When the Atlanta Hawks drafted Sharife Cooper in the 2021 NBA Draft, he instantly became a fan favorite. One of the reasons was because he was expected to go earlier in the draft, and many thought the Hawks got a steal. The other reason was because of his ties to Georgia, as he played high school basketball at McEachern.
With the Hawks having questions surrounding the backup point guard position, Cooper looked to may have had a chance at the spot, but once Delon Wright was traded to the Hawks and Lou Williams was re-signed, things were blurry for the rookie's first year in the league in terms of playing time.
Cooper was known for his speed and ability to finish in the paint, and his playmaking ability as well. If you asked some people, he could run the Hawks offense similar to Trae Young i’m terms of his passing, but what held him back was his inconsistent jumpshot. Also with Nate McMillan's style of offense, he is sure to play experience over inexperience.
With the Hawks signing Cooper to a two-way contract, he was eligible to spend no more than 50 games with the Hawks.
That left Cooper being transferred to College Park to play for the Skyhawks for most of the season, where he was able to receive major minutes and work on his game. As the season progressed, you could see the improvement in his game, whether he was coming off the bench or starting for Skyhawks coach Steve Gansey.
“I feel like just getting reps and being somewhere that’s different, there are different things you have to learn and different challenges,” Cooper said in his exit interview. “No matter what the challengers were, I feel like being challenged and having some adversity hit is definitely good for your future.”
Cooper had a number of 30+ point games, and a 42-point game late in the season. He also posted a triple-double in one game, and it felt like as Cooper got better, the Skyhawks got better, too.
Cooper was able to suit up for the Hawks at times during the season, but it was mostly during garbage time when the game was essentially decided. Many fans weren't truly able to see what he was capable of unless they watched the Skyhawks games. When the Hawks were getting hit with the spread of COVID-19 late in December, Cooper had the chance to play meaningful minutes, but after one game he was sidelined with the virus as well.
Since Cooper was a two-way, he was not eligible to play for the Hawks during the playoffs. Going into the offseason, he’ll be a restricted free agent, which means any team can sign him to an offer sheet, and the Hawks could decide to match the offer if they choose to keep him.
With Williams’ future in the league in question, and Wright becoming a free agent in the offseason, the Hawks may decide to hang on to Cooper. He’s shown in the G-League that if you give him a chance, he could be an effective and promising backup point guard,