Tyler Cook is both a success story – a testament to the persistence and dedication required to make it to the NBA – and a reminder of how fine is the line that separates many NBA players from the thousands who are after their jobs and toiling in the G League and far-flung leagues on six continents.
Cook was a decorated player at Iowa, earning All-Big Ten honors during his junior season, but went undrafted after bypassing his senior year. In the two seasons since he’s had multiple G League stints and worn the uniform of four NBA franchises while getting his foot in the door with each one on a 10-day contract.
So the most security he’s had since leaving college is his current opportunity with the Pistons, the first of Cook’s four NBA teams to extend their relationship with him beyond the 10-day deals. Cook was signed in April to a contract that figures to have him on hand for training camp in September with a shot to get a real foothold on a career in the world’s premier basketball league. Here’s a look at Cook’s 2020-21 season:
PROFILE: 6-foot-8 forward, 23 years old, 2 NBA seasons2020-21 STATS: 4.9 points, 3.0 rebounds and 14 minutes per game in 32 gamesSTATUS: After playing out two 10-day contracts, Cook signed with the Pistons for the rest of 2020-21 and for 2021-22, partially guaranteed, in April
A LOOK BACK: Tyler Cook teamed with Jayson Tatum to lead Chaminade College Prep to the 2016 Missouri Class 5 state title. Cook chose Iowa over a host of offers, seriously considering Florida, Arkansas and Missouri. A four-star recruit ranked 63rd in the composite index, Cook started 92 of 93 games over his three years at Iowa, leading the Hawkeyes in scoring and rebounding in each of his final two seasons. Cook declared for the 2019 NBA draft but went undrafted, opting for the G League initially. Cook played with the Canton Charge, affiliate of Cleveland, and the Cavaliers eventually signed Cook to successive 10-day contracts. Cook played in 11 games with Cleveland and two with Denver in 2019-20 and also had a G League stint with Oklahoma City’s affiliate. He opened eyes with his eight-game stint in the G League bubble where Cook averaged 20.8 points and 9.6 rebounds for the Iowa Wolves.
THE SEASON THAT WAS: Cook went to training camp with the Minnesota Timberwolves but was waived before the 2020-21 season opener. After his successful G League bubble stint, Cook signed a 10-day contract in late February with the Brooklyn Nets and played 17 minutes across four games before that deal expired. The Pistons signed Cook to the maximum allowable two 10-day deals before signing him for the rest of the 2020-21 season and beyond with a partial guarantee for 2021-22. Cook appeared in 28 games for the Pistons, making one start, and averaged 5.5 points and 3.0 rebounds in 15 minute a game while making 68 percent of his shots. Cook proved a powerful dunker and 43 of his 100 shot attempts came on dunks. In the season’s final two games with the Pistons playing shorthanded, Cook averaged 14.5 points and 7.0 rebounds while making 13 of 16 shots.
A LOOK AHEAD: Cook’s physical strength – he’s listed at 255 pounds and surely would’ve made football coaches swoon with his potential as a jumbo tight end or edge rusher – and explosive leaping ability combined with his toughness make him a rugged interior presence who can guard all three frontcourt positions. He’s got soft hands put to use as an active defender and an inviting target when he cuts along the baseline to put himself in position for his specialty, dunks. Dwane Casey became a fast and enthusiastic believer in Cook for his basketball IQ and communication skills defensively and loved the physicality he brought to a young roster. Roster spots will be at a premium for 2021-22 with relatively few Pistons hitting free agency, so Cook will have to prove himself again during the off-season and training camp to secure a spot. It’s expected Cook will be part of the Pistons Summer League roster along with the five rookies from last season and likely Sekou Doumbouya, this year’s lottery pick and potentially up to three second-round draft picks.
MONEY QUOTE: “He’s a guy you want in your program because he sets the tone. When you’re going out there against him and (Hamidou) Diallo, you know you’ve got a street fight on your hands. You need a couple of those guys that can really lock down and guard. He’s picked up everything we’ve done and it’s one reason he’s ahead of the curve. You feel comfortable putting him in the game and playing him. He gives you everything. He’s smart. He picks up stuff quick, he’s physical, he’s athletic. Still working on the shooting piece, but everything else he brings to the table and then some.” – Dwane Casey on Tyler Cook in March