The Atlanta Hawks got through the preseason with no major injuries, and a chance to build more chemistry with the main guys that will be playing this season. It was also time to see the younger players get some playing time, after seeing them for a few games in the Summer League in August.
The Hawks roster is already loaded with depth, so unless an injury occurs, some of their youngest talent will spend time in College Park continuing to develop with the Skyhawks.
There were some bright spots throughout the preseason with the rookies, especially from rookie guard Sharife Cooper.
Cooper showed through the four games (and Summer League) that his poise and control of the game is far ahead of many players his age. His playmaking is his biggest strength, and his ability to get into the lane is a close second. Let’s look at how he did those things, plus more, in a short sample size the past two weeks.
Out of the gate, Cooper’s way to find teammates on the floor sticks out more than anything. The awareness and court vision he has on the court shows similar signs of Trae Young, and it looks like it can throw his teammates off if they’re not expecting the pass.
On this play, Cooper is already going to grab the rebound in the event the Kevin Huerter misses:
He does indeed miss, and with nobody boxing out Cooper, he goes up for the rebound. Instead of tipping it back in himself, he tips it to Gorgui Dieng once he realizes Evan Mobley isn’t focused on him. This is nice awareness from Cooper, and plays like this show how good his IQ is when on the floor.
Here’s another play where Cooper’s playmaking is displayed. After coming off a double drag screen, the seconder defender shows and tries to hedge Cooper. Cooper takes his time, spins away from the defender, and shows a quick shot fake:
That sequence did two things: for one, it made the defender that was switched on Jahlil Okafor leave him, and two, it made him leave his feet after the pump fake. Cooper then slips a bounce pass to Okafor and he gets an easy dunk at the rim.
Cooper’s best performance this preseason was against the Grizzlies, where he took over in the fourth quarter and led the Hawks to a win. He did a little of everything, but it was ability to take defenders off the dribble couldn’t go unnoticed.
Cooper sizes up the defender on this play with a quick between-the-legs dribble. Once the defender changes his defensive stance, Cooper does the same move, and drives straight to the rim. He throws up what looks like a difficult floater and drops it in:
Later in the game, Cooper sizes up another defender, drives, delivers a stop-and-go move, and gently rolls the ball off the backboard and it goes in:
One thing in Cooper’s game that many weren’t high on was his jumpshot, but he showed a somewhat consistent stroke in four games. Cooper mentioned during media day that Hawks assistant coach Nick Van Exexl has been helping him get an “arch” in his shot.
On what was the game-icing shot, Cooper pump fakes, gets his feet set, and drills the three-pointer:
The guard position is deep for the Hawks, with Delon Wright and Lou Williams being options behind Young. Though Cooper showed some positive signs through the preseason, he still does not have the years and experience that Wright and Williams have.
With Cooper signing a two-way contract for the Hawks, he’ll be eligible to spend no more than 50 games with the Hawks. The Skyhawks will give him an opportunity to play more and grow his game. From what we saw from Cooper in Summer League and preseason, things are looking up for the young guard.