their crowned jewel prospect. Don't get me wrong, he's still one of the best young players in the league, it's just a testament with how good Morant has been. 

Jackson has the potential to be one of the best defenders in the league one day. When he's playing well, he provides the Grizzlies defense incredible versatility since he can switch onto nearly every position while being able to protect the paint and rebound at a high level. 

Then on the offensive end, Jackson can stretch the floor on pick and pops (37.8 percent 3P) and put the ball on the deck to attack closeouts. He truly is the embodiment of the modern NBA center. 

The Wizards have been used to paint-dominant centers after playing the Sixers and Nuggets over the last few weeks. Jackson just might present a better matchup for their injury-riddled frontcourt. 

Washington would be wise to use Moe Wagner to keep him stretched out of the paint and then take advantage of the Grizzlies suspect perimeter defense to get to the basket. That is, of course, if Wagner can stay on the floor. 

The Wizards and Grizzlies are scheduled to tip at 8 p.m. ET on Saturday, and you can catch all of our coverage on NBC Sports Washington. 

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Ja Morant reminds Wizards head coach Scott Brooks of Russell Westbrook

Ja Morant reminds Wizards head coach Scott Brooks of Russell Westbrook

WASHINGTON -- Wizards head coach Scott Brooks coached Russell Westbrook for seven seasons in Oklahoma City, as Westbrook developed into one of the best and most electric players in the league. He knows just how good Westbrook is and does not throw around comparisons to him lightly.

But when Brooks watches Grizzlies rookie Ja Morant, whom the Wizards will see for the first time on Saturday when they play at the Grizzlies, he can't help but be reminded of the eight-time All-Star and 2016-17 MVP who now plays for the Houston Rockets.

"He's as dynamic and explosive as any player that has come in [the NBA] in a long time. You see a lot of Westbrook in him where he attacks and is fearless. He plays hard, he puts so much pressure on the defense," Brooks said.

The No. 2 pick in the 2019 draft, Morant is technically ahead of schedule with the Westbrook comparison. He's only 20 yet as a rookie he's averaging 18.7 points, 6.4 assists and 1.3 steals per game. Westbrook wasn't scoring that much until his third season, at Age 22.

Certainly, Morant still has a long way to go to reach Westbrook's level as a perennial All-NBA player who is the first to average a triple-double since Oscar Robertson. But Brooks is already surprised by several things Morant is doing that make him wonder just how good he can someday be.

"It's pretty remarkable to come in and do what he's doing. He won a game defensively by blocking a shot. He attacks the rim. He makes plays, he can pass with either hand. He sees the floor. A lot of times, it takes two or three years to get all of those reads down and he seems to be able to have his checkpoints off pretty quick. He finds the next read if [the first one] is not open," Brooks said.

Brooks also remarked how he didn't think Morant would shoot threes this early in his career as well as he has so far. Morant is knocking down 42.2 percent from long range, much higher than Westbrook's 30.5 percent career average, for comparison.

The Wizards will have their hands full when they face Morant and the Grizzlies with no ideal option to guard him. Perhaps Brooks can tap back into his OKC days to come up with an answer.

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