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Try out NBA 2K21’s new gameplay controls with its demo in two weeks

Shot Stick Aiming and a reworked Pro Stick await new and longtime players

Trae Young sizes up defender Giannis Antetokounmpo at midcourt in NBA 2K21
New signature defensive motions and stances have been added to NBA 2K21.
Image: Visual Concepts/2K Sports
Owen S. Good is a longtime veteran of video games writing, well known for his coverage of sports and racing games.

NBA 2K21 will get a free demo Aug. 24 for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One, and with it, players can try out the overhauled “Pro Stick,” the right thumbstick commands that for the past decade have done everything from take shots to juke, fake, and add razzle dazzle to one’s dribble moves.

Mike Wang, Visual Concepts’ gameplay director for the NBA 2K series, dug into the Pro Stick changes in a blog post Thursday morning that announced the demo’s availability. Taking a shot with the Pro Stick (a button command also initiates a shot) is now done by holding the right stick down, only. In past versions of the game, one could hold the stick in any direction, and it would cue up a context-appropriate shot attempt. That still holds true for starting layups and dunks.

Additionally, Wang says NBA 2K21’s Pro Stick will resurrect something that was tried four years ago and didn’t really work: aiming with the shot stick. In this year’s game, when players take a shot with the Pro Stick, the familiar timing window will change to a mini-targeting system.

“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 explained. “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.”

Kobe Bryant dribbles between his legs as he prepares a drive to the basket.
Kobe Bryant gets an updated, signature “dance” motion as he breaks down his defender.
Visual Concepts/2K Sports

Misses left or right of the target will travel in that direction in the game. Wang added that timing plays an optional role in Shot Stick Aiming: “You won’t be penalized for using the entire shooting motion to find the sweet spot.” But players looking for an additional layer of challenge, where their ability can turn a miss into a make, may tap a trigger button at the apex of the player’s shooting motion.

As is customary when Visual Concepts introduces a new control scheme, it’s purely optional; players who are more comfortable with the old timing-window method can disable Shot Stick Aiming, Wang said.

The new controls aren’t necessarily on display in the gameplay trailer that 2K Sports published a week ago. But what they create is, and Visual Concepts always likes to slip subtle depictions of new animations — particularly blocks, signature moves, and other interactions — into these hype reels.

Wang said in his blog post that a slew of signature defensive motion styles were added to NBA 2K21, to complement the signature dribble styles introduced in NBA 2K20. “In addition to this, movement has undergone several refinements, both with and without, to provide a more consistent and responsive feel on the sticks,” said Wang.

NBA 2K21 launches Sept. 4 on Google Stadia, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Windows PC, and Xbox One. Portland’s Damian Lillard is the cover star, with the late Hall-of-Famer Kobe Bryant gracing the front of the special edition. A version for PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X will follow later this year, with New Orleans’ Zion Williamson on the packshot.

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