Not everyone can be a star in the NBA, and that’s OK. Role players can often be as valuable over the course of a back-and-forth series where each possession can make the difference in the outcome of the game. Look no further than this season’s Cleveland vs. Chicago series, where the Cavaliers came away with the series victory due to outstanding performances from the players surrounding LeBron James. J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and Matthew Dellavedova severely outplayed their Chicago counterparts throughout the series. Dellavedova, after a stellar four-year career at Saint Mary’s (CA), wasn’t even drafted in 2013 and has already made a huge impact on an NBA Finals team. Duke’s Quinn Cook can be that and more for any team lucky enough to draft him in the second round this June.
Cook is barely on the NBA radar heading into the draft. DraftExpress and Chad Ford, the two best draft sources, don’t even peg Cook as a top 60 prospect. ESPN’s Kevin Pelton projects Cook to have the 46th-best WARP in the draft, which is better than DraftExpress and Ford, but still nothing special for a future NBA role player. If there’s one problem with NBA Draft pundits, it’s that they put too much importance on upside. Sure, Cook won’t evolve into a star as a 22-year-old at 6-foot-2 with a 31-inch max vertical, but his four-year career at Duke indicated he could be one heck of a punch off the bench one day.
Cook was a three-year starter at Duke, which is an accomplishment in and of itself. During his first two years as a starter he acted as the primary ball handler for Duke, averaging a career-best 5.3 assists his sophomore season. Cook was solid in this role, but having to handle the ball so much limited his efficiency (shot 43.2 percent or worse from the field his first three seasons). Tyus Jones coming in to take over the ball handling duties couldn’t have been better for Cook’s development.
Playing predominately off-ball, Cook endured a career season during his final campaign at Duke. He averaged a career-high 15.3 points with a career-best slash line of .453/.395/.891. Only 36 times since the 1997-98 season has a player averaged at least 15 points while shooting 45 percent from the floor, 39 percent from behind the arc and 89 percent at the line. Cook was the only major conference player to do it since Missouri’s Marcus Denmon during the 2011-12 season.
Jones allowed Cook to spot-up off-ball and make use of his deadly stroke. Cook gets a ton of lift on his jumper, which is a beauty when his feet are set. Cook made a career-high 102 three-pointers during his senior season after making 134 three-pointers during his first three years combined. He was often the forgotten man on a Duke team deep with first-round prospects in Jones, Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow. Cook killed teams by spotting up in the corner and nailing shot-after-shot against any teams that were focused elsewhere. Whenever players chose to run him off the three-point line, Cook made them pay with a burst of speed to the rim:
Perhaps Cook’s biggest improvement during his senior season was his ability to finish in the paint. According to Hoop-Math, Cook shot 66.7 percent at the rim last season, which was nearly a 7.5-percent improvement from his junior season (59.3). Cook’s off-ball role was a factor in that number, as his assisted percentage at the rim increased from 16.7 percent his junior season to 43.5 percent during his senior campaign. Cook also became more adept at using runners and straight-line drives to convert more consistently at the rim. The video above features several nifty finishes by the 6-foot-2 guard.
Cook has nasty handles that allow him to break down defenders in the pick-and-roll or in ISO situations. He’s comfortable finishing with either hand, so forcing him in one direction in the pick-and-roll isn’t enough. His quick first step allows him to penetrate at will, where’s he’s comfortable keeping the ball or dishing it off to a teammate. Cook’s combination of playmaking and scoring without turning the ball over is hard to find. This past season just 10 players, three from major conferences, had a usage rate of at least 20 percent and an assist rate of at least 13 percent while turning the ball over on nine percent or less of their possessions. Cook was one of them.
For those reasons, Cook reminds me of D.J. Augustin. Augustin was a much more heralded prospect (drafted ninth overall in 2008), but he ultimately found his niche as spark plug off the bench. Both Augustin and Cook aren’t great playmakers or defenders, but are adept at shooting out of pick-and-roll sets and limiting mistakes. Both are also more than capable of hitting an open jumper if the defense falls asleep while guarding them off-ball. Augustin, like Cook, also seldom turns the ball over (1.6 turnovers per game for his career).
Cook won’t enter the NBA with the burden Augustin had of having the pressure to become a star. He’ll instead need to focus on making an NBA roster and proving he can make an impact off the bench. He was able to adjust to several different roles during his four years under Coach K, so don’t expect that transition to be too much for Cook. If a team takes a flyer on him late in the second round, they won’t regret it.