Name: Daequan Cook
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.
Cook came into the 2011-12 season as the shooting specialist of the Thunder's 2nd unit. Playing along side Eric Maynor, James Harden, and Nick Collison, Cook had found a good niche in the mix by becoming the team's dedicated 3-point shooter who could slide between the 'two' and the 'three' positions, depending on how Harden was being used. He also offered to be a nice counter-balance to starter Thabo Sefolosha, who is more known for his defense than his offense.
In the previous season Cook struggled to get minutes in the early part of the season, recording a number of DNP's. However, when he was finally given regular minutes in the rotation, he proved his worth by shooting 42% from 3-point range while averaging over 6 points per game. All expectations were that Cook would continue with this type of performance, thereby cementing his place as an important part of the Thunder bench.
Regular Season Grade: B-
Cook's regular season can be divided into two components: B.D.F. (Before Derek Fisher) and A.D.F. (After Derek Fisher).
Cook came into the season as the team's dedicated 3-point specialist and a guy who could come into a game cold and quickly put up points. As part of a great 2nd unit that featured James Harden, Eric Maynor, and Nick Collison, Cook provided the perfect outlet for the pick and roll sets that Maynor and Harden would often run with Collison. For the first month of the season, Cook's play earned him 2 things that he lacked at the start of the previous season: 1) consistent minutes (about 16 per game) and 2) a green light to shoot. Such was the team's faith in Cook that whenever he was on the court, if he had an open look, he was taking the shot.
Mixed tidings befell the Thunder at the end of January when starter Thabo Sefolosha went down with a foot injury. Cook was inserted into the starting line-up, and for the first time in his career he was expected to be more than just a perimeter scorer. Cook responded well with this new responsibility. His offense jumped from 4.0 PPG to 7.3 PPG as he was given more opportunities to score. Most impressive, Cook displayed solid defensive instincts in open space and proved to be a better-than-expected rebounder. In the month of February, Cook averaged 3.3 rebounds per game, a full rebound per game more than his career average.
While Cook was never going to be a long term solution in this starting role, he impressed many of us in his ability to elevate his game when called upon.
Everything changed for Cook on March 14, the day that Fisher joined the team. Fisher was brought onto the Thunder to fulfill one specific need - to help the team's playoff chances after the loss of Eric Maynor for the season. Thunder fans' reactions were by and large mixed; they recognized his championship experience, but the truth was that Fisher had limited upside to offer. We resigned ourselves though to the idea that Fisher would merely fill the backup PG role previously occupied by Maynor/Jackson and that would be that.
Sadly, that was not that. Fisher did indeed take up Jackson's allocated minutes, but he also sucked up Cook's as well. From the time the line-up shift happened to the end of the playoffs, Cook all but disappeared as a meaningful bench player. In fact Cook did not even see the court for 7 consecutive games. Without meaningful minutes, Cook's confidence dropped, his contribution disappeared, and he was quickly rendered ineffectual as a rotation player.
I don't want to make the marginalization of Cook greater than it should be, but the one thing that we all witnessed as the season wound down was a useful bench player being rendered useless by the addition of Fisher and Coach Brooks' over-reliance on him.
Post-Season Grade: (C-)
Cook was relegated mostly to clean-up duty during the playoffs, but he did have a few memorable moments.
Round 1 vs Mavericks: C+
The Thunder's series against the Mavs was a good one for Cook to regain a little bit of his footing. The Mavs were committed to crashing down on Kevin Durant and there desperately trying to find a solution to slow down Russell Westbrook, and for 10 minutes per game, Cook found himself open for some good looks. While Cook did not have a great series, his presence on the court was useful enough to ease the Mavs defense just enough to make things easier on Durant. Cook was at his best in Game 3 scoring 9 points, the pivotal game in the series when OKC won on Dallas' home court and all but sealed their fate.
Round 2 vs Lakers: C-
Aside from some clean-up minutes in a Game 1 rout, Cook barely saw the court in this series. Who knows if Brooks just started to trust Fisher more or if Fisher convinced his teammates a certain leeway to extract some revenge from his former team, but the Thunder rotation shrunk and Cook was left mostly as a cheerleader.
Round 3 vs Spurs: B+
The Spurs series was practically forgettable for Cook, but there was one shining moment and it was a moment that mattered. In the critical Game 5 on the Spurs' court, Cook was called upon in the 2nd quarter to help the Thunder sieze control of the series. Cook responded by scoring 8 points in only 4 minutes of play, enabling the Thunder to head into halftime with a lead and 24 minutes away from a remarkable series turnaround.
Finals vs Heat: N/A
Cook is actually a former member of the Miami Heat, and so even though Cook had seen reduced minutes there was a feeling that he might get a shot against his former team. Unfortunately, that chance never came. Cook played a total of 11 minutes and scored 2 points.
Most Memorable Game:
Late in the season the Thunder hosted the Sacramento Kings on April 24th. There was very little at stake in this affair other than the Kings' playing for pride and Kevin Durant playing to win another scoring title. The team played like it too for the most part, playing one of those 'defense optional' type affairs and heading into the 4th quarter trailing by 4. The OKC bench was substituted in and we all thought we were in for 12 minutes of pointless ball.
However, Cook and the Thunder bench had other ideas. The Thunder essentially used Cook as their 'Durant in the 4th quarter' guy and Cook responded by scoring all 19 of his points in the final period. The team looked for Cook repeatedly as the game drew to a close, and time and time again Cook responded by hitting all manner of shots across the court.
I think what made this 4th quarter sequence both bitter and sweet was that it gave us a final bit of evidence that proved what we knew - Cook can legitimately provide offense in a way that Fisher cannot. It made it all the more frustrating to watch Fisher repeatedly get big moment spots while Cook languished on the bench.
Most Memorable Single Moment:
This shot isn't a single moment per se, but it is one of my favorite Thunder set plays and we saw it a few times early in the season.
The ball always starts out on the left wing and is normally in the hands of James Harden (although we've seen Eric Maynor throw this pass as well). Cook drifts to the right wing and slides down to the right baseline. Harden then slings a skip pass over the entire defense to a spot where Cook is moving to. Nick Collison acts as Cook's screener, keeping Cook's man away from him so he can easily move, catch, and shoot all in one motion. The thing that gets me about the pass is that almost every time it looks like the pass is going to sail out of bounds, right up until the point where Cook slides over and catches it. It is a remarkably effective play and I hope we see more of it in the future.
Cook's future after this season is by and large in his own hands. Cook is currently signed for $3 million per year and his contract is up at the end of next season. We know that the Thunder will be working to clear cap space in order to sign their other players, so Cook's contract could be on the chopping block, especially since youngsters Reggie Jackson and now Perry Jones III will be looking to fulfill their potential and earn more minutes. Cook might be seen as expendable.
However, Cook does have one card he can play - he is the team's best pure 3-point shooter (despite what percentages say) and he can absolutely fill a valuable role in the team's needs during their pursuit of a championship. All the evidence you need is to take a look back at the Thunder's performance in the Finals; the team's 3-point shooting was a liability and one of the biggest reasons why the Heat out-performed them.
In order for Cook to capitalize though he is going to have to prove that he is worth keeping around. He has to show better discretion in his shot selection, be more of a 2-way player, and give the Thunder Big 3 a release valve when they face the better defenses in the league. Cook has the talent to do it, but he has to put it all together if he wants to remain a part of the Thunder.
If his game does not come together in such a way, it is likely that Cook will be moving on after next season. If this is his future path, all hope is not lost because Cook has proven that he has a marketable skill and has the talent to land in another good situation where he can ply his trade.
A: Far exceeded expectations
B: Exceeded expectations
C: Met expectations
D: Did not meet expectations
F: Fell far short of expectations
Other Player Grades: