Editor’s Note: As the season gets closer, our Silver Screen and Roll staff is going to be taking a closer look back at every player on the Lakers for a refresher on stuff we may have forgotten during quarantine. Think of this as the 30-second clip reminding you of what happened during the current season of your favorite TV show that rolls right before the latest episode starts. Today, let’s recall what was up with Quinn Cook.
Quinn Cook has been the end-of-bench player championship teams love to have. He always has a great rapport with everyone on the team (seriously, the man is everyone’s best friend), brings high energy and consistent celebrations from the sidelines, and has the ability to sub in in a pinch when the Lakers are down a few bodies or just need a lift.
An early-season game in Chicago sticks out as one of Cook’s trademark performances. The Lakers were listless, down 18 points in the third quarter, before a bench rally led by Cook and Kyle Kuzma brought the team back. Cook was the second-leading scorer that night, showing off a mix of his smooth 3-point jumper while also getting to the rack against the overmatched Bulls defense.
A couple things stick out from Cook’s performance that night. First, he is unconscious when his jumper gets going. The first-year Laker can — for lack of a better word — cook. Even in limited minutes this season, Cook managed to shoot 37.9% on 3-pointers, demonstrating that he doesn’t need a high volume of shots to remain efficient. Both Anthony Davis and LeBron James trust Cook on kick-outs, and he delivers at a high rate. Second, Cook’s shots always come within the rhythm of the offense. He isn’t going to hijack possessions by taking above-the-break threes; his shooting diet consists of spot-ups, and 89% of his makes come off of assists.
Vogel deployed Cook with Alex Caruso in that game against Chicago almost exclusively, a two-man lineup that has a net rating of +11.2 in 206 minutes. As an ace defender and ball mover, Caruso can help mitigate Cook’s weaknesses, especially against backups, and the Lakers have returned to that pairing when they need to play Cook.
That game is also instructive because it came on a night when Avery Bradley and Rajon Rondo were both out, which is the situation the Lakers currently find themselves in. The team needed Cook fill backup guard minutes, but it’s important to note that once he brought the ball up, he didn’t really function as the point guard in the halfcourt. The offense ran through Kuzma when James was off the floor, as Cook only had two assists on the night, one coming on a broken play. Cook’s assist percentage of 13.1% on the season — low for a combo guard and disastrous for a pure point — is indicative that playmaking has never been his strong suit.
Cook also had standout scoring performances in a win against Oklahoma City (13 points on 5-of-10 shooting) and a one-point loss to Orlando (22 points on 9-of-14 shooting), both of those coming in games when the Lakers were shorthanded. Against the Thunder, James, Davis, and Danny Green all sat out, while Rondo missed the home contest versus the Magic. When the Lakers have needed a bench player to step up, albeit against lower-rung playoff teams, Cook has been there.
But the complete body of work from Cook’s first season as a Laker still paints the picture of a player who can’t be relied upon consistently. He has only appeared in 38 games, and only 26 if you discount garbage time. He has reached double-figures in scoring six times, but just twice against playoff teams. And now that the Lakers have added additional shooting to the roster in the form of J.R. Smith, Cook even has some competition in his role as a microwave scorer.
What the Lakers could use from Cook is someone who can actually function as a point guard. That’s the role they trotted him out as on opening night against the Clippers, and despite Cook’s championship pedigree, he was flustered by the ball pressure from Patrick Beverley and unable to throw entry passes to the Lakers’ bevy of post players.
To be fair, that’s not a role that Cook has ever played successfully, but it also means that the Lakers haven’t really trusted Cook to play minutes against contenders this season. He hasn’t played against the Bucks or the Clippers after opening night. He only got minutes against the Celtics because the Lakers were being routed, and then in one game each versus Houston and Denver because Davis and James, respectively, were out.
As a result, even as their guard depth thins out — at least, the guards who are known quantities — the Lakers likely still won’t turn to Cook. Sure, he can help the Lakers fill minutes in their exhibition and seeding games, the role he played through the first 63 games, but his lack of creation and poor defense make him a bad fit for what the team needs during the postseason, even with his spot-up shooting.
Cook has made a habit of finding himself in winning situations over the past few years, and he even managed to help the Warriors win a Finals game one year ago. But his scoring surges have been more of the exception than the rule, both in Los Angeles and elsewhere. The Lakers are happy to have him on their team; they probably just don’t expect him to be a regular contributor, even as their depth depletes.