After signing Nathan Knight to a standard NBA contract, the Minnesota Timberwolves roster is almost complete. But with only summer league standout A.J. Lawson signed to one of the team’s two-way deals, Minnesota can still go out and sign one final player for the upcoming season.
The Timberwolves have a deep roster. After the recent additions of playoff-experienced veterans in Austin Rivers and Bryn Forbes in free agency, it’s clear the team is eager to contend. But regardless of where Rivers and Forbes are slotted to play, neither of the Wolves’ FA pickups are true point guards.
Last season, the two combined to average just 2.3 assists per game. Timberwolves head coach Chris Finch also prefers his lead guards to be high-level distributors rather than scorers — just look at his admiration for Jordan McLaughlin. With only one true point guard on the roster in McLaughlin, signing another playmaker with their final two-way contract should be in Minnesota’s short-term plans.
Monday afternoon, the Atlanta Hawks announced that they had requested waivers on guard Sharife Cooper.
A five-star prospect coming out of McEachern High School in Powder Springs, Ga., Sharife Cooper was ranked 20th overall in ESPN’s 2020 Top 100. During his time at the University of Auburn, Cooper put up over 20 points and 8 assists per game. He became the only Division I freshman besides Trae Young to average more than 20 and 8 in the last 25 seasons. But even after a historic season with the Tigers, the once sure-fire first-round selection could only watch on draft night as he took a drastic fall into the back half of the second round.
After being selected by Atlanta with the 48th overall pick, it appeared Sharife had placed a chip on his shoulder. In his first NBA Summer League, he quickly showcased his talents as a floor general, averaging 14.8 points and 7.3 assists. He would spend most of his rookie season playing for the Hawks G-League affiliate, the College Park Skyhawks, while on a two-way deal. During his time with the Skyhawks, Sharife displayed his potential to be a team’s lead distributor by putting up 17.1 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 7.3 assists a night. It appeared Atlanta had found the steal of the 2021 Draft and the perfect backup for Trae Young.
Until it was apparent that he was neither of the two.
Entering his sophomore summer with the Hawks, expectations were high for Cooper. Named by NBA.com’s Xavier White as one of the 15 players to watch for this summer in Las Vegas, Cooper was widely expected to demonstrate his readiness to act as ATL’s backup point guard after Delon Wright‘s departure in free agency. But just before Summer League this year, the Hawks traded for All-Star guard Dejounte Murray — insinuating Sharife would see little to no NBA action again.
With the potential of being waived likely resting heavily on his shoulders, Cooper put on one of the worst two-game stretches ever seen by a non-rookie in Vegas. In his first two outings, the sophomore guard managed to put up just 1.5 PPG on abysmal 7.1% shooting from the field. The once highly-touted HS prospect would finish out his second Summer League tenure averaging just 4.4 PPG on 18% FG% in just over 20 minutes per contest. Nine days later, Atlanta waived him.
So why should the Timberwolves consider using their final 2-way slot on a player who’s clearly on the cusp of being out of the league?
Cooper could potentially become a competent point guard in the NBA. Listed at just 6’1″, 175 lbs., his slight frame is comparable to McLaughlin’s. But like McLaughlin, Cooper is a quick and crafty lead ball-handler. He’s lightning quick with the ball in his hands. He also has a natural court vision that allows him to put his league-ready passing on full display. But unlike J-Mac, Sharife can also get your team a bucket when needed.
Even though he’s undersized for his position, Cooper is a scorer when needed. He’s extremely effective at getting to the rim and finishing with either hand. Cooper also exhibited a tear drop floater in his game — an in-between shot vital for smaller players to have in their arsenals. The thing that intrigues me most about Sharife’s game is his mid-range step-back jumpers which, when he’s hot, is almost certain to drop through the bottom of the net!
In his 22 games playing for College Park, the 6’1″ guard managed to put up over 30 points in four different games, one of which came in the form of a 42-point showing on impressive 14-19 shooting from the floor. The biggest knock on Cooper’s offensive game is his inability to consistently knock down set jumpers from the outside. But with more reps in both Minneapolis and Des Moines, Sharife could easily become a reliable catch-and-shoot player from deep.
An undersized floor general with a vast amount of upside as a scorer, Cooper should be the clear-cut choice for Minnesota’s final two-way contract. He’d slot in perfectly in the same role occupied by McLaughlin throughout his first few seasons, and he would provide the team with a reliable ball distributor in case of an injury to either D’Angelo Russell or McLaughlin. The Wolves currently have an abundance of talent, giving Cooper plenty of time to further his development. He still has a ton to work on, but I see no reason why he couldn’t see the floor similarly to how Nate Knight has in his first two seasons.
One lousy Summer League shouldn’t be the reason for Cooper’s time in the league to come to a close. And with DLo’s future in Minnesota still uncertain, taking a swing on a high-upside player such as Cooper could payoff for the Wolves in the long run.