TrueHoop: Brian Cook

Orlando Summer League, Day 5 notables

July, 9, 2014
By Tom Westerholm
Here, in no particular order, are some notable performances from Day 5 of the Orlando Pro Summer League:

Jeremy Lamb, Oklahoma City Thunder

If Oklahoma City’s goal was to build up Lamb’s confidence by having him play his third consecutive Summer League, things could not have gone worse to this point. The lanky guard is averaging 17.3 points per game, but he’s shooting an abysmal 32 percent from the field, including 4-for-23 from 3-point range. He’s very smooth off the dribble, but he hasn’t been able to finish at the rim, and he rarely looks confident when he rises for a jumper. All of the physical tools remain, of course, but his skill set does not appear to translate to being handed the reins of an offense. He was 4-for-17 Wednesday.

Frank Gaines, Indiana Pacers

Summer League results mean very little, but after an ugly blowout in its first game of the week, Indiana’s team has become extremely entertaining. Wednesday, Gaines caught fire in the second quarter, scoring 11 points in just under two minutes en route to 17 points on 7-for-13 shooting. Gaines -- who played for the Maine Red Claws of the D-League this past season -- showed a perfect stroke and the ability to set himself and rise in rhythm quickly, both in spot-up situations and off the dribble. He’s small for an NBA two-guard and too much of a scorer to play the point, but it’ll be interesting to see if a team that needs scoring off the bench gives him a shot.

Mitch McGary, Oklahoma City Thunder

Aggressive and energetic, McGary’s game isn’t very aesthetically pleasing, but he’s proving effective for Oklahoma City. He scored 15 points Wednesday against Indiana on 5-for-7 shooting. As a high-post big, McGary let the offense run around him, waiting until his defender sagged to knock down midrange jumpers effectively. McGary’s numbers, however, may not be an accurate depiction of his impact. He creates chaos, tipping loose balls and throwing his body around the floor -- an infusion of energy that might impact a regular-season game as the season drags on.

Casper Ware, Philadelphia 76ers

There are a lot of reasons to like Ware’s Summer League thus far. The tiny guard is averaging 19 points and nearly five assists per game, scoring on floaters, driving and dishing well to bigs in the paint and pressuring ball handlers all the way up the court. He is stretching the floor as well, knocking down 40 percent of his 3-pointers. In Philadelphia’s win over Brooklyn on Wednesday, Ware scored 24 points and dished out eight assists, running the offense relatively effectively throughout. Ware hasn’t shown much proficiency as a drive-and-kick point guard, and his size limits his effectiveness as a passer since -- logically -- it’s difficult to see over people that much bigger, and he’ll likely see a drop in efficiency against NBA defenders. Like Gaines, Ware may be effective as quick offense off the bench.

Jerami Grant, Philadelphia 76ers

After struggling in his Summer League debut, Grant has put together consecutive strong games. He followed a 4-for-9, 12-point game on Tuesday with another 12-point game Wednesday. Grant showed his range, finishing 2-for-3 from 3-point range, and he played a very effective pick-and-pop game against Brooklyn, working well as the screener with Casper Ware and demonstrating his ability to stretch the floor effectively in a half-court offense. Grant struggled at times defensively with Nets big man Donte Greene, but after disappointing early in the week, Grant appeared much more comfortable and confident Wednesday.

Marcus Smart, Boston Celtics

Smart’s 14-point performance on Wednesday was hit or miss. He was a relatively inefficient 4-for-13 from the field, and he shot 2-for-7 from 3-point range. Smart passed out of several difficult shots he clearly wanted to take, but he took several tough shots he would have been better off leaving alone. Boston played him with Phil Pressey for much of the game, running both point guards on and off the ball interchangeably, and Smart appeared comfortable both running a pick-and-roll and driving from the wing. He finished with six assists and five rebounds.

Chris Babb, Boston Celtics

Babb faces another tough climb to make Boston’s roster in 2014-15, and Boston’s impending acquisition of Marcus Thornton didn’t help matters. But Babb took the first steps on Wednesday, defending Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to a standstill, making smart rotations and contesting everything. Offensively, Babb -- who is generally just a spot-up shooter -- drove hard to the basket, beating his defender multiple times and scoring efficiently. Babb’s game is still predicated on catch-and-shoot jumpers, but he showed some versatility Wednesday. He finished 5-for-8 with 10 points.

Brian Cook, Detroit Pistons

The Brian Cook Reunion Tour rolls on. After shooting poorly against Memphis on Sunday, Cook scored 14 points including 4-for-7 from 3-point range against Boston on Wednesday. He’s solely a pick-and-pop big at this point, but he has been very effective in that role, stretching the defense and creating driving lanes for his guards.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Detroit Pistons

A Summer League MVP candidate to this point, Caldwell-Pope was mostly ineffective against Boston before exploding late and nearly bringing Detroit back. Caldwell-Pope scored nine points in the final three minutes and missed a shot that would have won the game for Detroit. He struggled against Babb’s tough defense, finishing 8-for-21 and 3-for-9 from 3-point range, but his late push gave him 26 points.

What Nick Young means for the Clippers

March, 15, 2012
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
Ever since Chauncey Billups was lost for the season on Feb. 6 to a torn left Achilles tendon, the Clippers are a mediocre 9-10, dropping games to Cleveland, Phoenix, New Jersey and Golden State (at home).

It’s always dangerous to link cause and effect, but despite his occasionally free-wheeling shot selection, Billups posted a Player Efficiency Rating of 16.3 in his 20 games as a starter. And despite reports of his demise as a defender, the Clippers were 4.4 points better defensively when Billups was on the floor.

The Clippers pursued J.R. Smith and had been active in trade discussions for several shooting guards in recent weeks. Price tags for such players have been steep, and in snagging Nick Young from a moribund Wizards squad, the Clippers gave up virtually nothing for a proficient shooter on an inexpensive expiring contract -- DNP case Brian Cook and a future second-round draft pick.

Young can shoot the 3-ball, particularly from the corners, where Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro tends to situate his wings in his pick-and-roll, isolation-heavy offense. Young is a 54.5 percent shooter on corner 3s, and his 30 makes from that zone rank him seventh in the NBA.

What Young can’t do much about is addressing the Clippers’ most pressing problem -- their 22nd-ranked defense. His 6-foot-7 frame will make life a little more difficult for opposing wings, who have had a significant height advantage over the Clippers’ defenders, but Young can never be characterized as a stopper. He’s also one of the most gratuitous chuckers of the dreaded long 2-point shot. And his miniscule 6.1 assist rate ranks him 78th of 79 qualified shooting guards -- deep black hole territory.

But on balance, this was an easy call for the Clippers. They have no long-term commitment to Young, who is on a one-year contract. If he can fill Billups’ shoes as a proficient spot-up specialist, good for the Clippers. If not, the Clippers still have Mo Williams as their designated microwave and can punt on Young at the end of the season.

What we need to learn about the Clippers

December, 20, 2011
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz

AP Photo/Danny Moloshok
How much can we take away from the Clippers' stellar performance on Monday night?

It was all so odd.

Not just that the Clippers trampled the Lakers in a preseason game, or that the media scrum outside the Clippers' locker room after the game dwarfed the crowd waiting to get inside the Lakers' inner sanctum.

Not even Donald T. Sterling, inside the Chick Hearn Media Room after the game, lecturing his guests about the virtues of making basketball a physical -- not a cerebral -- contest.

The strangest moment of the night was more basic than that. It was the sensation of looking out on the floor at Staples Center and seeing the two most trustworthy guards in basketball manning the backcourt for the Clippers.

That's because the defining characteristic of Clippers fandom has always been fear. Fear that basketball possessions would be squandered carelessly by players without the talent or inclination to get the job done. Fear that the organization would choose caution over risk and fumble an opportunity to change course. Fear that supernatural forces would conspire against the Clippers ... just because that's what supernatural forces do.

That fear wasn't present Monday night, and its absence was the most profound epiphany during an entertaining preseason game from which very little about basketball could be gleaned.

We know the Clippers are a dangerous unknown -- only a tad less unknown than they were 24 hours ago. Their regular season opens on Christmas Day in Oakland against the Golden State Warriors, after which they'll play the Bulls, Lakers and Heat at Staples Center over a 15-day period. How do we know if the Clippers are for real? Here are some guideposts to follow:

Have Chris Paul and Blake Griffin developed mental telepathy?
All this talk of seismic cultural shifts in Los Angeles boils down to one essential ingredient: the level of havoc these two All-Stars can wreak in the pick-and-roll.

Everything else is just scene-setting.

We saw what Paul was able to do with an exacting partner like David West in a pick-and-pop game. Now Paul will have the most explosive power forward in a generation at his disposal. How quickly can they get into their dance steps? When opponents play Griffin for his signature spin, or when the entire defense sags and drops into the paint, how can the dynamic duo make them pay? Paul and Griffin's proficiency will not only determine how lethally they can punish the league, but how many open spot-up jumpers can be generated for Chauncey Billups and how easily Caron Butler will be able to dart off down screens for quick looks.

It will take a little time, but once Paul and Griffin become fluent in their common language and the need for cues and verbal direction melts away, the true potential of this team will be much clearer.

How is Chauncey Billups acclimating to playing off the ball?
Billups is a combo guard by origin, but it's been a long time since he was asked to defer ballhandling duties to a teammate and make a living off the ball. Last season before being moved to New York, Billups' numbers as a catch-and-shoot threat were superb (1.36 points per possession). In 2009-10, Billups finished 15th in points per possession as a spot-up shooter for players with more than 100 attempts, and in 2008-09, he was fourth in the league.

Billups is prideful. Telling him that, at 35, the best way for him to extend a prolific and celebrated career is to go stand over there on the wing away from the action is easier said than done. Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro reiterated on Monday night that he doesn't see 1s and 2s and 3s on a whiteboard so much as he sees "basketball players." If Billups can buy into the practical implications of this and make himself comfortable as a floor-spacer and secondary playmaker, he can help the Clippers score a ton of points.

Is Vinny Del Negro the man for the job?
The big winner of Monday night?

Del Negro. Not because he outcoached anyone, but because what transpired on the floor suggests that Del Negro's shortcoming will be mitigated by circumstance.

The league is moving away from systems and intricately choreographed play calls from the sidelines. Today's NBA is about getting the ball up and finding clean looks at the basket before defenses can get set. And if you have a couple of floor generals such as Paul and Billups on the roster, there will be plenty of margin for error because they're more than capable of manufacturing opportunities for themselves and others when the shot clock begins to tick down. The thickness of Del Negro's playbook measures only a 10th of the thickness of what Mike Dunleavy toted to work every day. With this team at this moment, that might do the trick.

But sometime in late spring, a critical moment will arise. The Thunder will use Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison to clamp down on Griffin. The Mavs will identify a fatal inefficiency in the Clippers' defense. When it's time for Del Negro to counter, will he have a solution?

Are the Clippers treading water with their reserve units?
DeAndre Jordan gets hit with two early fouls. Griffin walks off the court toward the tunnel for examination in the trainer's room. These things aren't worst-case scenarios -- they're inevitabilities in the NBA. Young, high-flying centers become overexuberant, and bouncy power forwards turn ankles.

A healthy Clippers squad is stacked at the guard spots. But right now, they have a frontcourt reserve corps of Brian Cook (a stretch-4), Ryan Gomes (a smart 6-foot-7 tweener) and rookie Trey Thompkins, who John Hollinger projects to be the next Brian Cook. None of the three can be fairly characterized as a banger, and the Clippers are likely to sign a brawny big man over the next 72 hours. That understudy could prove to be fateful for the Clippers. Small sample-size theater has never been more hazardous than in a shortened season, but whether you watch the progress of the Clippers' five-man bench units on, or just eyeball the team's rhythm and flow when Griffin takes a seat, we'll learn something about the Clippers' prospects in late May and early June by how well those second units perform.

Will Donald T. Sterling stay out of the way?
Longtime Sterling consigliere Andy Roeser and general manager Neil Olshey have put the Clippers in a position to reverse decades of futility. Selling Sterling on the vision was likely every bit as challenging as swinging the deals themselves.

Whatever liabilities remain for the Clippers on the roster or in the locker room, they pale in comparison to the damage that could be unleashed if Sterling were to decide to meddle in the progress. He insulted Gomes and Randy Foye in August 2010, soon after the two veterans were acquired. He embarrassed himself, Baron Davis and the franchise by loudly heckling the team's former point guard courtside.

With Paul and Griffin weighing their long-term options over the next 18 months, the Clippers can't afford to have Sterling do anything to disrupt the aspirations of everyone involved in this project -- not Roeser or Olshey, not the superstars, not the supporting players, nor the fans in Los Angeles. Sterling has earned several lifetimes of fortune. He can add to it by simply letting basketball people conduct basketball business and basking in the glow of the winter sun at the Malibu compound.