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2021-22 Atlanta Hawks Player Preview: Sharife Cooper

Cooper starred in Las Vegas but what’s his outlook for the season?

2021 Las Vegas Summer League - Atlanta Hawks v New York Knicks Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images

Ahead of the 2021-22 NBA season, Peachtree Hoops is taking a look at the Atlanta Hawks roster and what each player may offer to the team. Today, we take a dive on rookie guard and Atlanta native Sharife Cooper.

The Atlanta Hawks’ NBA Summer League adventure made for an extremely enjoyable viewing and a huge reason behind that was the play of 48th overall selection Sharife Cooper.

Cooper impressed many with his ability to break down defenses off of the dribble to score as well as flashing his ability to playmake, averaging 14.8 points per game on 46% shooting, 33% shooting from three on 3.8 attempts and 7.3 assists (the third-highest average in Summer League) as well as a dramatic buzzer-beater.

“Sharife’s got the ability to break people down and get into the paint as you’ve seen the first two games,” said Hawks Summer League head coach Matt Hill of Cooper in Vegas. “He’s fast. Trae can play off the ball, Sharife can play off the ball. Sharife’s done a little of that in Summer League. I think his ability to playmake for others makes him a special player. When you have two guys out there, I don’t look at too much at their size. It’s such a spread game that sometimes you need your best players on the court. I think Sharife has the ability to break people down and get others involved.”

Now, leaving Summer League, Cooper’s situation is drastically different as he heads into the 2021-22 season. Unlike fellow rookie standout Jalen Johnson, Cooper is signed to a two-way contract, meaning his time with the Hawks could be limited — unless the Hawks convert his two-way contract to a roster spot. However, this would require the Hawks to let go of someone on their current roster to make space for Cooper.

Still, with the NBA carrying over 2020-21 rules regarding two-way players into this upcoming season, Cooper will have the opportunity to be listed as active in 50 of the Hawks’ 82 games this season, giving him plenty of opportunities to see some playing time if active.

Cooper is one of three point guards the Hawks have signed for the 2021-22 season, in addition to recently acquired Delon Wright, re-signed Lou Williams (who played some backup point guard last season) behind star point guard Trae Young. Young’s place is obviously known but the dynamic I’m interested in is the potential showdown for minutes between Wright and Cooper, if Cooper can show the ability to contribute on a level somewhat similar to what he did in Las Vegas.

I honestly believe it might be worth giving Cooper some early regular season run — perhaps splitting some backup point guard minutes with Delon Wright/Williams — just to see if Cooper can immediately play. There’s little to lose in an early season rotation as teams are figuring out their rotations anyways and it’s worth seeing if Cooper could hold his own if (knock wood) Young or Wright/Williams are forced to missed time and more minutes were required of Cooper.

I just think Cooper was so impressive in Las Vegas that it’s worth seeing what’s what at the NBA-level in a rotation role. If he can’t quite produce in a backup capacity, that’s perfectly fine since he’s on a two-way contract. There could be a headache if he does prove to be too good to leave on a two-way contract but it would be a waste not to see him in that role if it turns out he’s ready for a backup role/rotation minutes.

How likely is any of that to happen? Who even knows, unlikely would be my bet (but I don’t think it should be that way).

In whatever capacity it ends up being, Cooper is going to play NBA minutes at some stage; that much will happen. So, what will the Hawks be looking for when he does?

Really, the things he showed at Vegas, but against a higher level of competition. Can he beat opponents off of the dribble? Can he find ways to score/facilitate off of those dribble penetrations? Can he space the floor/play off of the ball as Coach Hill alluded to? These are the big questions for Cooper heading into the season in the NBA. In the G League, you’d be hoping to see much of what Cooper showed in Las Vegas.

When he does play, Cooper will generate a bit of excitement, especially if he should find himself playing some garbage time with Johnson. It’s a partnership the Hawks may not get to see a ton of in the NBA this season but has the potential to add an exclamation point should the situation be a blowout victory.

Even if he doesn’t play a ton of meaningful minuted in his rookie season, Cooper will bring excitement when he is on the floor. Will he be able to show that he can contribute on a playoff team in his rookie season?

Time will tell...