In a season where you have the best record in the league after 25 games, a lot of things have to go right as far as player development is concerned. Your young guys have to keep developing, while the veterans have to either add new wrinkles to their games or maintain the status quo from the previous season. While a big part of our success this season is due to the continued development of our young core (Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and Serge Ibaka), one of the biggest developments this season has been the evolution of Daequan Cook.
Mind you, Cook has always been a talented player. Though he was overshadowed for most of his high school career by OJ Mayo in Ohio, he was still considered a great player in his own right, and was a highly touted prospect that landed in Ohio State’s vaunted 2006 recruiting class, which also included Greg Oden and Mike Conley. For his one and only college season, he averaged just under 10 points per game as the Buckeye’s main outside threat on a team that made it all the way to the national championship game.
Coming off his freshman season, many thought Cook needed another year of seasoning at the college level to continue building his game. Instead, he chose to go the NBA route with his freshman brethren Conley and Oden. Here are some of the online scouting reports that were written about Cook:
Matthew Mauer of www.thedraftreview.com wrote:
“Unlike many young players he possesses an excellent mid-range game. Moves well without the ball, and understands how to fully utilize the entire floor to get his shot off. Has an NBA ready body that has shown development from his senior year of high school. Explosive scorer who can reel off big points in a hurry…Possesses legit three point range on his jumper. Unselfish and shows solid court vision to get teammates involved in the offense. Is a good athlete who contributes on the boards nightly. Has the ball handling ability and quick first step to break his man down on drives. Excellent finisher in transition and can end plays in dramatic fashion. Has a tremendous amount of confidence in his ability, rarely does he get rattled by the moment. Has all the physical gifts needed to emerge as a defensive presence…Defensively Cook has a habit of gambling too much and being impatient This exposes him to pick up quick fouls by reaching in or defending his man too aggressively”
Joseph Treutlein of www.draftexpress.com wrote:
“Cook already can score the ball at an NBA level, and with the trend towards undersized shooting guards of late, he has a very good chance to make significant contributions for a team in his future. The most notable thing about his scoring ability is how he can hit a shot with a hand in his face and how he’s so strong and able to hit shots nearly effortlessly from long range, as easy as he does from 10-15 feet out…In terms of things Cook brings to the table other than scoring, he’s not really going to wow you in any other area just yet…Cook did a solid job on the defensive end, but at 6’4, he’ll be at a bit of a disadvantage at the next level, even with his good physical tools.”
From the scouting reports, it appeared that Cook was going to be a good offensive player with the ability to develop other facets of his game (i.e. defense and playmaking).
After being chosen with the 21st pick in the 2007 NBA draft by the Philadelphia 76ers, and then promptly traded to the Miami Heat, Cook showed great promise in his rookie season. He averaged 8.8 points on 33% shooting from the 3 point line, but gave little else in the form of rebounds, playmaking, or defense. In his second season, he increased his scoring average to 9.1 points per game, but saw a decrease in every other major category. On a positive note, though, he won the 3-point shooting contest at the All-Star game. In his 3rd season, nagging injuries and a falling out of favor with his coach led to Daequan playing in the least amount of games in his professional career and saw his scoring average dip to 5 points per game. After being an integral member of the Heat’s young core, Daequan’s position on the team could best be summed up by blogger Albert Random of www.heathoops.com :
“Daequan Cook: No surprise here. He’s playing at a D-League level yet he’s set to make $2.2 million next season, after Riley inexplicably picked up his option. He is shooting 29% from the field, and 29% from beyond the arc. Need I say more? The hope is that he turns things around, because he will be on the Heat roster in 2010/11. Grade: F”
With the impending free-agent frenzy of the summer of 2010, the Heat positioned themselves into being able to offer 3 max contracts to the likes of Dwayne Wade, Lebron James, Carlos Boozer, Amare Stoudemire, or Chris Bosh. In one of their final cost cutting moves, they traded Daequan Cook and their No. 18 pick to Oklahoma City for the Thunder’s second round pick (No.32).
Daequan was allotted a new start on a young, up and coming team. Not too different from the situation he was in while playing for Miami. He came in as a necessary sharp shooter, but had to find his spot in the rotation on a playoff team that returned its entire rotational roster from the previous season. Daequan was kind of force-fed into the rotation in the first 8 games of the season, and the results looked a lot like the 2nd half of the previous season with Miami. He struggled, averaging 1.9 points per game while shooting just 19% from the 3-point line. But the coup de grace was in what else he provided…which was basically nothing. He gave the Thunder 5 boards, 3 assists, and 2 steals TOTAL in those 8 games. Not to mention he had a -7 differential in those early season games.
Scott Brooks did what any good coach with a struggling young player would do. He sat him down and told him to earn his spot in the rotation through his performance and effort in practice. In coachspeak, that basically means, “Everyone struggles offensively in the NBA at some point. It’s what you can provide other than the scoring that can keep you on the floor.” If you are a one trick pony who isn’t performing your one trick, while giving little else, the NBA machine will chew you up and spit you out pretty quickly. Some players crumble under this pressure and are never to be heard from again in NBA circles.
Daequan decided to put in work. He could’ve cried and complained to his agent that he wanted out of Oklahoma City. Instead, he sat for 36 of the next 37 games honing his craft in practice and adapting to the Thunder way. Daequan had always been a good offensive player with the “potential” to become a good all-around player. When he finally got his opportunity to perform in late December, he relished that opportunity and played with effort every night. He notched a couple double-digit scoring games and became an integral part of the rotation as a sharp-shooter and floor spacer. But the important thing was that he was invested on the defensive side of the floor and gave effort in the other facets of the game (rebounding, making smart plays). Did he have overly impressive numbers? No, but he impressed with his effort as the season played out.
In the offseason, Daequan re-upped with the Thunder for 2 years. His role on the team would remain the same, but, hopefully, without the whole transition period. He has not disappointed in this early season run, providing 3 point shooting at a 41% clip, while being solid defensively and a great help on the defensive glass. In the past 5 games, he has started for the injured Thabo Sefolosha, and has averaged 9.2 points, 4 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks on 46% shooting from the 3-point line. This has provided a stop-gap to keep James Harden on the bench where he is much more effective coming in with the second unit. The Thunder are 4-1 in these past 5 games.
Every championship team has a guy or two like this; specialists that perform a specific job. It necessitates that a role player perform one act greatly. Usually that is all the player is asked to do. But if that one player can also provide other things to the team other than his skill, then he becomes an invaluable asset. And that is what Daequan Cook has become to the Thunder. “All Dae, Er’r Dae!”