With the signing of Derek Cooke Jr., the Perth Wildcats have again used the 3rd import spot to sign a big-man.
Last season it was Jameel McKay, and although there are similarities between the two, for this campaign the Wildcats are getting a different type of big-man in Derek Cooke.
With Angus Brandt likely getting a major minutes boost, Perth needed someone who could play alongside Brandt in a traditional two-bigman lineup, but also someone who could shift up to Centre in small-ball units when Jesse Wagstaff plays as the Power Forward.
Both Brandt and McKay are one trick ponies in that they can only play the Centre position, which makes pairing them together on a basketball court an awkward fit. The coaching staff was well aware of this as they played just the meager seven possessions together last season.
Cooke isn’t the perfect fit alongside Brandt either, but he has enough skills on offense to make the pairing work. Although Cooke is also best used as a Centre, playing the four spot isn’t foreign to him either. The 26-year-old spent his two seasons in the D League alternating between the two big-man positions, which should bode well for the Wildcats.
Beast on the boards
Good finisher around the rim
Centre or Power Forward?
Lack of rim protection
Cooke’s best trait is his athleticism: He’s 6’9′, he’s big, he’s strong, and he’s super quick for his size. His quickness allows him to defend smaller perimeter players, should he get caught in a mismatch or switch, and he’ll have no problems handling the big men in the paint.
Cooke’s defensive versatility is a major plus on that side of the floor. The downside is his lack of rim protection. He’s never been a big shot blocker, and as an undersized Centre, he’ll be susceptible to lobs when defending the pick n roll.
Perth’s opponents should have an easier time getting to the rim with DCJ manning the middle than they did with McKay – who’s an expert paint patroller.
And for that reason Cooke is best utilised defending the power forward spot. However, his poor shooting means he’s a better fit playing the Centre spot on offence.
Cooke was a woeful 47% free throw shooter in his two year D League career AND out of his 158 made field goals last season, only a single one came from outside the paint!
Therein lies the conundrum: Playing him as a Power Forward helps your defence, but hurts the spacing on offence; using him as a Centre will limit his effectiveness on D but maximises Cooke’s offensive potency.
However, as mentioned earlier, he does have enough tools on offence to play some time at the 4. Cooke will almost certainly be quicker than most Power Forwards in the NBL, and he can blow by slower big-men and get to the rim. Cooke will also generate a tonne of second chance points for the Wildcats. He was one of best offensive rebounders in the D- League, and he’s likely to lead that category in the NBL this season.
Unlike McKay, who lacked the strength to finish in traffic, DCJ will have no problem scoring around the rim – and he won’t travel as often (sorry Jameel!).
Fit and Use
Trevor Gleeson likes going with a traditional two-big man lineup, and it’s inevitable that he’ll use Cooke alongside Brandt and Matty Knight. It’s also inevitable that Perth’s best lineups will feature Cooke at the 5 and Wagstaff (or Lucas Walker) at the 4.
Even with the slight concerns of protecting the paint, the most logical option is using Cooke as a small-ball Centre and pairing him with a stretch-4 in Jesse Wagstaff.
Small-ball lineups with Wagstaff at the 4 were the best-rated units for the Wildcats last season. The DCJ and Bryce Cotton pick n Roll will be neigh on impossible to defend with 3-point shooters on the floor (which makes replacing Devondrick Walker with another shooter a must).
*Note: This was written prior to the expected JP Tokoto signing.
That unit, with DCJ at Centre, would be one of the most potent offenses in the league, and the smart money is on defensive wizard Trevor Gleeson figuring out a way to mask Cooke’s limitations as a Centre on the defensive end.
On the offensive end, DCJ will score most of his points via putbacks, alley-oops, rolls to the rim, and in transition. He won’t win the scoring title, but he has the potential to lead the league in rebounding and ridiculous dunks.
If used correctly he has the ability to be a disruptive weapon on defence and a vicious force on offence.
The jury is still out on whether Cooke is a better fit than McKay. While the offence will certainly be more dangerous with DCJ, the defence should be worse without Jameel – the super rim protector.
The question is will that matter? We’ll find out the answer soon enough, but in the meantime enjoy the Derek Cooke Jr experience.