For a very long time, the above question was like pitting Hassan Whiteside against Rudy Gobert. Actually, scrap that. It was like comparing old man Pau Gasol (not prime Pau, because that would be a totally different story) with Anthony Davis - the skill gap would be noticeable to even the most novice of basketball fans. However, the NBA Live series took a huge leap last year, which is where Whiteside comes in.

He’s the sort of guy that at times feels like a franchise cornerstone, while at others (and more often than not), comes across like an empty plastic bag floating aimlessly up and down the court - barely noticeable by fans and players alike. The flashes came in the form of improved graphics and feel, while the downsides… well, they came everywhere else.

But a year can make a huge difference. Not enough to cut the gap entirely, but enough to consider trading Whiteside for Porzingis (in the metaphor, obviously).

We’d normally sidestep head-to-head reviews in favour of the standalone approach, but as NBA Live continues to make strides, it’s become increasingly difficult to consider one without the other. So apologies to anyone looking for a detailed breakdown of either title - this is more a look at what each game is doing right/wrong, and what the future of basketball gaming might look like in five or so years.

So, how did EA cut the gap?

I’m old enough to remember a time when the thinking person’s football (soccer) game of choice was Pro Evo. While lacking the licenses to make it 100% authentic, it was ultimately a more satisfying game to play. FIFA, on the other hand, was an arcade-esque game that felt geared towards casual gamers. Or kids. However, somewhere along the line, EA flipped the tables entirely, leaving Pro Evo looking like a relic of the past - and in some ways, it never really recovered.

Right now, EA is trying its hardest to do the same with NBA Live, and to a large degree, it’s working. For a start, the game makes 2K look like a PS2 title in comparison. Everything from the in-game play to the beautiful cutscenes is a slight squint away from passing a reality blind test. And with the overall packaging courtesy of ESPN (the halftime shows are quite something), they’re probably only a few years or a console release away from something special. Sure, there’s still an arcade quality to it all - it’s hard to put your finger on what that means exactly, but you’ll get it once you play the game - but overall, it's far superior in terms of graphics.

The player motions/animations, as well as the feel, has all been improved from last year’s edition. Setting a screen or defending in the post feels rewarding, whereas in 2K, those dynamic shifts in "feel" aren't as noticeable. There's a strange sense of pride involved when defending in NBA Live. Make a wrong move and you'll be made to pay the price - which I repeatedly did when reaching in on Kyrie Irving. But when you lock someone down, especially on the perimeter, it feels as good as any highlight dunk.

EA’s take on 2K's MyCareer mode comes in the form of The One - which is very similar in approach: you start by creating a crappy player, with the end game being that you build up your character's stats and skills to better compete against your opponents. For those of you that dislike the grind-it-out nature of 2K's character development, you’ll find a much easier system with NBA Live, and certainly less need to spend real-world money.

A few killer moves come in the form of the WNBA, and the ability to make a female player. It’s the sort of representation that shouldn’t be a revelation in 2018 (or 2017, when it was first introduced), but sadly it is. Props to EA for making it a fully-fledged thing though. I suspect it won't be too long before 2K does the same.

The Court Battle is another fun move: you create a custom court (with its own rules) which you defend with your home team. Using your away team, you travel to different courts around the world in hopes of taking them over. It's a pretty straightforward concept that somehow feels really fresh and exciting.

Lastly, can we talk about the practice mode? Rather than dumping you in the deep and confusing end, EA have put together a system that will improve your skills in the most efficient way possible - allowing you to repeatedly practice certain moves over and over again until you’ve perfected them (providing handy tips along the way). Like the addition of the WNBA, this is exciting.

Has the 2k franchise stalled?

Yes, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. 2K have been on top for so long, and so far ahead of the competition, that year-on-year improvements feel less obvious. We’re not at the point where it feels like you’re dropping £50 for some updated rosters and jerseys, but that doesn’t feel a million years away from happening either - whether intentionally or not.

The biggest jump this year can be felt on the defensive end. Last year it felt like a breeze getting to the rim, whereas this time around it feels like you have to fight for every inch of space. That’s not a particularly sexy selling point, but it really does add to the realism of the game.

The new ‘Takeover’ system in My Career is also a pretty cool addition, even if it does feel a tad bit out of place in a reality-based game (boomshakalaka, anyone?). Do something good in the game (assists, buckets, whatever) and the meter will fill. Do something terrible in the game (turnovers, fouls, bad shots) and the meter will drop. Once it’s full, and you activate it, your character will get an overall boost to its stats for a certain amount of time. You won’t be jumping 30ft into the air, but that contested three might have a better chance of going in.

The biggest win for 2K though is MyCareer, specifically the Prelude (which is available as a free download). In the past, the story element of MyCareer has been ripped to shreds, and rightfully so. Terrible writing and unskippable cutscenes provided a painful experience for everyone involved, but thankfully this year they’ve nailed it.

Rather than ruining the adventure for you, I’ll just say this: 2K have managed to create a story so compelling, you’ll find yourself worryingly invested in your character’s development, on and off the court. Seriously, I was glued to the screen like it was some prestige TV show on HBO. In fact, the story was so good, I have an idea: why doesn’t 2K start selling these stories as add-ons? I know it’s not an easy undertaking, but I’d much rather drop £10 on something like this over virtual currency. Just a thought.

Where do we go from here?

Or more importantly, what game should you pick up this year?

The simple and easy answer is 2K. For all of Live’s many improvements, it’s still two or three years behind 2K in terms of realistic gameplay.

Live needs a few years of AI tweaks, better face scanning outside of your typical stars, more realistic animations in the post (sometimes it feels a bit jumpy, as if the animation resets to a better position before executing), better commentary (Jalen Rose doing the halftime shtick is great, but the in-game calls feel like they’re being handled by Siri), more responsive handling from the right stick, and a more in-depth franchise mode.

What Live does have, and for the first time in perhaps a decade, is a foot in the door. For newcomers, or people just looking to get a quick game in, it represents an easier entry point, which is a huge victory for EA. But come on, if this was ring ceremony night, we’d be watching Ronnie 2K shaking hands with Adam Silver right now, not some unknown EA executive.

However, we all know what happened with Pro Evo. Perhaps this conversation will start to look a little different in five years? As for me, and mainly because I’m a massive basketball nerd, I'm going with both (2K for the Switch, as it’s my go-to console, and Live for the Xbox One).

Both NBA Live 19 and NBA 2K19 are out now. You can pick up the former for PS4 and Xbox One, while the latter is available for PS4, Xbox One, PC, and the Nintendo Switch.