Sharife Cooper out of Auburn is another big time guard prospect in a class that is loaded with them. Cooper stands out from the pack as one of the best floor generals in this years class who possesses an ability to not just get his teammates involved, but also score the ball at will.
Cooper averaged 20.2 points per game as a freshman and dished out 8.1 assists per game which is pretty remarkable. This all came after Cooper missed the first 11 games of Auburn’s season due to an investigation by the NCAA regarding his eligibility. Cooper was finally granted permission to play January 9th against Alabama in a game he scored 26 points and dished out nine assists.
You could tell Cooper was going to be special from the moment he stepped on the floor in an Auburn uniform and his first game really set the tone for the 11 games that followed. It would have been nice to see what Cooper could have accomplished in a full season, but the 12 games he did play at Auburn showcased why he’s got a chance to become a mid-to-late first round pick come draft night.
Sharife Cooper — Auburn
Age: 20 (born June 11, 2001)
Height: 6-foot-1, but at the combine he measured 6-foot-3.5 without shoes, but most think it’s a typo
Weight: 165 pounds
Per game Stats (Age-19 season)
Cooper averaged 20.2 points per game during his freshman season at Auburn on 39 percent shooting from the field. Cooper shot 46.5 percent from 2-point range and just 22.8 percent from beyond the arc. Not only did he score the ball, but he also got his teammates involved dishing out 8.1 assists per game to go along with 4.3 rebounds per game.
One of the best passers in this years class, Cooper is constantly looking to get his teammates involved. Even though he averaged over 20 points per game where Cooper tends to have most of an impact on the game is with his pin-point passing that often leads to high percentage looks for the offense.
28 and 12 for Sharife Cooper in 2nd game. Pretty special playmaking ability with a mix dribble creativity, vision on move and passing skill. Jumper needs work but knack for creating easy shots for offense should allow for patience. pic.twitter.com/64VeUcGDyq— Jonathan Wasserman (@NBADraftWass) January 14, 2021
Cooper is a savant at pocket passing whether it’s via kickout, lob, or drop offs in pick-n-roll sets he almost always sets up his teammates in perfect position. The pace of play in which he plays with is what stands out about Cooper as he is never going to fast as the game just comes natural to him.
Even though it was just 12 games, Cooper’s assist average of 8.1 per game was pretty astonishing from his freshman season at Auburn. It’s easy to see how Cooper could have that high of an assist average with the amount of easy looks he constantly gives him teammates.
Ability to run an offense
This goes hand in hand with Cooper’s passing ability as his feel for the game is just off the charts. Some point guards will try to do to much and take over the game at unnecessary times, while Cooper lets the game come to him and takes what the defense gives him.
The worst thing an opposing team could do is double Cooper at the top of the key as he will almost always find the open man for as easy bucket. Cooper is phenomenal in pick-n-roll sets at knowing when to either drop it off for the roller or just go to the hoop and get an easy bucket.
Auburn commit 2020 PG Sharife Cooper (@CooperSharife) with 29 points and 5 assists in a win tonight in the first round of the @CityOfPalmsBKB. Made great decisions passing the ball, elite layup package was on display, and shot well from the perimeter tonight! pic.twitter.com/vQoh3gNzlI— Samad Hines (@Samad_Hines) December 19, 2019
That feel and command for how to run an offense is something that should easily transfer to the next level, which makes Cooper an intriguing prospect for teams to consider taking once the middle of the first round rolls around.
Cooper is still incredibly young having turned 20 just last month which means he has a ton of big time basketball ahead of him. Even though he played in just 12 games at Auburn, you could tell the talent was there from the moment he stepped on the floor as he only got better as the season progressed.
It’s also incredibly encouraging that Cooper was able to average 20.2 points per game while only shooting 22.8 percent from beyond the arc. If Cooper finds a way to grow as a three-point shooter it will elevate his game to a whole other level because there is no question he can score the ball from anywhere inside the arc.
Sharife Cooper was a problem in Auburn’s upset over No. 12 Missouri— Bleacher Report CBB (@br_CBB) January 27, 2021
28 PTS, 18-21 FT, 8 REB, 7 AST pic.twitter.com/LjpC8mpxi0
Even though he’s got a small frame, Cooper is one of the best finishers near the rim in this years class as he never shy’s away from contact. Cooper is great at finishing with both hands which gives him an advantage as he gets to the free-throw line a ton which helps his scoring numbers even more. Even though he’s not the tallest guard in the draft the crafty style in which Cooper plays with makes him one of the highest upside players in the draft this year.
Even though this wasn't a concern at Auburn because of his effective finishing ability, Cooper is not the biggest guard in this years class which could raise some concerns with teams. There were a lot of varying numbers as to what Cooper’s height is after his combine measurements came in at 6-foot-3.5 barefoot and 6-foot-4.75 with shoes. Cooper was listed at 6-foot-1 in college though and most people considered that to be a generous number, which makes the combine measurement look more and more like a typo.
Cooper also weighs in at a little over 160 points, which might affect his finishing ability in the NBA. It was no concern in the SEC last year, but the NBA players he’s going to go up against might make things a little more difficult. It also calls into question his defensive ability and whether or not he’ll be able to hold up defending bigger and stronger guards in the NBA.
Even though his height might never be there, Cooper should be able to bulk up to help stay an effective scorer near the rim and give him a foundation to grow defensively. The smoothness in which Cooper plays the game should translate to the next level, with the only concern being the game might not come as easy to him once there are bigger and stronger players around him.
Cooper was often caught out of position defensively and struggled to fight through and around screens. It goes back to his height and weight a little bit as Cooper was just pushed around a little to easily on the defensive end of the court.
That his not going to get any easier in the NBA as teams will exploit that mismatch all game long if Cooper is continuously getting beat. Locking in on defense will be key for Cooper if he wants to stay on the court because no matter how good of a player he is offensively if he can't defend then it will be hard for him to get consistent minutes.
If Cooper can bulk up and buy in defensively he’s got a shot to put together a long and successful NBA career. Defense is all about buy in and if Cooper can lock in defensively like he does offensively it will take his game to a whole other level.
This is the part of Cooper’s game that can really use some fine tuning if he wants to take his offensive game to another level. Cooper shot just 22.8 percent from three last year on 57 attempts and when you watch him shoot from three his mechanics are what really stand out. Cooper does not get much jump into his shots and it’s almost like he’s shooting a deep free-throw anytime he pulls up from beyond the arc.
His stroke is not bad at all, but the confidence just doesn't seem to be there when Cooper pulls up from deep. It’s weird because Cooper plays with an extreme confidence when going to the rack, but when he pulls up from three it looks as if a little uncertainty goes into his mind for a split second.
The beauty of this is Cooper can easily fix this at the next level with a little better base and confidence to his shot. It would not surprise me if Cooper was able to average shooting over 30 percent from three as a rookie after an NBA coach gets a hand on him to give him that coaching and confidence he needs.
Cooper is an incredibly gifted player who could be a starting point guard for any team that drafts him on day one. If he can clean up his three-point shooting and defense, Cooper easily has the tools to become a top-10 point guard in this league within five years.
It’s easier said than done, but the pace in which Cooper plays makes you think he should transition to the NBA pretty seamlessly. From a Nuggets perspective, Cooper is a guy that will most likely be off the board if they stay and pick at 26 overall, but if he falls into your lap you have to consider taking him.
Even with Monte Morris and Facu Campazzo in the fold at point guard along with Jamal Murray whenever he returns to health, you can never have enough floor generals on the roster. Morris is also a guy who can play off ball so adding a guy like Cooper to run the bench unit with Morris alongside of him could unlock a ton of big things for the Nuggets second unit.
Who knows though, maybe Cooper is a stud out of the gate and can fill the Nuggets starting point guard spot until Murray returns from injury. For that to happen Cooper would have to fall into the Nuggets lap, which could happen with how lucky Denver has been these past few drafts.