Former Atlanta Hawks prospect finding way in G League

Atlanta Hawks. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Atlanta Hawks. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports /

Sometimes, things simply don’t work out despite our best intentions. That was the case with the Atlanta Hawks and former second-round pick, Sharife Cooper, the dynamo guard from Auburn and a Georgia native. Cooper’s short stint with his hometown team featured ups and downs that, ultimately, led to his departure.

But Cooper’s talent has never been in question – in many ways the 6-foot-1 guard faced many of the questions about him as Hawks star Trae Young. From his size to the simple question of getting his shot consistently at the NBA level.

While Young led the NBA in total points last season, Cooper’s journey hit a bit of a snag as he couldn’t connect as he did in college.

The beauty of the NBA’s developmental process is that it offers plenty of chances.

Sharife Cooper finding his way after leaving Atlanta Hawks

Cooper’s time in Atlanta came to an end this summer after a shaky preseason saw the guard struggle, not only with his shot but also with his decision-making averaging 5.0 turnovers. He was singled out for his erratic play by Hawks assistant Nick Van Exel during summer league play.

“It’s pressure on these kids. Let’s be honest,” Van Exel said. “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.”

The Hawks waived the 21-year-old and he soon caught on with the Cleveland Cavaliers on a training camp deal.

He parlayed that into an assignment with their G League affiliate, the Cleveland Charge.

So far, it has been successful with Cooper averaging 31.2 points, 6.5 assists, 3.7 rebounds, and 1.7 steals. He is shooting 52.8% overall, 47.6% from beyond the arc, and has improved both his efficiency and trips to the free-throw line connecting on 78.6% of his 4.7 attempts. That includes a second-straight 40-point effort for the Charge in their 119-108 victory over the Iowa Wolves.

He also set a franchise record.

Despite averaging just 0.5 points, 0.4 assists, and 0.4 rebounds in just three minutes per contest across 13 games last season, Cooper did post a respectable 19.2/5.5/3.0 line with the College Park Skyhawks last season on .450/.359/.741 efficiency.

It is debatable if the Hawks gave up on Cooper too soon after spending a draft pick on him, albeit a second-rounder.

But he is still turning the ball over at a high rate with 5.2 per game, up from 3.7 last season.

Again, though, that is the beauty of the G League – it allows players to work through their mistakes. And unlike NBA teams, G League teams practice regularly giving players even more opportunities to work on their games.

It won’t be the same for Cooper as it was for Jordan Poole of the Golden State Warriors or the recently demoted James Wiseman or even his former draftmate Jalen Johnson.

Those players all were featured in their stints as high draft picks the team was counting on.

What he will get is time and that seems to be what Cooper needs most just as many countless younger players before him have.

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Perhaps leaving the Hawks – and getting away from the pressure and distractions that come with playing in one’s hometown – was for the best. So far, Cooper appears to be making the most of his second chance.