Shortly after the Iowa Hawkeyes finished out their season in an NCAA Tournament almost-comeback against Tennessee, Tyler Cook declared for the NBA Draft the second year in a row. This time, there was no real chance of him returning and many wondered why he might make that decision.
Fran McCaffery runs as clean a program as anybody in college basketball so the chances of Cook playing basketball in Iowa City and getting paid were zilch. So really his only option was to go pro in basketball and make money however possible. Recent rules changes in the NBA have made it more palatable for fringe prospects to find a pathway to The Association with nearly every team having a directly affiliated G League team. Plus, the salaries are rising ($35k last season) and by earning a two-way contract a player can earn anywhere between $77k and $400k in a season, depending on how many games spent on an NBA roster.
Sam Vecenie of The Athletic ($) put out his final draft board this week and ranked Cook 103rd, which is in his lower tier which he defines as: “G League/Europe guys with two-way upside.” So yeah, it’s unlikely Cook gets his name called tomorrow night but he certainly will have a chance to prove himself this summer.
If his offseason so far is any indication, he might just play his way into some good money.
Almost immediately after declaring, he had six workouts lined up according to Gary Dolphin:
Tyler Cook has six scheduled workouts with NBA teams including San Antonio and Oklahoma City. Will make a decision by June 10th.— Gary Dolphin (@GaryDolphin) May 2, 2018
Tweets from various beat reporters (and team accounts) also had him working out for Atlanta, Houston, Detroit, New York, and Charlotte. It also doesn’t account for any workouts his agency might have had where teams were present.
All of this glosses over perhaps his visible workout, where he was a late entry into the NBA Combine after a successful showing at the G League Combine, which Mike Hlas recapped:
Tyler Cook earns a spot in the NBA Combine after combining to score 24 points and making 10-of-11 field-goal attempts in two NBA g-league tryout games. https://t.co/4DEvpFAtCg— Pat Harty (@PatHarty) May 14, 2019
He played modest minutes in the scrimmages at the Combine but we did get official measurements:
- 6’8.75” (with shoes), 7’0.5” wingspan, 245.4 lbs (sixth heaviest), 6.1% body fat, 9.5 in x 10.75 in hands (one of three biggest)
He posted some mediocre shooting numbers and a surprisingly short vertical of 32 inches (8th lowest). Yet with his jump into the Combine, he more or less validated the bet he made on himself by going pro.
Matt pretty well hit the nail on the head in his assessment of Cook earlier this offseason, writing:
Cook’s best-case scenario may be to develop into a slightly bigger version of Montrezl Harrell, a high-energy power forward/small-ball center for the Los Angeles Clippers. Harrell plays much bigger than his 6’8, 240 lb. frame, and uses his strength, tenacity, and impressive skill as a rim diver in the pick-and-roll to make a major impact on a playoff team. Harrell is a much better defender and more efficient post scorer than Cook, but both players have similar games and function better when they can play as a part of the offense instead of having the entire scheme run through them.
Harrell is almost a perfect comp because even as the best PF in college basketball (and #32 draft pick), he still toiled for over a year before finding a role as a Clip. That will be Cook’s life in at least the short term.
Yet I think there is reason for optimism.
What is often forgotten, in my view, is that Tyler Cook has only been a star player in college. His formative years as a basketball player were spent alongside Boston Celtics star, Jayson Tatum. If nothing else, Cook has the confidence through years of sizing himself up against Tatum athletically. Further, he will have to channel his time with Tatum as he finds a lane as a pro player.
Can he rebound with tenacity? Can he play within himself on offense? Can he sustain effort on defense?
Those are the things which garnered Reggie Evans a 13-year NBA career despite going undrafted.
There are systematic questions (how will he function with NBA spacing?) and developmental questions (will he develop a jump shot?) he will have to face as his career progresses and is able to focus 100% on basketball.
If there is a lasting image from his time at Iowa, though, it’s that he belonged. His performance in the second half of Iowa’s game against Tennessee, he went up against NBA-caliber big men and was the best player on the court. He might never need to be the best player on the court again.
But if he can be the best version of himself? He’ll find a way into the NBA.