Scouting Report & Film Review: Sharife Cooper

Sharife Cooper is a brilliant playmaker, but can he prove to be an effective enough shooter and defender to make a significant impact?

Strengths: Playmaking, quickness, passing vision, ball-handling, drawing fouls

Weaknesses: Size, shooting, consistent defense

Consensus Expected Draft Range: 12-23

Where I'd Draft Him: 19-25

Shades Of: Smaller LaMelo Ball, Trae Young without the shooting, Facundo Campazzo

Best Team Fits: New York Knicks, Los Angeles Clippers, Boston Celtics

Sharife Cooper is one of the most unique prospects in the 2021 NBA Draft. The Auburn point guard had a rocky start to his season as he waited an absurd amount of time to hear the NCAA's ruling on his eligibility. Thankfully we at least got 12 games of Cooper's ingenious playmaking and electric scoring.

Despite measuring 6'1 (that feels generous, and he didn't have an official measurement), Cooper is oddly a more reliable interior scorer than perimeter scorer. While Cooper is elite at getting to the rim and drawing fouls, his main selling point is his passing. Cooper is creative, accurate, and impactful with his playmaking.

It's a shame that Cooper is as small as he is because he would be an easy top ten selection if he were a few inches taller. Limiting a player solely on his height is reductive, but there are significant issues that are symptoms of Cooper's height. Cooper may never be a neutral defender, and he has developed bad habits in his shot because of his heigh. It wouldn't be shocking if Cooper ends up being one of the best players from this draft, but he has some hurdles to overcome.

Passing

When it comes to pure passing, few prospects are as talented as Cooper. Every pass Cooper makes is perfectly weighted and has a sense of flair and ingenuity to it. Cooper sees the floor incredibly well and is an eager passer. According to Synergy, Cooper ranked in the 85th percentile in points per possession (PPP) when combining his assists with his possessions. Even though NBA primary initiators are trending upward in height, Cooper has the chance to be a special playmaker.

One of the first things about Cooper's passing that jumps off the screen is how perfectly weighted his passes are. His touch is evident on lobs and entry passes, as the ball always seems to end up in the perfect spot. Here, Cooper's teammate has a quality seal in the post and asks for the ball on the block. It's as if Cooper's teammate doesn't realize the rim is entirely unoccupied, and his defender is fronting him. Instead of making a pass that will lead his teammate towards the baseline or sideline, Cooper sees the empty lane and lofts a pass to lead his teammate directly to the rim.

Big men are going to love playing with Cooper because of how easy he will make their lives. Here, Auburn runs a Spain pick-and-roll. Cooper immediately recognizes that his teammate will be unchallenged at the rim and floats a perfect lob. All Cooper's teammate has to do is take it off the platter it was delivered on and slam it home.

Cooper will constantly set up teammates with easy lobs, whether rim-running big men or athletic wings. It is one of his favorite passes to make in the half-court or transition offense. Cooper isn't solely limited to highlight lobs, though. He is actually excellent at moving defenders with his eyes and making live dribble passes.

Here, Cooper dazzles in transition. As Cooper pushes in transition, he knows he has a teammate on the left-wing and a teammate under the rim. Obviously, the at-rim shot is preferred, but one defender is retreating to the lane. Cooper doesn't concede by passing to his teammate on the wing, though. Instead, Cooper stares down his teammate on the wing, which gets the retreating defender to bite. Cooper then delivers a no-look pass to his teammate for the open dunk.

Cooper has a brilliant understanding of floor balance and defensive manipulation. He rarely is unaware of where players are, which makes him a threat to create at any time. One of Cooper's best traits is his quickness, which makes him one of the best drivers in the country. Cooper puts an unusual amount of pressure on the rim for someone his size. Point-of-attack defenders struggle to stay with Cooper, and when he beats them, Cooper is a threat to score or create for teammates, as we see below.

As Cooper brings the ball up, he doesn't hesitate to create early offense. Cooper attacks Davion Mitchell (typically a bad move) by planting his left foot to simulate a drive to the left. Mitchell bites, and Cooper spins quicker than a top back to his right. This move creates a two vs. one situation for Cooper as he attacks downhill, and he knows his teammate is sitting in the dunker spot. As he completes his spin, Cooper reads the lone defender. The defender steps to Cooper, who delivers a live dribble push pass for the open dunk.

Again, Cooper blows past his defender and forces the weakside rotation. Cooper knows he doesn't have a great chance of scoring but has the presence of mind to pass back against the rotation. Cooper absorbs the contact, hangs in the air, and musters the strength to kick out for the open three.

There is very little not to like about Cooper's playmaking. He is creative, accurate, and has great vision. My only nitpick, and I cannot stress enough that I fully acknowledge how big of a nitpick this is, is that Cooper's height limits the crispness of his skip passes. Cooper has the vision to see teammates in the opposite corner, but he has to put more arc under his pass to make sure the defense can't intercept it since he is shorter. This compensation gives the defense a fraction of a second more to recover and creates more variance in the accuracy of Cooper's skip passes.

I know this doesn't seem like a significant issue, and in the grand scheme of things, it isn't, but when you compare Cooper's skip passes to those of Josh Giddey, there is a notable difference. Every pass Giddey makes is on a frozen rope because of his height.

Here, Cooper makes an incredible read. His drive attracts the attention of three defenders. The first instinctual pass is the lob to the big man. However, Cooper sees the rotating defender coming in late and doesn't want to risk a turnover or missed shot. Instead, Cooper makes the skip pass to the wide-open shooter. Cooper must leave his feet and put a little more air under the ball to make the pass, which results in it being slightly off target and Auburn losing the advantage.

Cooper has the vision and accuracy to be one of the NBA's best playmakers. The accuracy of his skip passes will be limited, but I won't be surprised when he finds a new unique way to compensate.

Scoring

How Cooper's scoring will translate to the NBA is the most perplexing aspect of his projection. Cooper averaged 20.2 points per game on a perplexing 39/22/82 shooting splits. Cooper also scored 0.858 PPP overall (47th percentile) while getting to the free-throw line nearly nine times a game. Despite all of the negative indicators, Cooper was oddly effective at scoring.

The two biggest concerns with Cooper's scoring game are his lack of size and shooting mechanics. We'll start with the size since it bleeds into the mechanics as well. The most apparent issue with Cooper's size is his at-rim finishing inconsistency. Cooper was one of the best slashers in the country because of his quickness but had mixed results once he got to the rim as he scored 1.014 PPP (32nd percentile). Cooper's lack of size and explosiveness eliminates any room for error around the rim as he is drastically affected by size and length.

Cooper did prove that he has some counters to effectively finish around the rim despite having legitimate struggles. These skills weren't entirely on display all season, but the flashes were encouraging for his future development. One of Cooper's counters to interior size is his floater. Cooper scored 1.00 PPP on floaters this season (85th percentile). Cooper only had ten floaters total on the season, so the sample size is easily skewed. However, given Cooper's body control and touch on his lob passes, I fully expect the floater to be a legitimate tool for him.

Besides the soft touch, Cooper also showed quality body control in the above clip. Even though Cooper isn't the largest player, he is very crafty at using his body to protect the ball. When Cooper gets his defender on his hip, Cooper is comfortable extending with either hand to finish while using his body as a shield from the defender. Cooper is also wily at negating shot blockers by jumping into their bodies. This action not only limits their explosiveness and mobility but also generates a lot of shooting fouls. 

While Cooper's size limits him as an interior finisher, it has also infected his shooting mechanics. Despite having a good free-throw percentage and good touch on floaters and passes, Cooper is an awful shooter. He scored 0.958 PPP shooting off the catch (45th percentile) and 0.641 PPP shooting off the dribble (28th percentile). Unfortunately, Cooper's misgivings with his shot are serious.

When Cooper shoots, he barely elevates. We've seen plenty of players succeed with a similar approach, but at Cooper's height, it makes him incredibly easy to disrupt. Besides the minimal elevation, Cooper frequently leans back in his shot like he's in a recliner. This habit disrupts his balance and is a symptom of him compensating to get shots over defenders. Cooper's lean back takes away a lot of power on his shot and disrupts his balance. The habit has gotten so bad that he does it even when he is wide open. I am skeptical on how easily this can be worked out of his form, and until it is, I struggle to see Cooper being a plus shooter.

Defense

Cooper's defense is practically non-existent. I know I sound like I'm beating a dead horse, but Cooper's size is a significant deterrent to any defensive upside. At best, he is a one-position defender who opposing wings will constantly target. Even though Cooper is small, we've seen small players be decent defenders before. What really lets Cooper down is his complete lack of effort and inattention to details. 

Cooper will relentlessly be put in the pick-and-roll, and he was abhorrent this last season as he allowed 0.944 PPP (17th percentile) defending the pick-and-roll ball-handler. Cooper has bad perimeter footwork, lousy instincts, and constantly dies on screens, as we can see below.

As the screen is set, Cooper exerts zero effort to get over it. He essentially decides that he's done with the play as the screener approaches him. Cooper lightly brushes the screener's shoulder, kills his momentum, and half-heartedly jogs back to recover.

Here, Cooper shows us that all he needs as an excuse to die on a screen is the mere suggestion that there could be a screen. As the screen comes, we see Cooper peak over his shoulder at it and decide that he's not fighting through it. The screen is ghosted, and Cooper is left flat-footed. Cooper at least exerts effort to get in the shooter's way, but his screen navigation and awareness are putrid.

Cooper is equally as frustrating as an off-ball defender. He will occasionally jump passing lanes, but his closeouts are lazy, his awareness is erratic at best, and he is in constant recovery mode.

There is no excuse for Cooper's lazy defense in the below clip. As Baylor brings the ball up, Auburn has all five players behind the ball, and a simple pass is enough to exploit Cooper. As Cooper's man gets the pass, Cooper makes a two-footed hop closeout while standing high in his stance. Every aspect of this closeout is incorrect. Cooper's lack of balance and sloppy footwork make it incredibly easy for his man to blow past him, force the defense to collapse, and kick out for an open three.

Again, Cooper's careless closeout puts his team in a bad spot. Jared Butler is an excellent shooter, but where he receives this pass does not require this aggressive of a closeout. As Butler gets the ball, all he has to do is take a glance at the rim. Once Butler does, Cooper lunges at him like your drunk friend lunges for the last slice of pizza even though he didn't pay. Butler gets into the lane with ease, and Cooper yet again puts his teammates in a lousy position.

Even when Cooper isn't directly involved in the play, he is frequently out of position. Here, Cooper completely loses his man in motion. When I first watched this, I thought Cooper stayed in the lane to tag the roller. Not quite. As Cooper's man cuts off Cooper's left shoulder, you can see Cooper glance to his right and find nobody home. He has a brief second of "tagging" the roller, but he is more intent on scrambling back to his man. Baylor misses the three, but that is a shot teams are happy to take every possession.

Outlook

Sharife Cooper is a special on-ball creator. His quick burst allows him to get to the rim, where he is expanding his finishing profile. Cooper is also excellent at creating for others off the bounce, whether it is a drive-and-kick, lob, or no-look pass. Cooper can be one of the best playmakers in the league, but he has some severe hurdles to overcome to get the minutes to do so.

Cooper is a small player, and that will hurt him on both ends of the floor. Unfortunately, there isn't anything he can do about it. What he can do, though, is diligently work on eliminating the lean back out of his jumper. He also needs to commit to exerting at least a little effort on defense. He doesn't need to be a stellar defender, but if he continues to put his team in a bad spot on every possession, he'll struggle to find consistent minutes.

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