LOS ANGELES — Preseason games are rarely ever very significant. Rotation players usually play less minutes than typical, teams focus mostly on running basic stuff as an extension of their training camp, and the results don’t count at the end of the year.
But while all that may be true, things felt a little more special for Quinn Cook on Wednesday night, as the lifelong Lakers fan got to don the team’s iconic purple and gold jersey for the first time after missing their first four preseason games with a sore left calf.
“It was a dream come true,” Cook told Silver Screen and Roll. “I grew up watching so much basketball here, so to get out there as a Laker in front of the home fans was tremendous.”
And while yes, it is just preseason, Cook’s play was probably as good as he could have reasonably hoped for, especially considering he was returning from an injury. The former Golden State Warriors guard dropped 16 points in the Lakers’ 126-93 blowout win over his former team, showing off his much-vaunted shooting skills while 4-5 from behind the arc.
But pretty much everyone knew to expect shooting from Cook, a career 41.8% 3-point shooter. What was less expected, at least externally, was the playmaking verve he showed while dishing 3 assists in 15 minutes and helping set up several other plays. Lakers Head Coach Frank Vogel, however, says he saw it coming.
“Quinn was exceptional. I mean, if he could come and play like that all season will be pretty good. You have 16 points in 15 minutes, and he controlled the game,” Vogel said, saying that the team saw Cook’s ability to distribute the rock on tape last season.
“He’s a terrific player,” Vogel continued. “it’s not just the shooting, it’s his overall floor game and he’s gonna help us this year.”
For his part, Cook wasn’t surprised either. He thinks passing the ball successfully is something he can bring the Lakers consistently.
“That’s what I’ve done my whole life is make plays for others and be able to shoot the ball and just get our team in sets. Get our best players the ball, find shooters, get our bigs going and score when needed,” Cook said.
Cook’s Lakers teammate LeBron James — who has mentored him since Cook went to training camp with the Cleveland Cavaliers — agreed that Cook is more than just a shooter, and was impressed by how Cook “didn’t miss a beat” in his first game back.
“(He is) just a steady, confident, point/shooting guard,” James said. “He can shoot the ball extremely well, he can run our offense and he just plays at his pace. You can’t speed him up. And it was great to see him come right in and knock down a couple shots.”
And as welcome as any extra playmaking talents Cook can flash for the Lakers this year would be, what the organization needs most from him is still his shooting. For a team that will play tons of lineups with James, Anthony Davis and a true center like JaVale McGee or Dwight Howard, spacing can get a little tight. Cook isn’t the Lakers’ only shooter, but his ability to open up the floor for James, Davis and lobs to big men like he did on Wednesday night — while also playing credible enough defense to not be a liability on that end — will be key the key factor that determines how much time he gets on the floor.
Cook says having players like James and Davis will make it “easier” for him to do so.
“You just got to be ready to shoot the ball,” Cook said. “We know that we’re playing with the two best players in the world and that they’re going to find us. They command so much attention, we’ve just got to be ready to shoot shots with confidence.”
Cook did just that on Wednesday night, and he said his lack of nerves in his first game for his childhood team were in part due to his injury forcing him to single-mindedly focus on what he’s been working on during his rehab, as well as the fact that he knew he was on a minutes restriction, and as a result could go all out for his entire 15 minutes on the floor.
Cook also credited James for talking with him constantly, and for the way James empowers his teammates.
“He gives you so much confidence, he believes in everybody so much, and when you have a guy like that as your leader giving you confidence, it does wonders for everybody on the team,” Cook said. “He’s the ultimate leader.”
But as cool as it was to play alongside his mentor on the team he and his family were die-hard supporters of during his formative years, Cook was also careful not to take too much away from a preseason game. Both he and the Lakers still have a long way to go beyond beating up a battered Warriors team to reach their full potential. Cook was just grateful to be back out on the floor for the first time this season.
“It was fun to be out there. I’ve got to keep getting better, keep building and just get more comfortable,” Cook said.
He’ll have one more preseason opportunity to do so before the game begin for real, and if Cook keeps playing like this when the results start to count, he’s going to become a favorite of his fellow Lakers fans in no time.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.