OKC Thunder 2010-2011 Final Player Grades: End of Season Profiles; Daequan Cook

Reserve shooting guard Daequan Cook is today's player profile. If you watched the course of the entire Thunder season, you be forgiven if you thought that by the end Cook would have more DNP's than playing minutes in this past season. He struggled to find time on the court early on, and when Cook was in the game he offered little more than 3-5 minutes of action that usually involved missed jump shots. How incredible it was, then, that Cook would morph into a bench player who was not only reliable but essential to the Thunder's success.

History:

Cook grew up in Ohio, where he starred at Dunbar High School in Dayton. As a senior in high school, he led his team to the Division II championship and was named to the McDonalds All-American Team. He was recruited locally, and along with Greg Oden and Mike Conley, entered his collegiate career at Ohio State University in 2006. Like Oden and Conley, Cook opted to leave school after his freshman year and enter the 2007 NBA draft.

In the 2007 draft, Cook was taken with the 21st pick by the Philadelphia 76ers, but then immediately traded to the Miami Heat, where he spent his first three seasons. While in a Heat uniform, despite having been relegated to the D-League for a short stint, Cook did prove to provide an offensive spark playing along side Dwyane Wade as a 3-point specialist. Cook's shooting prowess became recognized by his selection to the 2009 NBA 3-point competition at All-Star weekend, and Cook took home the shootout title that year. 

In the summer of 2010, Cook was traded (along with the 18th pick in the 2010 draft) to the OKC Thunder for the 32nd pick in the 2010 draft. 

Pre-Season Expectations:

Cook was expected to come into the 2010 season as the Thunder's designated 3-point specialist. The Thunder had a stable full of shooting guards, with Thabo Sefolosha and sophomore James Harden on the roster, and Cook was expected to compete for back-up minutes along side Harden. 

Regular Season Grade: B-

It is a bit difficult to grade Cook's regular season because if you look at his personal game log, there are a whole lot of games where he never even saw the court.Cook did see some very, very early action in this season, but it amounted to little production, leaving us to ponder what really happened for those first three months of the season. From almost the beginning of November to almost the end of January, Cook only saw the court a handful of times. Was he injured? Was he not performing to coach Scott Brooks' liking? Was it a rotation issue? Unfortunately, we do not know and will likely never know.

The disparity from the first three months of the season to the last three months is puzzling because once Cook became integrated in the Thunder's offense, he produced in exactly the way the team wanted him to. When Cook received the necessary minutes he needed to make himself a factor (a minimum of around 10) he instantly made the Thunder offense better spaced and more of a threat from the outside. OKC has a lot of players who can make the 3-point shot (Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Eric Maynor) but with the exception of maybe Eric Maynor, I would say that this shot is not the thing that any of them do best. Cook, however, shoots the 3-pointer better than he does anything else. It stands to reason that if the team needs that outside shot, Cook is the best player to provide it.

On top of the valuable minutes Cook began to play, he also frequently was the player set up by Scott Brooks' ever-improving out-of-bounds sets. Cook moves without the ball well, and when he had the benefit of several screens to set up his shot, those out-of-bounds plays that set him up on the wings were a thing of beauty to watch. Cook possesses a fluid catch-and-shoot motion that is second on the team only to Durant, and the planned out-of-bounds play was the perfect showcase for Cook's talent.

Lastly, the Thunder began to use a normal half-court set for Cook that was a beautiful blend of weak-side action and pinpoint passing, often coming from bench players Harden and Maynor. Check it out:

Weak-Side Action Gets Thunder Wide Open Three | NBA Playbook

By the time the end of the season came, Cook was firmly established in the Thunder's offensive rotation, giving the team everything they needed from a bench perimeter player. I would ultimately grade Cook higher but for the fact that there was that strange three month period where he never even got on the court. If there were a valid reason put forth by the team (i.e. injury) then it could be discounted, but without that rationale, at best we can conclude that Cook was not performing to the level in practice where Brooks could trust him in a game situation.

Post Season Grade: C+

As a bench player, Cook's opportunities to shine in the playoffs were a bit more limited than in the regular season. Because rotations often tighten up, Cook was less likely to be on the court to provide a favorable match-up, and on the other end of the court, his defensive weaknesses were more likely to be exploited.

Cook's best series was in the second round seven game marathon against the Memphis Grizzlies. In that series where the tenacious Memphis defense hounded Kevin Durant all series long, Cook provided timely shooting to space out the floor and keep the Grizzlies guards from doubling too hard on Durant. In the marathon Game Four, which went to three overtimes, Cook played 24 minutes and scored 10 points while grabbing five rebounds. In Game Five, a Thunder rout, Cook was the second-highest point man, scoring 18 points in only 18 minutes.

Unfortunately for Cook, once the Thunder got to the Conference Finals and faced Dallas, he was quickly marginalized by the Maverick defensive schemes. In games three through five, Cook only played 24 minutes, missed two shots, and scored zero points. In particular, Games Four and Five were decided in the final moments and even a little bit of contribution from Cook might have tipped the scales in OKC's favor. Even so, a player can only do what is asked of him, and by the end, the Thunder were out of solutions and schemes that could have maximized Cook's talents. 

Most Memorable Game:

I look at the first game against the Miami Heat as a bit of a turning point for Cook this past season. Cook had barely played meaningful minutes up to that point, but here was his first opportunity. I think that he was given this opportunity because it was against his old team and all players want to shine bright against teams that got rid of them. Cook was given 31 minutes of playing time to make his case, and Cook played well. He scored 13 points off of 5-8 shooting, including 3-5 from 3-point range.

Even though the Thunder lost this game, I personally feel like Cook seized the opportunity to show his quality to the coaching staff and the rest of the team. After this game, it was as if the Thunder became more aware of what they truly had in Cook, and for the rest of the season Cook was awarded with meaningful minutes as a part of the second unit.

Most Memorable Single Moment:

Cook's biggest moment of the season in my mind came in the Thunder's lone post-season win against the Dallas Mavericks. If you recall, in Game Two Brooks made the risky call to leave his four bench players in the game along side Kevin Durant and see if they could hold off the hard-charging Mavericks. Cook remained on the court for almost the entire quarter (getting substituted with only 12 seconds remaining) and did an admirable job in helping provide the offense the Thunder needed late in the game. 

With just over five minutes remaining and the Mavs having pulled to within a single possession, Cook stroked a dagger 3-pointer to push the lead back to two possessions. The Thunder were not seriously threatened the rest of the way.

Future Outlook:

Any team that is planning on contending for a championship needs at least one dedicated shooter who knows how to get open and can make the 3-point shot. They need to be ready when called upon, can come into a game cold, and have the confidence and skill to knock down the open jumper. Cook has proven that he possesses this quality, so from the talent perspective he offers precisely what OKC needs from its second unit.

Currently Cook is set to become a restricted free agent in the off-season. The Thunder can extend a qualifying offer to him before June 30th to try to lock up Cook for another year at his current salary scale. With the looming lockout and potential salary changes, I would think that Cook would be inclined to take this guaranteed offer. 

I would not be surprised if GM Sam Presti extends an offer to Cook that satisfies both parties interests, and Daequan Cook remains with the team for at least one more championship run.

Player Grades:

A: Far exceeded expectations
B: Exceeded expectations
C: Met expectations
D: Did not meet expectations
F: Fell far short of expectations

Previous Grades:

Cole Aldrich

Jeff Green

Nenad Krstic

Nazr Mohammed 

B.J. Mullens

Nate Robinson

D.J. White

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