2017 Iowa Basketball Season in Review: Tyler Cook

By Matthew Lundeen on April 18, 2017 at 8:57 am
Tyler Cook didn't surprise anybody this season. He was just as good as we all thought he was going to be.

Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

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Tyler Cook didn't surprise anybody this season. He was just as good as we all thought he was going to be.

Tyler Cook

Bio: Freshman F, 6'9", 253lbs. (St. Louis, Missouri)
2017 Season: 27 Games Played, 26 Starts, 24.5 MPG, 12.3 PPG, 5.3 RPG

Season in Review

Top 5 Games by Opponent Adjusted Game Score Per Minute
  • 1) vs. Savannah State 0.82 -- 14 points and 4 rebounds in 15 minutes 
  • 2) at Nebraska 0.79 -- 14 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 steals in 26 minutes
  • 3) vs. South Dakota 0.76 -- 18 points, 8 rebounds, and 3 assists in 29 minutes
  • 4) at Northwestern 0.74 -- 14 points and 6 rebounds in 29 minutes
  • 5) vs. Seton Hall 0.70 -- 24 points and 2 rebounds in 32 minutes
Bottom 5 Games by Opponent Adjusted Game Score Per Minute
  • 1) at Illinois -0.08 -- 5 points and 4 turnovers in 17 minutes
  • 2) vs. Rutgers 0.02 -- 4 points and 2 rebounds in 21 minutes
  • 3) vs. Kennesaw State 0.11 -- 6 points, 10 rebounds, 4 turnovers, and 3 fouls in 21 minutes
  • 4) at Minnesota 0.15 -- 5 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 fouls in 21 minutes
  • 5) vs. Maryland 0.23 -- 8 points, 7 rebounds, 4 turnovers, and 3 fouls in 20 minutes

If Jordan Bohannon was the biggest surprise of the season, Tyler Cook was exactly what we thought he was: an absolute offensive monster. Minus the meh debut against Kennesaw State, Cook dominated Savannah State with 14 points in 15 minutes and followed that up by scoring 24 points on Seton Hall's 6'10" 240 lb. junior, Angel Delgado.

Cook went on to score double-digits in two of the next three games, before sitting out the next month with a broken wrist.

He was thrown right back into the fire at Purdue, and -- aside from four fouls -- he performed admirably, scoring 12 points on 10 scoring attempts. Cook continued to be a lock to score double figures for Iowa every night, and by then it had become crystal clear that he had a real knack for making huge, game-stopping dunks.

His insane consistency to just get buckets was sometimes overshadowed by some combination of turnovers, fouls, and some iffy defense. As you can see on the chart at the top, those variables seemed to drag his game down a bit in the middle of the Big Ten schedule. He had a six-game streak from the first Maryland game through the one at Minnesota where his performance slipped thanks to some struggles with that trifecta of ailments. In three of those games, he failed to reach the team average adjusted game score per minute, while he failed to reach his season average in all six of them. Still, it's not like he was awful during that stretch, he just wasn't quite himself. I mean, he still managed to score more than 10 points in three of those games, after all. It was just that some combination of turnovers, fouls, and defense usually held him back.

Cook bounced back, though, and similar to what we saw last time with Bohannon, he finished the season with a nice uptick in performance. He finished above his season average in adjusted game score per minute in six of his final nine games, while topping the team average in every one. Not only that, but he continued to play with his trademark energy and passion, while throwing down his usual game-changing dunks.

Over those final nine games of the season, Cook failed to score in double figures only twice, while scoring 13 or more points six times. He also managed to log his first two double-doubles of his career at Maryland and in the final regular season game against Penn State. And no matter what adjusted game score per minute says, I think Maryland was probably his best all-around game of the season. Because not only did he score his 21 points in a variety of ways:

He also grabbed 10 rebounds and played some of his best defense of the season:

Overall, while there is still plenty to work on, putting up the fourth-best season in terms of points per game by an Iowa freshman since the 1992-1993 season is definitely quite the accomplishment. Essentially, Tyler Cook was exactly what we thought he was: a star.

Key Numbers

12.3 -- To reiterate, Cook's 12 points per game ranks #4 for Iowa freshman since the 1992-1993 season. He's behind only Jess Settles, Ricky Davis, and Tyler Smith, while he's ahead of guys like Aaron White, Melsahn Basabe, Jordan Bohannon, and Matt Gatens.

#5 -- Cook's 12.3 points per game was fifth in the Big Ten by freshmen this season. He finds himself only behind Miles Bridges, Nick Ward, Tony Carr, and Lamar Stevens. And when you normalize for playing time and calculate points per minute, he comes in third behind only Michigan State's dynamic duo. 

50 -- The number of dunks Cook threw down this season in just 27 games. I have yet to come across a website that tracks dunks, and I have only been tracking them for Iowa since the McCaffery era started, but this is easily the most dunks by a freshman in that time period. Aaron White's freshman total was 32, and he played in eight more games. If Cook had played in all 34 games this season, he would have been projected to finish the year with 63. Aaron White's season-high in dunks came as a senior and was 62. Cook could potentially shatter that next season with more scoring opportunities. 

5.8 -- Cook's fouls drawn per 40 minutes ranked seventh in the Big Ten and 124th in the country among players who qualified, according to Kenpom.

59.8% -- Free throws are a huge part of Cook's game, but he (along with other Iowa big men) struggled to convert when he was at the line. Needless to say, his 59.8% from the stripe will need to get better in order to make his ability to initiate contact an even bigger weapon. That said, he did get better as the season went on, making a more decent 63.3% in Big Ten play. 

7 -- The number of blocks that Cook had in his final nine games of the season. While that may not seem like all that many, it was a huge jump from a guy who managed all of four in his first 18 collegiate games. It was a big part of why his defense got better as the season went on, and hopefully something we will see more of in the future.

Next Year

Since Cook is a post player, he finds himself in the midst of the logjam that Iowa has on the block for the foreseeable future. Of course, out of all the big men on the roster, Cook is probably the safest bet to start next season. One, McCaffery showed this year that he loves having Cook in the starting lineup and appears to like having Cordell Pemsl come off the bench. And two, Cook probably has the highest upside out of anybody on this team, so it makes sense to start him and have him on the court as much as possible. If he does take that next step toward his ceiling this offseason, he could very well see his stats jump quite a bit next season. I mean, I wouldn't be surprised to see 16-18 points per game next season and maybe even challenge for a spot on the First Team All-Big Ten roster. 

That projection may seem high and a bit bullish, but allow me a comparison:

  MPG PPG Usage Off. Rating eFG% OR% DR% TO% Block%
Player A 24.5 12.3 24.9% 99.7% 55.8% 8.7% 14.3% 21.7% 1.7%
Player B 25.7 10.2 23.9% 96.1% 49.8% 7.5% 27.2% 25.4% 0.9%

Player A is Tyler Cook, but does anyone know who Player B is? No? Well, it's freshman year Caleb Swanigan. Both guys are 6'9" and 250ish, and while Swanigan has been a much better defensive rebounder and passer since day one than Cook has, Tyler has also been a more efficient scorer (aside from at the free throw line) and turned the ball over less. I'm not saying Cook is going to be in the running for the National Player of the Year award next season, but he has enough upside that if he makes certain improvements ahead of next year, he is going to be scary good.

So what improvements does he need to make?

On offense, turnovers are the biggest key to Cook's improvement on this end of the court. And they pretty much go hand-in-hand with knowing when to pass the ball. Most of Cook's turnovers seemed to come when he was trying to do too much, too quickly like many freshmen do. We know that he has an advanced back-to-the-basket game for a first year guy, but too often he wanted to try and do it all. The reality is that no matter how good you are, you can't do it all. And when he tried to do too much, he often times lost the ball or got called for an offensive foul or travel. The positive side is that there were flashes of the passing game clicking for Tyler.

More growth will certainly need to be shown here next season, though.

Aside from not trying to do too much when he has the ball, Cook's other main thing to work on offensively would be free throws. I already mentioned how he made 63% of his free ones in Big Ten play, but hopefully he can move closer to 70% over his career. And not that he necessarily needs to, but I am interested to see how his jump shot looks next season. Cook is most definitely at his best when around the rim, but he showed early in the season that he wasn't afraid to launch from deep. He only made 2-8 this season, but if he does get any better from downtown, the Caleb Swanigan comparison will only get more apt.

He also needs to continue to get better on defense. Defense is normally something that all freshmen need to work on, so this isn't a huge surprise. Cook has all the tools to be a good defender, it's just that he was inconsistent as a freshman. Too often he would follow up a good defensive possession with one where he would find himself out of position or he would make a mental mistake on par for a first year guy. Like, for instance, playing good defense on Ethan Happ.

And then later on not seeing his teammate isn't getting through the screen cleanly, and not hedging out a bit longer on a shooter like Bronson Koenig.

Along with that, it would be nice to see Cook pull in more defensive rebounds next season. Iowa was a pretty awful defensive rebounding team this season, and I don't necessarily think it was due to the fact that they played a lot of zone. His 14.3% of defensive rebounds he hauled in this season improved to 15.5% in Big Ten play, but that is still not exactly what you want from your power forward/center -- especially when the other big guy on the court isn't hauling in 20+%. Peter Jok's defensive rebounding rate was 15.7% this season, for comparison's sake. That's outstanding for a wing player (the highest of Jok's career), but not so much for a guy who is around the basket as much as Cook. Maybe some of those missed shots will come to Cook next season instead of a wing player like Jok, but that doesn't change the fact that Iowa could really stand to get better as a team on the defensive glass next season. And a lot of that will be getting some more production out of Cook. 

Basically, what I said in the final Franalysis wraps it all up for Cook:

The turnovers were still a problem, and his defense was inconsistent. I saw a number of times where he perfectly hedged and recovered on TCU ball screens, and he even played some nice help defense on one occasion, cutting off the baseline on the guy Peter Jok was guarding and helping to force a turnover. However, there was also an instance in which Kenrich Williams blew by him on the perimeter and threw down an easy slam, or when he decided to jump out on the perimeter and try and double Desmond Bane, only to leave Brodziansky open in the paint for a layup that put TCU up 84-82 with 11 seconds left in regulation. Of course, Cook was clutch on the other side of the ball, backing his man down and tying the game up after putting a nice spin move on his opponent. 

Essentially, this game was Tyler Cook's freshman season in a nutshell. So many dunks and so much offensive potential, but too many turnovers and a lot of defensive inconsistency. He's only going to get better, though.

In the end, Cook probably won't put it all together in one offseason. However, if he can get a little better on the defensive end and know when to give the ball up on offense, he and Iowa will only be that much better for it. After all, Cook already showed a very advanced post-up game for a first year player. The fact that he already has that and is lucky enough to pair it with the explosiveness to hammer home thunderous slams and the raw strength to finish through contact, really makes his upside almost limitless. 

In the past, Fran has mostly had to recruit athletes in the hopes that he could teach them how to completely play the game of basketball or go after guys who could really play basketball, but did not have quite the athletic gifts necessary to be a complete superstar. But with Tyler Cook, he struck gold in that he has a freak athlete who already has a good idea of how to play the game of basketball. He still needs some polish and refinement, but Tyler Cook is going to be a force to be reckoned with for some years to come. If the Big Ten didn't take notice last year, they soon will. 

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