NBA 2K17 is a basketball simulation game which, like the previous games in the series, strives to realistically depict the experience of the National Basketball Association (NBA), as well as present improvements over the previous installments. The player mainly plays NBA basketball games with real-life or customized players and teams. As such, games follow the rules and objectives of NBA basketball games. Several game modes are available for the player and many settings can be customized. The game contains many presentation qualities that are modelled on real-life presentation, such as crowd animations, commentary, pre-game, halftime, and post-game shows, camera angles, lighting, and player animations. There are eleven different commentators and announcers, including Kevin Harlan, Chris Webber, Shaquille O'Neal, David Aldridge, Brent Barry, Steve Smith and Doris Burke. Different arenas have different commentary teams. The menus have also been modified.
Along with playing games with current NBA teams, such as the Philadelphia 76ers and Toronto Raptors, other teams are featured, such as the 2016 United States men's Olympic basketball team, the 2016 Australia men's Olympic basketball team, and the 1992 United States men's Olympic basketball team. Historic NBA teams, such as the 1995–96 Chicago Bulls, the 2000–01 Los Angeles Lakers, and the 1985–86 Boston Celtics, are also present, as are 21 EuroLeague teams, such as CSKA Moscow, Maccabi Tel Aviv, and Real Madrid.
One of the touted improvements is concerning the game's returning MyGM and MyLeague game modes. Both modes have the player acting as the ruling force of all basketball operations for a specific team and allow the player to customize many aspects of the team. MyGM is more focused on maintaining a realistic, functioning team and impressing the owner, whereas MyLeague offers far more customization options. In both modes, the player simulates through seasons, changing personnel, playing in games themselves, and participating in off-season activities, such as the draft. The introduced features focus on league expansion. As well as happening dynamically, the player can start either mode with up to 36 teams and may modify many aspects of every team. The player will go through the process of creating an expansion team in a model very similar to real-life occurrences of expansion teams. As well as creating the logos and jerseys of the teams, an expansion draft is held and other teams must protect a select number of players. The league will automatically adjust the schedule, draft, draft lottery, etc. if expansion teams are created. The player can also download other players' creations.
NBA 2K17 again, for the fifth time in the series, features MyTeam mode, a mode based around the idea of building the ultimate basketball team, and maintaining a virtual trading card collection. Players build their own custom team, selecting the players, jerseys, logos, coach, court, and other basketball related things, and play with their team in basketball tournament-style competitions against other players' teams. Players collect cards that unlock players, playbooks, and other items that can be used in their team or sold. Players purchase card packs, which give the player random items, with Virtual Currency (VC). Cards are classified by their overall rating including four new gem levels: Emerald, Sapphire, Ruby, and Pink Diamond. In addition, a fifth gem level is added called Onyx, which is exclusively for Free agent cards regardless of their overall rating.
MyCareer mode returns. Like previous iterations of the mode in the series, the player creates a basketball player and plays through their career. The player customizes their player's appearance and upgrades their attributes as they play through a college career and enter the NBA. The player plays basketball games and participates in off-court activities. A storyline, written and directed by Creed scriptwriter Aaron Covington, is also present; it features appearances by actors Michael B. Jordan and Hannibal Buress, among others.