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A breakdown of Zia Cooke’s rookie season so far

With just a handful of games left in her rookie season, let’s examine how Zia Cooke has fared in year one.

Chicago Sky v Los Angeles Sparks Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images

With six minutes left in the second quarter on opening night, Chiney Ogwumike executed a dribble handoff to Zia Cooke. The rookie proceeded to pull-up at the free-throw line and while doing so, was fouled by Phoenix’s Sug Sutton on her attempt. Cooke made the bucket and then capped off the 3-point play at the line to thunderous applause from the home crowd.

Her WNBA debut couldn’t have gone better as she finished with 14 points on 5-6 shooting, and also tacked on a pair of rebounds and assists. That first game was the highlight of her season, but far from the only bright spot.

With only 144 roster spots in the entire league, just making it onto a team is no guarantee for a rookie. First-round draft picks being cut and waived is commonplace in the WNBA. And getting rotation minutes can be even harder given each team’s hierarchy and roster depth. So, while Cooke isn’t anywhere near a Rookie of the Year candidate, her ability to consistently produce and stay on the floor in itself is impressive.

While her per game averages won’t turn heads (4.6 points, 1 rebound and 0.7 assists in 13.9 minutes), the film often reveals why Cooke has appeared in 34 of the Sparks’ 35 games.

Cooke is polished and aggressive on defense as she he often gambles but does so with efficiency. She is elite at jumping in front of outlet passes, fights well off of screens and disrupts guards without fouling.

Cooke plays with the exact type of energy a coach would want from a rookie as she’s been an important spark plug off the bench for L.A.

She wears her emotions on her sleeve, shaking her head when she makes an error and excitingly claps when she forces a turnover. That youthful passion is on full display in the play above. She knocks down her opponent, steals the ball and then scores over four defenders for a quick basket.

While this type of energy is encouraged and welcomed, the other side of the coin also exists. There is no sugarcoating the fact that Cooke has struggled offensively as she shot just 29% from the field and 27% from three. It’s an area of weakness she's aware of however, and feels confident will be improved upon with more seasoning.

“I think once I’m able to really figure out my spots and understand how the WNBA really works, I think I’ll be way more efficient than I am now,” Cooke expressed.

Based on her shot chart and her aforementioned poor percentages, working on her 3-point shooting likely should be a top priority this off-season as Cooke has taken a lot of them.

One of the spots Cooke has been effective shooting from is on the wing, specifically on the right side of the floor. There is value in being effective from here in particular as defenses are naturally more focused on preventing paint attempts and looks from three. A shot from inside the 3-point line is often available and even served up by the opposition.

The elbow is another location Cooke has been automatic from with early games against Phoenix and Seattle being prime examples. Thanks to her speed and pull-up ability, she has shown to both create and knock down open looks.

There isn’t much time left in her rookie season, but with the playoff race as tight as ever, these upcoming games will be Cooke’s biggest tests to date.

If the Sparks squeak into the playoffs, they will likely have to face the defending champions on the road in a win or go home scenario. These are the types of games where we see which players are built for the bright lights and which aren’t. All signs point to Cooke being a big-moment player, but we’ll find out if that's the case in the coming weeks.

One thing is for sure however — her confidence and attitude are exactly where they need to be.

“I just feel like I haven’t had a chance to really show what I’m capable of. But it’s a process. I’m okay with that. I’m trusting it and I know my day is going to come.”

You can follow Edwin on Twitter at @ECreates88.

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