(Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)
It’s impossible to fill the shoes of a two-time MVP. Especially one who is the entire system of his team.
For Cook, who has played 24 games with the Warriors this season, it’s all about finding the confidence to play his game. That’s exactly what the Warriors need from him during their bizarre injury pileup.
“That’s the biggest thing for me is the coaches, all the vets are telling me to do that,” Cook said of having the confidence to play his style. “When it’s your first year on the team and you’ve had some struggles at times, certain guys, certain coaches [would be like], ‘Maybe he can’t do it at this level’ or would tell me to pass the ball a little bit more.”
Cook doesn’t need that. When the rest of the starting lineup is comprised of Nick Young, Patrick McCaw, JaVale McGee and Kevon Looney—as it was during Sunday’s blowout loss to the Utah Jazz—he needs to be the offense. He’s done just that recently, as he’s averaged 20.6 points, 5.2 assists and 5.0 rebounds over the Warriors’ last five games.
“I’m telling you, Steve [Kerr], every player on my team: Dot [Livingston], Kevin [Durant], Steph [Curry], Draymond [Green], all of them were telling me to keep shooting. If you hesitate, they would get mad at you. So the fact that they kept their confidence in me has really been the reason I’ve been able to have some high-scoring games. It’s because they really believed in my ability.”
This isn’t just stat-stuffing, daily fantasy numbers. The Warriors still need Cook to be a contributor when Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green return. And so long as Curry remains sidelined, Cook could be a difference-maker in the first round of the playoffs, too.
To keep producing the way the Warriors need him to, Cook has to keep his confidence up. That’s a team effort in and of itself.
“I remember Steph telling me, ‘I don’t care if you go 0-of-25. That 26th shot, you better not hesitate.’ To hear that from a guy like that, it does a lot for your confidence. It really shows you I can stop putting pressure on myself and really play my game.”
“He texted me that at halftime in the Phoenix game, and he texted me after the game, so I picked his brain a little bit.”
Cook has needed all of the confidence boosters he could get. After all, his journey to the Warriors was tumultuous, to say the least.
Since he joined the NBA in 2015, Cook signed seven deals with four teams prior to his arrival in Golden State. After a four-year career at Duke, Cook signed with the Cavaliers in September 2015, only to be waived a month later.
He then signed with the Pelicans in September 2016, but he was again waived a month later. In late February 2017, the Mavericks inked him to a 10-day deal. He then signed back-to-back 10-day contracts with the Pelicans before they finally signed him to a two-year, $1.32 million deal. However, they waived him three-and-a-half months later.
“When you don’t know where you’re going to be tomorrow or the next week, that’s tough. So when I would come up here [from Santa Cruz], I would play not to mess up, play not to step on anybody’s toes. Guys need me to be who I am. I think the Warriors signed me because they know I can do a certain thing, and when I’m not that, I’m not the same player.”
Ahead of the 2017-18 season, he spent a month with the Hawks before he signed a two-way deal with the Warriors.
“Any time you play in the NBA, in practice, you get to travel, that’s a dream for me,” Cook told Bleacher Report. “Scoring zero points or score a lot, to be able to play in the NBA is the dream for me.”
Cook was no stranger to success prior to his arrival in Golden State. After winning a national championship in college, Cook was the 2015-16 D-League Rookie of the Year. He’s a two-time D-League All-Star and was the 2017 D-League All-Star Game MVP. He averaged 25.3 points, 8.1 assists and 4.6 rebounds with the Santa Cruz Warriors this season, shooting 52.7 percent from the field, 43.9 from beyond the arc and 94.9 at the line. He just needed to get the right mentality.
Cook has transferred that success to the NBA as of late. His hot shooting touch might fade, but he’s shown the ability to score in a variety of ways. If he keeps doing so, he could help swing a game or two in the playoffs down the line.
He’s been drilling everything from deep, including pull-up three-pointers using high pick-and-rolls a la Curry.
He’s also capable of getting to the second level, getting his defender on his hip and dribbling into mid-rangers:
The Warriors need Cook to keep doing his best Curry impression moving forward.
“He’s finally comfortable,” Kerr explained. “It’s perfectly normal for him, the first few games without Steph, to defer. We kept telling him, ‘Go get 20, go get 25. We need that.’ You look at our roster without the guys we have, he should be our leading scorer. That’s what he does. I think he got comfortable after a few games, and now he’s just playing. It’s fun to see.”
With a consistent role, Cook has thrived. While the Warriors’ stars recover from their respective injuries, Cook is developing into a potential contributor on a championship contender.