We're running a series of "exit interviews" of the 2011 Los Angeles Clippers. An overview and analysis, player by player, of all 14 Clippers who finished the 2010-2011 season on the roster. In this edition: 'stretch four' .
Name: Brian Cook
2010-2011 Key Stats: 4.8 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 43% 3P%
Years in the NBA: 8
Years with the Clippers: 1
2010-2011 Salary: $1,146,337
Contract Status: Player option for 2011-2012 at $1,265,976.
In a Nutshell
In the free agency frenzy of the summer of 2010, the Clippers cleared enough space under the salary cap to make a maximum offer to LeBron James. When James signed with Miami (validating the foregone conclusion that he would not be a Clipper), LA responded by signing Randy Foye, Ryan Gomes and Brian Cook, a pretty massive let down as you can recall. It tells you all you need to know about how Clips Nation felt at the time that Cook was far and away the least popular of those three dubious signings.
After his first season with the Clippers, I think it's safe to say that Cook is probably a little better than we suspected at the time of the signing. That's not saying a lot - the expectations were about as low as imaginable for Cook after a couple of lost seasons in Orlando and Houston. But if his role was to be a reasonable facsimile of a 'stretch four' (someone big enough to play power forward who can hit three pointers), he did that. He's tall (6'9"), and he made 43% of his three pointers on the season. He also seemed to be a pretty enthusiastic and supportive team member. But if you're looking for an all around contribution from this roster spot, you're just not going to get it here.
It's worth noting also that when Cook and Craig Smith and Chris Kaman were all injured simultaneously in December and January, the Clippers were able to sign Ike Diogu for the league minimum as an emergency fill in - and Diogu immediately began to produce more than Cook had. The point is that you can always find someone to take that final roster spot - and it's not particularly hard to find a Brian Cook level of production.
The dude can shoot the three ball, that much is clear. He entered the season shooting .391 on his career from three point range. He made .430 (34 of 79) as a Clipper, which was the second best season of his career. Unfortunately, he actually shot a tick worse on his two point attempts this season (.424) but because so many of his shot attempts were three pointers (79 out of 170), his effective field goal percentage finished at a respectable .524. There were also times, certainly early in the season, when his simple willingness to shoot was a welcome change for the team. With several players lacking the confidence to pull the trigger on open shots, at least you knew that Cook would be looking to put the ball up when he got in the game. He does not lack for confidence in his shot. More importantly, he knows what his role is when he gets on the floor.
Although he is neither a great defender nor a shot blocker, he did show a willingness to step in and draw charges in weak side help defense. It's not a lot, but it is definitely the kind of thing you want to see in this type of a role player.
The problem for so many stretch fours is that basketball is actually a two way game. If Brian Cook is lined up opposite, say, Zach Randolph, it's fine that Cook can pull Z-Bo away from the basket on the offensive end. But on he defensive end, he has pretty much zero chance of stopping Randolph. Cook is tall, but he's not particularly strong nor particularly quick nor a particularly good defender. To his credit, he worked hard on defense; and he wasn't afraid to use his fouls. At 6 personal fouls per 36 minutes, he led the team in that category, which is not necessarily a bad thing in a guy who is at best going to see limited minutes. Of course, it's not a good thing that he was so frequently beaten on defense that he had to resort to fouling.
And while he's a good shooter, he's not a particularly good offensive player in any other regard. He can't really put the ball on the floor and create a shot and he's not much of a passer. He's got a very quick release and therefore doesn't need a lot of room to get off his three. But when the defender closes him out, it's more than a bit of a surprise if he's able to dribble in for the shorter jumper or all the way to the rim. It happens - but it's definitely more the exception than the rule.
Of course, you also expect rebounding from the four position, and Cook has never been a strong rebounder. As it happens, he actually had a pretty solid year rebounding the ball for the Clippers, by his standards. His 7.7 rebounds per 36 minutes topped his career average of 7, and was his best single season since his rookie campaign with the Lakers. But it's still at the low end of expectations for a power forward. By way of comparison, Diogu averaged 8.8 rebounds per 36 this season, and Smith averaged 7.2.
Future with the Clippers
The biggest head scratcher of the Cook signing was the length. He made the NBA minimum during the season, and really what do you expect from the last couple of roster spots? But the Clippers signed him very early in the free agency period, and gave him a player option for a second season. Given that he was out of the league in March 2010, I think we can safely assume that he'll jump at that option year and return to the Clippers next season.
The Clippers could always choose to waive him, even if he exercises his player option, but that would cost them his $1.3M salary next year, and they're unlikely to do that. Besides, for a minimum salary, again, what do you expect? If only as a guy who you can put in the game in situations in which you need a three pointer, he's not necessarily a bad type of player to have on the roster. So I think we can all expect one more season of Brian Cook, Clipper.
It's worth noting however that the Clippers had a 6-20 record in games in which Cook played 10 minutes or more - giving them a 26-30 record in games in which he played fewer than 10 minutes. That doesn't mean Brian Cook is a bad person - but it does mean that the Clippers were in trouble if they had to rely on him for anything over a possession or two. The same will be true next season. Hopefully there will be plenty of other options (and they'll stay relatively healthy) and Cook won't often be required to play a significant role. As the sixth or seventh big, capable of stretching the floor in specific situations, he's not a bad guy to have around. But you just have to hope you never really have to use him.
Other 2011 Exit Interviews