South Korean developer Netmarble is known for a wide range of mobile games across various genres, including Marvel Future Fight, The King of Fighters Allstar, and BTS World. The company’s U.S. office also happens to have a rather unique mobile game for NBA fans, and it’s called NBA Ball Stars. The game, which is available for iOS and Android devices, allows you to collect some of the best players from the NBA’s 30 teams, as well as select legends from eras past.
But instead of controlling them in a traditional 5-on-5 setting with a joystick to move them around and onscreen buttons to make them shoot, jump, or pass, you will be controlling them by breaking gem clusters on a puzzle board, powering up their skills and increasing their chances of shooting the ball or successfully defending an opponent’s shot.
Given that this is an NBA game with real-life players and teams, but with a different set of mechanics than the usual mobile game in this genre, there may be a lot to unpack here. Yes, even with the puzzle game mechanics being quite simple, there are certain things you need to do when it comes to these puzzles in order to improve your chances of winning games, and there are also numerous features and game modes that need to be discussed.
So having said all that, let’s dive into our NBA Ball Stars guide, which covers everything you need to know about the game’s many features and modes, as well as several tips and strategies that could help you win more games in those different modes.
1. The Basics Of NBA Ball Stars
Unlike most other mobile games with real-life NBA teams and players, NBA Ball Stars is arguably more unique because it combines puzzle gameplay with basketball action. Contrary to what you may think, though, the puzzle gameplay we’re talking about is not match-three. You will still need to burst some gems, and you can only do this by bursting at least two connected gems of the same color, may they be red, yellow, green, blue, or purple.
For each gem you burst, you will either be increasing your possible shooting percentage on offense or decreasing that of the player you’re guarding on defense — actual NBA stats don’t matter here, as it’s almost exclusively about how quickly you can get your shooting percentage up to 100 percent (or as close to that as possible) and how quickly you can reduce your opponent’s shooting percentage to zero.
At the start of the game, you will be asked to choose your favorite team — as it is in many other mobile sports games, your choice of team will have no bearing on your five-man roster, so don’t expect LeBron James and Anthony Davis if you choose the Los Angeles Lakers. Instead, you w ill get a lineup of five random NBA stars, and by stars, we mean actual star-caliber players and not fringe starters, second-stringers, or third-stringers.
That will also apply to the opposing teams you’ll be facing — it’s going to be a random mix of players from different real-life teams, each of them with their own overall rating and a rarity of one to five stars. When starting out, you’ll have to content yourself with one- or two-star players, but that’s okay, as your opponents will be much weaker anyway in the early goings.
As you go through the tutorial with your assistant GM Kara, you will see that clearing a certain size of gem clusters will result in a Power Gem, which you can use to clear even more of the board. There are different types of Power Gems that you can create, though you’ll want to disregard the color of the gems in the cluster in the tutorial pop-up — this applies to all colors. A five-gem cluster results in the Power Gem with the finger pointing upward — that’s the Column Clear gem.
Clear a six-gem cluster and you’ll get the Power Gem with the finger pointing left, which, as you may have surmised, is known as the Row Clear. Seven to nine-gem clusters result in a bomb, or Area Clear; activate it and you will destroy the 3×3 area surrounding the bomb. Lastly, if you clear a cluster of ten or more gems, you will get a championship ring, or Color Clear, which would break all gems of the same color; this regardless where they are located on the board, if activated.
The tutorial stage will also explain that when you are playing Season Mode, you will start out in the last two minutes of a game (at first), where you will be playing 5-on-5 against an AI-controlled team. Action here is turn-based, with each turn consisting of four tries to get your shooting percentage as close to 100 percent as possible, or four tries to get the opponent’s shooting percentage zeroed out — or as close to that.
You will earn Player Funds, which are used to upgrade your players, Training XP, which is a resource used in conjunction with Player Funds for leveling them up, and GM XP, which helps you increase your GM level — doing so doesn’t just get you even more rewards, as it also allows you to unlock new features at certain levels. Also take note that the games in Season Mode will become longer — first going from the last two minutes to the last three — as you keep leveling up and improving your team!
Now that we’ve gotten the bare essentials of the game out of the way, let’s move on to other simple tips and pointers that may help you in the early stages of the game.
2. You Don’t Need To Match The Same Color As Your Player’s Class
During the tutorial stages, you will notice that most, if not all of the gems you were breaking were of the same color as your player’s class. As you’ll eventually find out, you don’t need to go for a match of the same color every time around. While you will get a bonus by breaking a cluster with the same color as the class of the player with the ball or defending the opponent’s player with the ball, it’s fine to break gems of another color, especially if doing so will allow you to create a Power Gem.
It’s all about thinking of the big picture, so don’t force the issue if you can’t find any yellow gem clusters for someone such as Chris Paul or Blake Griffin, who are both filed under the yellow player class. If you see the chance to create a Color Clear or Area Clear, for instance, don’t think about the color — just break the cluster because doing so will likely help you score on your offensive possession or force a bad shot on defense.
There is another reason why we strongly advise you against solely focusing on the same gem color as the class of the player with the ball on offense or the active defender on defense, and that’s exactly what we will be discussing in the very next tip.
3. Each Cluster Broken Charges Your Players’ Special Skills
The game is going to show this to you early on, but just in case you missed it, you will notice when looking at your lineup in the bottom half of the game screen that each player has a charge bar that fills up each time you make a match.
Even if you’re controlling a player with the Rugged class (purple), you can break yellow clusters, and that’s going to power up the special skills of your players with the Decisive class, which, of course, corresponds to the yellow gems. So what are these special skills and how can they help you win more games in NBA Ball Stars?
Once again, these special skills may depend on the player and their class, and they could be used on offense or defense — eventually, you’ll learn that there are players whose special skills work on both ends of the floor. In most cases, the special skill may be as simple as scoring a guaranteed two-point or three-point shot — activate it and the erstwhile active player will pass the ball to the teammate using the special skill, and they’ll make the shot with 100 percent accuracy. On defense, special skills can allow a big man to block their opponent, or smaller and/or more athletic players to steal the ball and force a turnover.
Eventually, you’ll see that opponents can also launch Special Skills (of course they can!), and you will see a meter underneath their name that indicates their skill and how close they are to charging it. Usually, you’ll have only one chance to stop that special skill instead of the usual four, and unless you’re able to get their expected shooting percentage down to zero, that skill is as good as launched regardless of what the percentage may be!
On a related note, both you and your opponent have a chance to grab offensive rebounds after a missed shot, and you’ll see the odds of that happening on the game screen as well, typically after someone misses a shot. Both Offense and Defense ratings appear to play a role in affecting the chances of a successful offensive rebound, but when someone grabs that board for a second chance attempt, that’s a guaranteed two points, similar to how most offensive Special Skills work.
4. Make Sure To Level Up Your Players
It might not sound too important at first, as you’ll notice your first few opponents in Season Mode are easy pickings. But eventually, you’ll need to level up your players quite frequently in order to keep up with the competition, not only in Season Mode but in the other game modes as well. And that’s even with the fact that unless you’re willing to pay real-life money, all the players you’ll be receiving are one- or two-star players that have quite a ways to go before they become any good.
That’s not to say you should level up everybody as far as you can go — upgrading players requires Player Funds and Training XP, and while you’ll be earning a lot of it with those Season Mode wins, you do not have an infinite supply of these resources. Instead, you should focus on the ones with the best base ratings and/or highest star rarity and take it from there. But what’s the big deal about upgrading players anyway?
The answer to that question is simple — each player will have a multiplier based on their offensive rating as compared to the defensive rating of the player defending them, or vice versa. Players with an advantage in either rating will have a higher multiplier than those who don’t, and that multiplier plays a huge part in determining your expected shooting percentage — a player with a 3x multiplier will see his shooting percentage increase much faster than one whose multiplier is around 1x or less.
Conversely, you’ll have a much greater chance preventing an opponent from shooting if your multiplier is 3x as opposed to 1x. (If it’s less than 1x, that means you’re at a disadvantage!) It won’t be easy getting that percentage up to 50 percent if you’ve got a low multiplier, so just keep on upgrading your players in order to have a more consistent advantage on both offense and defense!
As a bonus tip, each player’s maximum level is capped based on your GM level, so if you’re trying to upgrade a certain player on your team and you’re at GM level 10, you can only upgrade up to level 10 for the meantime while you haven’t leveled up to GM level 11.
5. Know Your Players And Review Their Stats And Skills Regularly
Aside from upgrading your players in NBA Ball Stars, you should also review your player profiles, which you can do by tapping on the Team tab, going to Players, then tapping on any of the players you currently have unlocked. By default, all players are sorted based on their overall rating, though you can also sort them based on position if you wish. Tap on a player and you’ll see their name, star rarity, overall rating, and more valuable information that could help you make a more informed choice when selecting your lineups for the next game.
Regarding the information that can be found when reviewing each player’s profile, you will see their class, which can be Agile (blue), Mighty (red), Precise (green), Decisive (yellow), or Rugged (purple). Agile players are usually the more athletic ones, Mighty players are supposed to have good physical strength, Precise players are known to be good shooters, Decisive players are usually the playmakers, and Rugged players are typically defensive specialists.
Next to that, you’ll see their Special Skill — some players have this and others don’t, but those that have such a skill may be able to swap rows or columns, destroy them, or create more gems of a certain color, among other effects. You will also see their Versus Skill, which is yet another type of skill that allows players to create special gems once they are fully charged — we will discuss this in greater depth later, but some of these gems may include Obstacle Gems, which simply “get in the way,” thus making it harder for opponents to break matching clusters, and Color Lock Gems, which prevent opponents from breaking gems of a certain color.
Next to the class and skills, right above the Workout section on the right side, you’ll see the player’s Preferred Zones — these are where players are most and least effective with their shooting. Areas highlighted in red are hot zones where a player may have a better chance of scoring than what their expected percentage indicates, while those in blue are those where their chances of scoring will be lower than expected. Gray zones are more neutral than anything else, while orange ones are extremely hot zones that are considered the most optimal for the player in question.
Right below those areas, you’ll see the Training, Promotion, and Workout sections — under Training, you can perform player upgrades or, if you choose not to level them up just yet, you can go there simply to check a player’s offensive and defensive rating. You can promote players to the next highest rarity level if you’ve collected enough shards to do so, while in the Equipment section, you can equip players with various items in order to boost their offensive or defensive rating.
Make it a habit to visit the Players section in the Team menu, because that won’t just help you familiarize yourself with your own players — if an opposing team has them as well, that’s just as good as scouting them ahead of the game!
6. Load Up On Player Funds And Training XP By Redeeming Your Merchandise Collections
Aside from playing more games in the various modes, including Season Mode, you can earn more Player Funds and Training XP by heading to the Merchandise Collections section — you can find this in the main screen by tapping on Collect on the right side of the screen. You can actually redeem the Player Funds and Training XP at any time you wish, but it would be best if you space it out every four hours or so, because that’s how long it takes for the Merchandise Collections to fully load up.
That means you can access this about three or four (or even five, if you’re having an especially sleepless night) times a day if you stick by the four-hour rule; it might not sound like much, considering the maximum amount of resources you can redeem is 50 Player Funds and 400 Training XP, but trust us when we say that’s going to keep adding up as long as you remember to wait four hours — or turn on your game notification so you’re informed anytime that the Merchandise Collection has filled up.
7. Watch Out For Those Versus Skills
As the game will let you know once the time comes, opposing teams, may they be AI or human-controlled, can try to get the upper hand on you by placing certain types of gems on the board after they’ve successfully pulled off a Special Skill. This is what NBA Ball Stars calls Versus Skills, and they may include allowing players (or allowing you as well) to place basic obstacles on the board to make it more difficult to successfully break those big clusters — or any other kind of match.
Certain players can blast entire rows or columns of gems with their Versus Skill, while others are so deadly that they can prevent certain colors from being matched (Color Lock) or prevent players from using their Special Skills. These may make it rather challenging and sometimes frustrating once you’ve leveled up sufficiently as a general manager, but there is a way to get rid of them.
In order to get rid of the blocker gems that appear whenever an opposing player converts on a Special Skill and activates his Versus Skill, you’ll need to break clusters around them or use one of your Power Gems, though that won’t always be easy — the AI tends to act quite smartly when it comes to the placement of blocker gems! Similarly, you too can set up blocker gems with a Special Skill, though you won’t be able to choose where to place the gems — this is done randomly by the AI, which is just fine as you won’t be able to view your opponent’s board anyway.
8. You Can Combine Multiple Power Gems For A Greater Effect
As good as it is to create a Power Gem by breaking a cluster of five or more gems, how about if you’ve got at least two of them in there, all next to each other or in the same row/column with one of those Row or Column Clear gems in place? Fortunately, you can combine these Power Gems to come up with an even greater effect where more gems are broken and more Special Skills are charged for more players on your team.
For example, if you’ve got an Area Clear and a Row Clear next to each other, activating the Row Clear wouldn’t just eliminate the row where it’s located; as you’re using it in conjunction with the Area Clear, you can break even more gems in the process, as the ones in the upper and lower rows will also be affected.
Another simple example would be if you use a Column Clear on a column where there’s a Row Clear or vice versa; either way, you’re going to be taking out every single gem in that row and column, instead of all the gems in just one of those two!
Whenever you’ve got the opportunity, make sure you’re trying out those Power Gem combos; they just might turn out to be enough to help you score a crucial shot or make a key defensive stop against your opponent. Besides, we can’t help but admit it’s cool to watch all those gems get broken whenever two or more Power Gems are combined in the same move.
9. Why Should You Complete The GM Prep List?
On the bottom right corner of the main screen, you’ll see a button with a checklist icon, and that will lead you to the GM Checklist, which is a list of introductory tasks that you will need to complete in order to unlock a new player and help you earn items to improve your players and team as well — these include Draft Tickets, pieces of gear, and Contract Shards, all of which shall be discussed later on in this guide in more detail.
The tasks are things that you can complete organically while playing the game — you will be asked multiple times to win a certain number of Season Mode games, trigger Player Skills during a game in any mode, update one of your team’s formations, level up your players, and win games in other modes. You can tap on the checklist to review the active tasks at any time, though not all of the tasks will be available — these shall be slowly revealed as you continue making progress toward the checklist’s completion.
Once you have completed the checklist, you will unlock a new player in Klay Thompson, who’s currently sitting out yet another season for the real-life Golden State Warriors but available in the game to help any GM that may need a shooting guard. You will also unlock the Contests feature once you make it to GM level 14 — this can be found next to the checklist, and this offers limited-time events where you can potentially win more of the rewards we mentioned earlier on in this tip, even if you’ve already completed the checklist!
10. About Versus Mode – Competing Against Other Human GMs
Once you reach GM level 5 in NBA Ball Stars, Versus Mode will be unlocked, and as the name suggests, this is the mode where you can compete against other human-controlled teams. Unlike Season Mode, where you get to jump in during the final minutes of the fourth quarter and the final scores are fairly close to how actual NBA scores look like (they’re actually closer to late ‘90s NBA scores).
Both teams in Versus Mode games play to 11 points — you may end up with 12 or 13, but as long as you reach at least 11 points before your opponent does, you win the game and earn Player Funds, Training XP, and Ranking Points — the latter determines your placement in your current league or whether you will get promoted to the next one.
Based on your placement at the end of the week, you can earn more rewards — those in the Unranked league, for instance, will earn 100 Player Funds and 500 Training XP, while those who are high up in the Diamond League I (that’s 2,200 to 2,399 Ranking Points, in case you’re wondering) will earn five Sealed Duffle Bags (packed with mostly high-end items), 70 Instant Rematch Tickets (for quickly replaying previous games), and 450 Premium Player Draft Tickets.
On the Versus screen, you will also see a couple other tabs next to the default Rewards tab — Vs Log allows you to view the results of your previous matchups, while Leaderboards shows you the latest local, global, and club rankings. Below your ranking and league information, you’ll see the Milestones section, where you can claim certain rewards, including Player Funds, Training XP, equipment/gear, and more, once you reach a certain number of Ranking Points.
Next to Go, you can tap on Home Team if you want to start the game with a small lead over your opponent; this is only available for those at GM level 16 or higher, so if you aren’t, you’ll have no choice but to start out with your score at zero and the opponent holding a lead of one to three points.
Right before committing to a game, you can change your team’s five-man lineup or formation by tapping on Edit and Change respectively. If you think your opponent’s overall rating is too high compared to yours (this can happen quite a lot), you can re-roll for a new opponent, albeit at the cost of 100 Player Funds per re-roll. Hit Play once you’re ready to hit the court, but keep in mind that each game costs one Versus Ticket. Versus Tickets refresh automatically until you’ve reached the maximum allowable of five, though you can pay cash to buy new Versus Tickets at the in-game store at any time.
11. RPG Hierarchy Applies When It Comes To Formations And Player Classes
You’ve probably seen it multiple times in many an RPG — it’s the elemental system or hierarchy, where A is stronger than B, B is stronger than C, and C is stronger than A. That also applies in NBA Ball Stars, and you will first be informed of this when Kara discusses the different formations that are available in the game. 5 Out beats Big Man, Big Man beats Stretch Big, Stretch Big beats Triple Point Guard, and Triple Point Guard beats 5 Out.
And once you reach level 13, the colors of each player class will become far more relevant, with a similar hierarchy coming into play. Mighty (red) beats Precise (green), Precise beats Decisive (yellow), Decisive beats Rugged (purple), Rugged beats Agile (blue), Agile beats Mighty — it’s pretty simple to memorize, and as we had noted above, this isn’t too different from the hierarchies you may be familiar with from any given RPG.
When it comes to the formations, it should be easy to see which formation is better than the other, simply by seeing how your team rating is affected depending on the formation you choose. That means you should choose the formation that gives you the best team rating — and the widest gap from the opposing team’s overall rating.
The player class hierarchy should also give you an idea of which players will have higher multipliers than others when being defended, or defending someone from the opposing team. This is good information to know in the early goings, and while we’re not sure why such details are only available once you reach GM level 13, it’s still very useful nonetheless.
12. Have At Least Three Player Classes Represented In Your Lineup
Although it may make the most sense to start your highest-rated players regardless of their class, that might not be the most practical approach if you’re trying to win more consistently. If you have, say, only Mighty (red) and Decisive (yellow) represented, that leaves three colors essentially wasted as far as charging up Special Skills goes — sure, breaking blue, green, or purple gem clusters could help raise your shooting percentage or decrease that of your opponent, but those gems won’t count toward anybody’s Special Skills. That could make it harder for you to have enough Special Skills ready for a big come-from-behind rally, or to end the game faster than expected.
Instead of merely looking at overall ratings and disregarding gem color/player class, it would be much more preferable to field a lineup that has at least three classes represented; four may be most ideal, and five, while sometimes a bit too many, is also fine. That leaves you with enough, or more than enough options for charging Special Skills, and if you’ve also got players whose Special Skills are only for use on defense (such players seem to be rarer in NBA Ball Stars), that allows you to win a game on either end of the floor!
Granted, your gem-breaking strategy and the ratings of the players on both teams will still have more bearing on who wins the game, but if you’ve got as many bases as possible covered, you can be more confident of a positive outcome once the final buzzer rings — or once 11 points has been reached by one team.
13. Earn Contract Shards And More By Playing In Showdown Mode
Showdown Mode becomes available to players who have reached GM level 9, and as you keep leveling up, new challenges in this mode will get unlocked as well, giving you different ways to load up on your basic resources while also earning Contract Shards.
As we haven’t talked about this resource yet in depth, you’ll need Contract Shards in order to collect most of the players available in the game, with more common players requiring fewer shards to unlock and rarer players requiring more. Also, if you have enough Contract Shards for an existing player, you can promote them to the next highest star rarity, which improves their Offensive, Defensive, and overall ratings immediately.
The available challenges in Showdown Mode may change on a daily or weekly basis, but the concept of games in this mode is similar to Versus Mode, except for the fact you’ll be playing against AI opponents. Essentially, you’re entering a tournament in this mode, with each of the three games requiring that you score at least 11 points to win. But since this is a tournament, each team you face will be progressively harder to beat than the last, with a higher overall rating.
You don’t need to worry too much, though, as each challenge allows you to choose your preferred difficulty; as the game will inform you, higher difficulty levels mean better prizes! (At the moment, the game’s challenges include The Daily Shootaround with DeMar DeRozan shards, The City Shooter with Klay Thompson shards, and Spida Sense with Donovan Mitchell shards.)
Your prizes will also depend on how far you reach in the tournament — reaching the quarterfinals in Novice difficulty gets you more XP than Funds, reaching the semifinals gets you more Funds than XP, and winning the Finals gets you Player Funds, XP, and Contract Shards of the featured player. Opting for the higher difficulties could also earn you some Equipment Tokens, on top of the XP, Funds, and Shards we already mentioned. Make sure you aren’t aiming too high, because it costs 10 Showdown Tickets per tournament to enter! (These tickets, much like Versus Tickets, refill automatically.)
The game will warn you about this, but be sure you’re choosing your starting lineup carefully — once you’ve chosen your starting lineup, you cannot change it in the middle of the tournament! Also, you can replay Showdown challenges and automatically simulate them once you’ve completed them, so that should save quite a bit of time if you’re gunning for the same top prize the second time around.
14. Adding New Players To Your Roster With Draft Picks
The Draft tab is the default one in the Store menu, and it is at this point where we should mention that there are different types of Draft Tickets you can use to make a selection. Core Player Draft Tickets are used in the Core Player Draft, and these would usually yield one-star or two-star players that might not have much use or upside once your overall team rating reaches the 100 mark or thereabouts.
Premium Player Draft Tickets will oftentimes be good for a two- or three-star player, though chances are you won’t be able to unlock the player just yet with the Contract Shards you earn. Lastly, Legendary Draft Tickets can get you two-star players and above, with a greater chance of fully unlocking the player — for the last two, it’s still possible you will end up with one-star Contract Shards, so keep your expectations reasonable!
Aside from the GM Checklist and Contests, some of the other ways you can acquire Draft Tickets are as a level-up reward, or as a milestone reward for winning games in Versus Mode. You can also purchase them with cash, though this premium form of currency is a bit hard to come by; you can get more cash as part of your daily login rewards (including the third to fifth-day rewards) or by purchasing it with real money in the store. Additionally, the sixth-day daily rewards as of this writing include seven Premium Player Draft Tickets, so that should be something to look forward to as well!
15. Outfit Your Players With Equipment To Improve Their Stats
Much like you should be outfitting your heroes with new armor and weapons in RPGs, your players in NBA Ball Stars also need certain pieces of equipment to improve their Offense or Defense stats (depending on the item) and increase your chances of winning matches, regardless of the game mode.
As we mentioned earlier, these items can be earned as Versus Mode and Showdown rewards, by completing GM Checklist tasks, or as part of your rewards for increasing your GM level, but you can also buy Gear Bags at the store with your Equipment Tokens, which can be earned by completing the non-novice tournaments in Showdown Mode. These come in six tiers of increasing rarity (and cost), and could be a great way for you to load up on items to outfit on your best players.
Depending on the type of item, you can equip it in one of the six available slots per player — gear is not player-specific, but you will need to fill up all of those six slots in order to increase a player’s equipment level. That means you can only equip Tier 1 equipment on an equipment level 1 player, Tier 2 equipment on an equipment level 2 player, and so on.
We would suggest focusing mainly on your top players when equipping items, as that should allow you to fill up those slots faster and consequently increase their Equipment Level so you can make use of the more premium gear and keep increasing their Offense and Defense stats and overall rating.
And this wraps up our comprehensive guide of Netmarble’s basketball game NBA Ball Stars. If you have discovered any other tips or strategies, feel free to drop us a line in the comment area below!