Steph Curry’s knee injury will leave the Warriors limping into the playoffs, but Quinn Cook is ready to take on the challenge.
On the evening of March 23rd, the Golden State Warriors found themselves in a painfully familiar position. In an incident that remarkably resembled one that knocked Kevin Durant out for six weeks last season, the Warriors saw their championship hopes flash before their eyes as JaVale McGee tumbled into Stephen Curry’s left knee.
When it was announced the next morning that Curry suffered a Grade 2 MCL sprain and would be re-evaluated in three weeks, Warriors fans breathed a sigh of relief. Three weeks was an incredibly optimistic timetable for an injury that usually takes at least four to six, but a Grade 2 sprain meant a return for the second round of the playoffs was possible for Curry.
While getting past the first round without the two-time MVP is far from a foregone conclusion, the Warriors signed Durant exactly for this reason. If Durant, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green are as healthy as they should be to start the postseason, the Warriors will be considerable favorites in any first round matchup; but, they will need all the help they can get from Curry’s replacement.
The man stepping into Curry’s role, for the time being, is second-year pro Quinn Cook, and so far, he appears ready to take on the challenge.
While Cook has appeared in just 39 games over his NBA career, he’s a familiar face to a lot of basketball fans. Cook played four years at Duke University and won a National Title with the Blue Devils in 2015. That team saw more heralded prospects like Justise Winslow, Jahlil Okafor, and Tyus Jones all get drafted in the first round, but Cook took the more scenic route to the NBA.
The undersized, then-23-year-old point guard went undrafted and spent the last two years with the Mavericks, Cavaliers, Pelicans, and Hawks all on short-term deals, often without seeing any NBA playing time. After being waived by Atlanta this past October, the Warriors signed Cook to a two-way contract.
He knew he’d likely be used sparingly by a team as talented as the Warriors, but Cook quickly found a home about an hour south. Cook played 29 games for the Santa Cruz Warriors this season, averaging 25.3 points, 8.1 assists, and 4.6 rebounds on 52.7% shooting. He played so well that he was named a G-league All-Star and won the MVP of the G-league All-Star Game.
At still only 25-years old, it was only a matter of time before an NBA team gave Cook a chance, but a rash of Curry ankle injuries gave him that opportunity in Oakland. Cook played ten games for the Warriors in the first half of the season while sporadically filling due to rest and injury. But it wasn’t until Curry’s most recent ankle injury that Cook began spending more time in the NBA than the G-League.
While losing an MVP and generational offensive talent is impossible to completely overcome, Cook’s style of play makes him a pretty natural transition for the other Warriors. He’s not the same caliber of play-maker or shooter that Curry is (because neither is anyone else in NBA history), but Cook plays remarkably similar to a pre-MVP Curry, just on a much more limited scale.
Since he became the starter on March 9th, Cook has averaged 15.4 points, 4.0 assists, and 4.0 rebounds while shooting nearly 40% from three in ten games. He’s also managed to do a pretty good impression of Curry’s ability to create his own offense and pull-up from anywhere on the court.
In the G-League, 58.4% of Cook’s made field goals came unassisted and he made a ridiculous 72.7% of his pull-up attempts including 63.2% from three. For reference, in Curry’s unanimous 2015-16 MVP season he made 45.9% of his total pull-ups and 43.8% of his pull-ups from three. While Cook’s G-League numbers are clearly unsustainable long-term, it does show he has the potential to be a solid shooter in the NBA.
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But, as silly as it sounds, Cook’s willingness to take those open shots is almost as important as his ability to make them. The Warriors want and need Cook to be aggressive when he’s on the court and they’ve made sure he’s perfectly clear on that fact. Cook mentioned in a press conference the other day that Curry told him, “I don’t care if you go 0-for-25. That 26th shot, you better not hesitate.”
You wouldn’t expect to find a lack of offensive confidence on a team as talented as Golden State, but it’s something Warrior role players have struggled with for a few years now (Nick Young notwithstanding).
Young is taking more of his shots from three than ever, but both Patrick McCaw and Omri Casspi have their lowest three-point attempt rate of their careers and Andre Iguodala is posting his lowest since joining Golden State. For a team that built its reputation on elite three-point shooting, the Warriors have a striking lack of it outside of their top three scorers.
Curry, Durant, and Thompson have taken 63% of Golden State’s 3PA this season but just 23% of the team’s 2PA. With Curry sidelined, the Warriors are going to need all of the shooting they can get and Cook has to be one of the few Warriors willing to take those shots when they’re given to him.
Right now, the Warriors are stuck in a waiting game. Three of their All-Stars should return over the next week or so, but they’ll have to wait another painfully slow month for the final one. It’s unfair to expect Cook to replicate what Curry provides, but the Warriors are going to need everything he can give them. Whether or not he is ready for the burden remains to be seen, but Quinn Cook will have a significant say in whether the Golden State Warriors can repeat as NBA Champions.
Edited by Brian Kang.
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