Despite flashes of offensive prowess in 2020, Hawks Talon Gaming, the official NBA 2K League affiliate of the Atlanta Hawks, struggled to find a consistent rhythm in its attack last season, finishing the year 7-9 and narrowly missing the playoffs.
Going into the club’s fourth year in the league, offensive firepower on the perimeter was a clear need. Former point guard BP (Michael Diaz-Cruz) was coming off a strong year, but the club needed another top-tier scorer with him in the backcourt.
Twelve games into the 2021 season, that need appears to be more than met by Hawks Talon’s newest first-round draft pick, CEEZ (Caesar A. Martinez). The rookie point guard leads the team in points and assists to this mark in the season. Whether it be excellence from behind the arc, ferocity in the paint, or creativity distributing the ball, CEEZ has shown up big for Hawks Talon, currently averaging 26.4 points and 9.1 assists per game in the regular season.
Most importantly, though, Hawks Talon is currently 5-3 on the year, riding a five-game win streak.
“My transition into the league has been amazing,” said CEEZ. “I’ve had my teammates by my side the whole time helping me out. We have three veterans on the team, so them inviting me in and showing me things that I didn’t know, it’s helping me a lot and I feel comfortable with them.”
Hawks Talon head coach Wesley Acuff was less modest in his description of the young star’s ascent.
“CEEZ stepped right into the leadership role as a rookie. The point guard position, managing the offense and managing the team on the court, is a hard job in itself and then to have to put up big numbers and carry the offensive load and put some points on the board on top of that is just a lot and he’s stepped into that role and welcomed it,” Acuff said. “I like the way everything’s going.”
It would certainly be difficult to think otherwise of CEEZ’s performance at the moment, especially following his franchise-best 50-point game last Saturday night. The record-breaking point total, combined with 11 assists, led his team to an 89-69 win over Heat Check Gaming, the official NBA 2K League affiliate of the Miami Heat.
Despite the obvious and overwhelming individual achievement of the moment, CEEZ turned the attention to the rest of his team, crediting them for his accomplishment.
“After the 50-point game, I kind of gave everyone handshakes because without them hyping me up and elevating me in the game, I wouldn’t have the energy. That’s what you need on the court — you need your teammates to bring you up. I wouldn’t be able to get 50 points without them,” he said.
While many saw CEEZ’s game as an unforeseen breakout performance of sorts, Acuff says he wasn’t surprised in the slightest.
“CEEZ putting up the 50 points was something that I knew he could do in this league. That’s why he was the guard that we brought to Atlanta, we know he can do that at a high level, so to see him do that get that done for the first time… it was special. The thing that was so special about it was the support that he had from everybody in doing it,” he said.
Perhaps the most remarkable support comes from that of BP, the former point guard and primary ball-handler of Hawks Talon Gaming. A three-year veteran, BP has showcased his own lethal scoring ability with his last two seasons in the league. When Acuff drafted CEEZ, though, BP had no issue giving the rookie the reins of the team and sliding over to a shooting guard role, where the two could work as a 1-2 punch on the perimeter. According to both CEEZ and Acuff, BP’s transition was nothing short of graceful and successful.
“The special moment happened at a point in the game when CEEZ went to go call a play for BP and BP told him ‘Keep the ball, they can’t guard you. Just finish scoring, just keep scoring.’ It’s just a special moment because knowing that BP is a high-volume scorer as well to support CEEZ in going to finish the game off and not changing the game plan and trusting CEEZ to carry us through that win, it just made it that much more special,” said Acuff.
“Me and BP, we’ve been great. He tells me things, I tell him things. It’s always a learning thing with him. He knows a thing or two about pressure, or slowing down a game, different types of things, so I take a lot from him because he’s already been in this position as an MVP candidate in season two,” said CEEZ.
Hawks Talon will look to keep the momentum rolling in their next series against Celtic Crossover Gaming, the official NBA 2K League affiliate of the Boston Celtics on Saturday, June 12 at 7 p.m. These games will be simulcast live on the NBA 2K League’s Twitch and YouTube channels. Games will also be available on ESRevolution, Loco in India, Sport1 in Europe and Dash Radio.
“We want to end this week off strong and keep the momentum going towards our bye week,” said CEEZ. “We can make sure that we’re ahead of the whole league going on to our playoff race.”