2021 NBA Draft Scouting Report: Sharife Cooperby Darius Walker July 22, 2021 1 comment
Sharife Cooper played in only 12 games for the Auburn Tigers during his freshman season but his potential jumped off the screen even in the limited sample of games. He arrived at Auburn as a five-star prospect and lived up to the hype.
After missing the first 11 games of the season, he made his college debut against the Alabama Crimson Tide. Auburn lost the game but Cooper starred, putting up a stat line of 26 points, 9 assists, and 3 steals. In the following game, he recorded 28 points and 12 assists. Cooper’s court vision and passing are rare, often making plays that you would expect from a veteran point guard. He is only 6’1” and 180 pounds but his play on the court could make teams overlook his size.
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Name: Sharife Cooper
Position: Point Guard
School: Auburn Tigers
Weight: 180 lbs
Prototype: Floor General
Court Vision (15/15)
Cooper’s perfect score might be shocking but his court vision is his strongest attribute. He has the vision of an NBA veteran. It’s rare for a freshman point guard to come in and immediately have full control of the offense but that was the case with Cooper. His ability to see the floor made an immediate impact on the team because it kept the defense off-balance. He excels at looking off defenders. Manipulating the defense with his eyes and then hitting a teammate for an open shot. Cooper sees plays before they happen and this makes the game easier for his teammates. Cutters were often rewarded with lob passes and he created a hefty amount of open jump shots for teammates.
Cooper always keeps his eyes up, constantly looking for either the open man or the perfect shot. This is a common trait amongst the top facilitating point guards in the NBA. In transition, his vision allows him to hit teammates with accurate full-court passes before the defense can get set. In the pick and roll, he consistently finds cutters. When attacking the basket off the pick and roll, Cooper gets opposing bigs to commit to him, usually resulting in an open dunk or layup for a teammate. If the big fails to commit then it’s an easy layup for Cooper. This puts the defense in a conundrum and it’s why court vision is such an important trait for a point guard.
Cooper averaged 8.1 assists per game and recorded 10 or more assists in three games. The stats do not do Cooper enough justice though, he’s an even better passer than what his numbers suggest. Lobs, crosscourt passes off the dribble, bounce passes in traffic, needle-threading passes into tight windows, full-court passes in transition, Cooper makes them all with tremendous accuracy. When Cooper beats his man off the dribble, the defense is at his mercy because of his extraordinary vision paired with his rare passing ability. He was double-teamed regularly and showed great patience in these situations by keeping his dribble alive and finding open teammates.
Cooper is right-handed but he’s a lethal passer with his non-dominant hand. He maintains the same passing accuracy with his left hand that he has with his right hand. Throwing laser-accurate lob passes while on the move is unreal and it’s something that Cooper does on the regular. He assisted on 52% of Auburn’s scoring when he was on the court and he made players better by hitting them in their spots. As talented of a passer as Cooper is, sometimes he gets a little sloppy when trying to be too flashy. That’s the only area of concern as far as his passing goes but it’s a very minor problem.
Cooper has no weaknesses as a ball-handler. He has an array of crossover moves that make him hard to defend. Cooper breaks defenders down off the dribble at will. He creates space with his dribble on nearly every possession and splits double-teams with ease. Even with an inconsistent jump shot, Cooper’s ball-handling skills and quickness allow him to get into the teeth of the defense consistently; resulting in a plethora of easy looks at the basket for his teammates. Cooper understands how to switch up his pace with his handle, he is great with hesitation moves. He doesn’t over-dribble and defenders hardly ever steal the ball from him.
Cooper is extremely effective at attacking the basket despite his size. He scores most of his points in the paint and he showed the ability to finish well through contact in his lone season at Auburn. He already excels at creating body contact on drives creating a lot of foul calls. Cooper attempted 10 or more free throws in six games and recorded a season-high 21 free throw attempts against the Missouri Tigers. His 8.6. free-throw attempts per game average were good enough to lead the NCAA. Cooper can finish with either hand effectively and he showed flashes of a teardrop floater in his game. Adding a consistent floater to his arsenal is going to be important for him at the next level because he may not have the same success finishing around bigger bodies.
This is the biggest hole in Cooper’s game. Cooper has the potential to be a star point guard at the next level but his jump shot must come along. He shot 22.8 percent from the three-point line and 39.1 percent from the field. Cooper does not lack confidence in his shot, evidenced by his 4.8 three-point attempts per game, but the results have to align with the confidence. Shooting 82 percent from the free-throw line is a good sign because it shows that he is not completely lacking as a shooter. Cooper will have to utilize all three levels as a scorer in the NBA, being a slasher at 6’1”, 180 pounds without explosive leaping ability will not cut it at the next level. His shooting form needs work. He lacks elevation and his release is slow. Getting to work with NBA shooting coaches will work wonders for Cooper.
Cooper does not offer much defensively. He’s a smaller guard so he’s already limited on that end but he also has a short wingspan. Opposing teams had a lot of success when targeting Cooper in switches. Cooper struggled when players posted up and he had little success stopping players on drives. His physical limitations are not solely to blame for his inefficiency on that end of the floor. There were several times where Cooper gave little effort on defense, struggling to defend simple dribble drives. His focus lacks on the defensive end along with his effort. In the NBA Cooper will need to be masked on defense but his effort and focus must improve.
Cooper is not a great athlete vertically but he is one of the fastest players in this class. He blows by defenders with his great burst in his first step. In transition, Cooper has the speed to get ahead of the defense on the break for easy layups. Cooper’s speed and quickness are what make him such a good finisher because he can consistently penetrate the defense on drives. Cooper will score more around the rim than the average player his size due to his quickness but the lack of vertical explosion along with the lack of bulk in Cooper’s frame limits his upside as a finisher in the NBA.
Basketball IQ (4/5)
Cooper is wise beyond his years as a basketball player. He plays the game with veteran savvy and he understands all the little things about the position. Auburn leaned heavily on Cooper, he controlled the ball on every possession and had complete free will in the offense. That alone speaks wonders about his basketball IQ. Cooper’s instincts are rare and his knowledge of the game is amazing for a freshman. He’s a pick-and-roll maestro. Cooper understands how to control the defense with his eyes and reads help defense correctly. The college game looked easy for Cooper and that was with him missing the first 12 games of the season. He almost graded out perfectly in this category but he gets turnover prone at times due to him playing a bit out of control.
Cooper is an interesting prospect. He is the best pure point guard in this class. His court vision, ball-handling, passing, and IQ all point to him becoming a star distributor but his jump shot will be the determining factor. He is great at attacking the basket so defenders will sag off of him and go under screens, daring him to shoot. If Cooper can develop a consistent jumper then he has the potential to be one of the best players from this class. He can make an immediate impact running the second unit for whoever he is drafted. Starting isn’t out of the question for Cooper but teams may be hesitant to start him as a rookie due to his defense and lack of an outside shot.
Cooper’s passing skills are similar to Ja Morant and his ability to draw fouls near the basket despite his size compares to Trae Young. Morant is a terrific athlete and Young is a lethal three-level scorer so they have traits that Cooper is lacking but having similar skills to two of the best young point guards in the NBA is a good sign for Cooper. With his draft stock being all over the place, he could see himself drafted in the lottery or at the top of the second round. Scouts and draft analysts are unsure about Cooper because of his size and shooting troubles. Even as an undersized point guard, he should be a lock for the first round.
Speedy playmakers with special handles, vision and passing don’t come around often. Teams may regret passing on him if he ends up falling in the draft. Cooper plays with infectious energy and will be an instant spark plug for a team. He coaches players up on the floor displaying good leadership, a strong trait for a young point. Cooper has all the tools to be a floor general at the next level, he is a jump shot away from reaching his full potential.
Final Grade (75/100): Mid-First Round Pick
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