Editor’s Note: For the second year in a row, the Silver Screen and Roll staff is counting down the most interesting Lakers heading into next season. We will be going through all 20 training camp spots before the season begins, and today we continue with No. 10, Quinn Cook.
During the 2019 NBA Finals, as the Golden State Warriors experienced unnatural levels of attrition to their lineup, it often seemed like Quinn Cook was the only player on the floor — save for Stephen Curry — who was capable of confidently stepping into his own shot.
Cook had his finest performance in Game 2 of the Finals, launching big three after big three to help the Warriors tie the series.
It’s not the first time Cook has been able to come through in the clutch for a championship-caliber team. During his last year at Duke, Cook took on the role of late-game assassin for the Blue Devils on more than one occasion, most memorably in a win over then-undefeated Virginia. With under five minutes remaining and Duke down 8, Cook hit three 3-pointers to secure the come-from-behind victory.
(This may no longer be relevant, but I can count on one hand the number of regular-season wins I’ve enjoyed more than that one as a Duke alum.)
When the Lakers signed Cook this offseason, that is the idealized version of the player they were hoping for. Someone who can step in to big moments on the highest stages and still play totally, comfortably within himself. It’s an even more impressive feat considering the limited minutes Cook received throughout the regular season and playoffs — he was able to come in cold and still produce when his team needed him.
Of course, cherry-picking Cook’s best moments from the Finals and ignoring the fact that he shot 40 percent from the floor and 32 percent from 3-point range during the 2019 playoffs obscures his overall contribution.
Yes, Cook has moments where he looks like he belongs in a championship team’s rotation. He has been a part of two finals runs already in his three-year NBA career. But Cook was only a regular part of the rotation this past season, when ever-diminishing depth forced Steve Kerr to unleash him despite his defensive limitations. At 26 years old, he might be entering his fourth year in the league, but it’s only the second that won’t involve substantial G League time.
For the 2019-20 Lakers, Cook will likely be relied upon more than he ever has during an NBA regular season. How he responds to that new challenge is an unknown as we enter this season.
Cook started college as a point guard, but transitioned into a shooting guard role by the end of his time at Duke, his long-range proficiency easily outpacing his ability to direct an offense. As a senior, he shot 39.5% on 3-pointers and 89.1% on free throws, forecasting the type of shooter he would eventually become in the NBA.
The problem is that Cook is 6-foot-2, not exactly shooting guard size in a league that demands more and more length on the wing. Even as a point guard, Cook remains undersized to guard that position, creating defensive challenges. As a result, Cook was undrafted and spent nearly two full seasons in the G League before debuting for the Dallas Mavericks. Incidentally, his first double-digit scoring game came against the Lakers in March 2017.
Cook didn’t really stick in the NBA until he got to Golden State, a team with enough wing size and playmaking to compensate for his physical limitations. Next to Shaun Livingston and Klay Thompson in the backcourt, it becomes much easier to hide a short shooting guard.
But the Lakers don’t really have the wing size to allow for Cook to hide. Playing next to Avery Bradley or Kentavious Caldwell-Pope — or even some combination of Alex Caruso and Rajon Rondo — will require Cook to provide something on defense. He hasn’t yet proven that is part of his repertoire.
Perhaps the Lakers can throw Cook out in lineups that are all shooting and defense optional, and let the bench run and gun to try and outscore opponents. Cook certainly loves playing with pace, and he’ll readily shoot whenever he gets the ball. No coach ever wants to play a lineup that has no chance of getting stops, but sacrifices must be made.
Or maybe renowned defensive mastermind Frank Vogel can be the coach who reaches Cook and guides him to become a passable defender, allowing him to stay on the floor and provide spot-up shooting on the other end. It worked with DJ Augustin in Orlando, and Cook has a similar build.
It’s interesting that the Lakers have made a habit of poaching Warriors bench players over the last two offseasons, with JaVale McGee last summer and Cook this year. It seems like the team believes they can acquire some of that championship DNA by osmosis. A few champagne showers, and you become a highly-valued acquisition around the league.
Cook is also young enough to still have some upside, unlike a lot of other players on the Lakers. Under the tutelage of Phil Handy and the rest of the coaching staff, there might still be a playmaker within. Cook should be part of the rotation from day one, and he’ll definitely have opportunities to handle the ball.
The best-case scenario of Cook signing with the Lakers is him continuing his tradition of hitting big shots, which he did both for the Warriors and at Duke, when he helped lead the Blue Devils to the 2015 national title. Maybe he even keeps his streak alive of winning a championship every three years. Since Cook is under contract for two seasons, that 2021 crown is very much in play!
It might not mean anything that Cook was willing to take threes for the Warriors when some of his teammates were a little trigger-shy. But it’s an attitude he’s had for a few years, the ability to know what his teammates need and take the charge of the moment. He did it next to Tyus Jones and Jahlil Okafor at Duke, and he did it next to Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson in Golden State. It stands to reason that there will be a time when LeBron James and Anthony Davis also kick the ball out to Cook at an important juncture, and he has to deliver.
Cook is certainly an imperfect player, but he’s also a player who has made a habit of finding winning situations. Let’s hope he has stumbled upon another one in Los Angeles.
The countdown so far...
10. Quinn Cook