Atlanta Hawks assistant gets honest on youngster’s offseason progress

Atlanta Hawks. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
Atlanta Hawks. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports /

Barring an injury, the Atlanta Hawks probably won’t have Sharife Cooper logging major minutes any time soon. The second-year point guard recently signed his two-way deal marking the second consecutive season he will find himself on the non-guaranteed pact. Only this time, there is the added twist of two new rookies that have at least partially guaranteed contracts.

The first is AJ Griffin who was selected with the 16th-overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft. As a first-round pick, though, his contract was always going to be guaranteed.

Tyrese Martin’s deal would be surprising were it not for his strong summer league.

That same battleground may have been what will lock Cooper into a featured role in the G-League next season. Even if the Hawks did suffer some injuries, they might be better equipped to withstand that this year.

Nick Van Exel sounded off on Sharife Cooper’s progress this summer

Assistant coach Nick Van Exel was one of the best point guards of his day. He was brought in, in part, to help develop Trae Young. But he also ran the Hawks’ summer league team. At one point this summer, he issued a challenge to Cooper to be more aggressive after the guard came out shaky while battling through a thumb injury.

Cooper went 3-of-20 from the floor over the first three summer league games and committed seven turnovers to six assists over his first two before posting a nine-assist, three-turnover outing in the third game.

He had 15 points in the fourth game but still struggled from the floor and regressed in the finale.

Lauren L. Williams of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution shared Van Exel’s take on where Cooper is in his journey to a spot in the rotation on the “Hawks Report” podcast.

“It’s pressure on these kids. Let’s be honest. We talked about it yesterday, when you are who you are coming into this league – all the hype hoopla – you put unwarranted pressure on yourself. And I just try to tell Sharife, ‘just stay calm. ‘It’s Okay…You’ll figure it out.’ But, when you’re rushing in this league and you’re young, it’s going to feel like it’s 15 people on the court.”

Copper only appeared in 13 games with the Hawks last season averaging just 3.0 minutes and as many turnovers as assists.

He was better in G-League play, though, which sounds like the plan for this season.

“When he slows down, it opens up. Now the court is open. I don’t think he’s there yet. So, still gotta work with him with that.”

Cooper averaged 19.2 points, 5.5 assists, and 3.0 rebounds while shooting 45.0% from the floor and 35.9% from beyond the arc for the College Park Skyhawks last season.

He did still average 3.7 turnovers in his 11 G-League appearances with 10 starts.

Van Exel talked about it being a “tough process” adding that he just has to keep working with Cooper who, for his part, has been receptive to what his coach has asked of him.

“Just taking the experience I got from last year to implement it into this year. Little things like being a leader, having experience to help new guys, and just ultimately growing and maturing is my plan for this year.”

Cooper said that he will continue to work towards shooting, handling, and making better decisions in hopes of meeting Van Exel’s expectations.

As Williams concluded, that is not really what happened this summer.

Next. Dejounte Murray could help the Hawks in a surprising way. dark

Hopefully, the Georgia native will be more comfortable when training camp and the G-League season roll around.