The Lakers are back together again, albeit away from L.A. in the Orlando bubble. Sadly, not the whole team is there, as Avery Bradley opted out of coming and Rajon Rondo just fractured his thumb and will rehab outside of Orlando. That leaves a sizable void of minutes open at the guard position, a void that could be filled by plenty of players. The Lakers just recently acquired J.R. Smith, signed Dion Waiters right before COVID-19 hit, and also have Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Alex Caruso. However, there’s another player who has received far fewer minutes this season than those aforementioned two, and that’s Quinn Cook.
With Bradley and Rondo out, is it time again for Cook to spend some substantial time on the court? Around late January, Cook’s playing was effectively trimmed down to “DNP – Coach’s Decisions” as well as some time in late-game blowouts. It’s somewhat of a weird situation for a player who has had so much success in his young career, winning over and over again and yet, still planted on the bench.
The Lakers may want to unlock and use those specific past successes that belong to Cook, as playoff experience can prove to be priceless in a deep run. Other than LeBron James and Rajon Rondo, it’d be hard to find another Laker with more valuable playoff experience than Quinn Cook.
He already has a ring on his finger from winning a championship with the Golden State Warriors in the 2017-18 season and was in the most recent NBA Finals between the Warriors and the Toronto Raptors. He showed what his instant offense can do on the grandest stage, nailing two huge 4th quarter threes in Game 2 that had the Warriors evening the series at 1-1.
Offensive role to be filled
Losing Rajon Rondo doesn’t really do much to the defensive end (it might improve it), but Rondo did seem primed for a sizable role on the offensive end in the playoffs. It doesn’t matter whether or not he would have provided value in that role; what matters is that it needs to be filled. In addition, the Lakers were starting to become reliant on random scoring boosts from Avery Bradley every so often, as he averaged 11.0 points per game in February and the few games in March (8.6 PPG on the season), including 24 points in the Lakers’ exciting win over the Los Angeles Clippers on March 8th.
Quinn Cook doesn’t have the multi-faceted offensive game needed to be the Lakers clear cut back-up ball-handler on the offensive end, but he has had some sporadic success with the Lakers this year. The video above of his 22-point game in January against the Orlando Magic comes to mind, as Cook was able to make any three just as long as he had a few inches of separation. He was also looking good in the few pick-and-roll actions he had, especially with Dwight Howard. The two could be an interesting PnR combo in random bench units and have had success together in limited time this season, with an 18.3 Net Rating in 257 minutes.
Still, Quinn Cook is no playmaking wizard as a point guard. His bread-and-butter will always be shooting pull-up and spot-up threes. The Lakers’ options to replace Rondo and Bradley are funny, as they all have glaring strengths and weaknesses that are all different compared to the next option. Alex Caruso is amazing on defense and is poor at ball handling. You can say the same for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, while throwing in some elite three-point shooting. J.R. Smith can’t really handle the ball reliably either, but he is an average defender and a lights-out three-point shooter. You get the point. There’s no easy answer.
I’m definitely not saying give Cook the keys to the bench unit and let him play 25-35 minutes. That would undoubtedly steal minutes from Caruso and KCP who have played consistently all year and are due to the same amount of minutes in the seeding games and the playoffs. Either way, head coach Frank Vogel already basically confirmed that the roles of Rondo and Bradley won’t be filled by one person, saying it’ll take a “group effort” from the team’s guards.
Who knows if Cook will get some run. Still, he should get some time in the seeding games with the Lakers having a 5.5 game lead for the first seed in the West. You have to wonder what head coach Frank Vogel is seeing right now from Cook, J.R. Smith, and Dion Waiters in practices. One, if not two, of those three could see limited minutes during the playoffs and Vogel may want to get Smith and Waiters some run in the seeding games to see what they’re really made of.
Cook has definitely been more productive in the NBA than Waiters over the past few years and arguably has been more than Smith. Combine that with the two latter players’ absence from the game, and you’d think that we’d be getting some more Cook in Orlando. He’s ready, as he said on Thursday that he’s “very comfortable running the second unit”.