Sharife Cooper may be a bit undersized, but he is one of the most electric point guard prospects in the 2021 NBA Draft.
Sharife Cooper might only be 6-foot-0, but he packs a lot of punch into that tiny frame. The point guard prospect from Auburn is one of the craftiest, shiftiest players in this draft class.
The New York Knicks have been searching for the elusive “point guard of the future” for longer than Cooper has been alive. Is he the guy? The jury is still out, but he would bring a different dynamic to the roster.
Cooper is an absolute dynamo in the pick-and-roll for two main reasons — his finishing ability at the rim and his passing. Let’s take a look at his finishing first and foremost. He does a good job of probing the lane off of the pick-and-roll. Even though he’s a bit undersized, Cooper can finish with either hand and he’s crafty enough to get his shots up in a phonebooth.
When it comes to passing, he can make any and every pass in the book. He’s patient enough to let the play develop before finding the open man.
Cooper can do it all as a passer — hitting the roll man, kicking out to shooters, cross-court passes, backdoor finds, and everything in between.
Although his shot was inconsistent n college, he shot it well enough to keep defenses from going under on every pick-and-roll. Finding consistency with his shot at the next level is something to watch out for with Cooper.
Everything in the above category applies to Cooper’s transition game. Speed kills and Cooper is lightning quick with the ball in his hands. Despite his size, he consistently wins one-on-ones in the open floor with that speed.
Although he’s quick to push the ball in transition, he has a good feel for when to pull it out and look for the secondary break. Trailers or rim-running bigs can get good looks in early offense when the ball is in Cooper’s hands.
He always has his head up in search of open teammates, but he can get a little bit loose with the ball at times. Cooper averaged 4.2 turnovers per game during his freshman season at Auburn.
This is by far the biggest question mark for Cooper entering the NBA. Scouts and teams will always scrutinize undersized guards. Always.
Despite having the speed to stay in front of anyone, Cooper doesn’t always keep his man in front. Perhaps with the right coaching and right defensive system, he could develop into a solid perimeter defender, but that remains to be seen.
Off of the ball, he tends to get lost in the shuffle. Part of the reason why he struggles as an off-ball defender is because he can get caught up on screens. Staggered screens and pindowns give him issues.
Off Ball Offense
Now, this is tough to put as a “weakness” because Cooper didn’t spend much time off the ball at Auburn. He played a lot with the ball in his hands, which makes perfect sense.
However, in the NBA he will need to figure out how to thrive without the ball in his hands. Almost every team in the NBA will throw multiple ballhandlers on the floor at once and being able to seamlessly play on or off the ball is crucial for young players.
Upping his consistency as a catch-and-shoot guy would be a major key to unlocking his full offensive potential.
Fit With the Knicks
Point Guard Help
“Point guard of the future” is something Knicks fans have been talking about for umpteen years. It might be the most important position on the floor, but it’s been a revolving door in Madison Square Garden for ages.
Cooper is no sure thing as a prospect, but he’s not a bad option for the Knicks at 19 or 21. In all likelihood, the Knicks will re-sign Derrick Rose and add a veteran point guard this offseason. If that’s the case, Cooper might be more of a developmental guy for the Knicks.
Playing Time Questions
It’s never a bad thing to take an extra swing on a point guard. The Knicks might have Rose, a veteran free agent, Luca Vildoza, and Immanuel Quickley on the point guard depth chart next season.
If that’s the case, playing time might be hard to come by for Cooper. With that said, competition can be the catalyst for a young star emerging.
The Knicks have plenty of point guard options this offseason and Cooper should be near the top of their list for targets in the first round of the draft.