Photo: Quinn Cook
Congratulations, Quinn Cook. But also, damn you, Quinn Cook.
Congratulations for working your way through the NBA’s G-League to the big time with the NBA’s Golden State Warriors.
But damn you for validating Duke’s path to the 2015 NCAA title with three one-and-done freshmen. You gave life to Duke continuing to follow Kentucky as an NBA combine with one-and-done freshmen.
Yes, Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones were three freshmen headliners on Duke’s 2015 title team. All three were drafted in the NBA’s first round: Okafor, No. 3; Winslow, No. 10; and Jones, No. 24.
But Cook was the senior that provided maturity the starting lineup needed. Without Cook putting his ego, the Blue Devils don’t build the team chemistry necessary to edge Wisconsin’s veteran roster in the 2015 championship game, 68-63.
In that 2015 draft, Cook wasn’t taken alongside his famous teammates, but his persistence in the G-League landed him a midseason promotion to a roster spot with the NBA defending champion Golden State. The Warriors called him up when starting point guard Steph Curry injured his ankle.
Ironically, Cook is closer to an NBA title than Okafor, Winslow and Jones and other Duke alums as the playoffs open this weekend. He’s on a team favored to win the NBA title, and he’s contributing better numbers than his 2015 shadows.
Golden State is the No. 2 seed facing No. 7 San Antonio in the Western Conference playoffs begin this weekend. Cook averaged 9.5 points, 2.8 assists and 22.4 minutes in his 33 games. He’s hit 49 percent from the field and 45 percent from three-point range.
But Cook’s season stats aren’t the full story.
The lift he provided in the absence of Curry’s 26.4 points a game included a 14-game stretch when he averaged 17.5 points, 4.1 rebounds and 4.9 assists.
Okafor’s career has imploded. He was drafted by Philadelphia but traded early this season to lowly Brooklyn (28-54) that is home for the playoffs. He has averaged just 6.4 points in 26 games.
Winslow is in his third season with Miami, the No. 6 seed facing No. 3 Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference. Winslow started only 25 of 67 games, averaging 24.7 minutes and 7.7 points.
Jones plays for Minnesota, the No. 8 seed facing No. 1 Houston in the Western Conference. He has started only 11 games in three seasons – all this year. He averages only 5.1 points and 18.0 minutes.
Cook’s upward needle compared to the downward trends of Okafor, Winslow and Jones tells us two things:
— NBA scouts in love with pretty faces miss when they draft on potential.
— Duke needs a Quinn Cook to win another national title more than it needs a third, fourth or fifth one-and-done freshmen recruit.
Duke and coach Mike Krzyzewski won the 2010 national title the old-fashioned way, with college veterans, Kyle Singler, Jon Scheyer and Brian Zoubek.
But once the Blue Devils were were bounced from the NCAA Tournament in the 2011 third round, 2012 second round, 2013 regional final and 2014 second round, the Blue Devils adopted the Kentucky one-and-done model.
Okafor, Winslow and Jones arrived for the 2014-15 season, making it look too easy.
But without Cook, the 2016 team lost in the third round, 2017 in the second and 2018 in the regional final (fourth). The Elite Eight is just that – elite – but one-and-done rosters fail when falling short of the Final Four or a national title.
This sesson Duke was proclaimed to have the most talent in the country all year. Freshman Marvin Bagley, Trevon Duval and Gary Trent have declared for the NBA after one year. The fourth starting freshman, Wendell Carter, is expected to join them.
Duke is winning a lot of games but at what cost? Do they want to sink to Kentucky’s win-at-all-costs level?
Duke political science professor Peter Faiver fears it is so. He brought up the matter at a faculty senate meeting last fall shortly before the 2017-2018 season.
In this guard-oriented age, veteran point guards are the key to an NCAA championship team. Since Cook helped Duke to the 2015 title, the next three NCAA champions were led by veteran guards – Villanova, North Carolina and Villanova again.
And now Duke’s struggles at point guard have reached the theater of the absurd.
After Tyus Jones left his point guard role behind for the NBA, Derryck Thornton came on as a freshman to replace him with possible one-and-done potential.
When Thornton failed to play at an NBA level, he transferred to USC. He knew one-and-done freshman Frank Jackson was due to arrive and supplant him.
Jackson jumped to the NBA after one year, but he broke his foot and hasn’t played this year.
Jackson was succeeded by Duval, who was inconsistent. He may get taken on potential, but expect him to play next year in the G-League.
Will Duval eventually make an NBA impact equal to what Cook has managed after a three-year apprenticeship in the G-League? Will he be able to match Cook without the added years of maturity Cook gained in college?
None of those point guards helped his team to a national title. It remains to be seen if they’ll match Cook’s ascending career.
Meanwhile, the cycle continues.
Duke’s next cast of one-and-done freshmen includes the nation’s top three-ranked players, No. 1 R.J. Barrett, No. 2 Cameron Reddish and No. 3 Zion Williamson. The No. 10 player is Tre Jones, the younger brother of Tyus Jones.
But is there a Quinn Cook on the roster to guide them?