BACK BABY BACK: TYLER COOK TO RETURN FOR JUNIOR SEASON

By Adam Jacobi on May 30, 2018 at 7:49 pm
Tyler Cook Happy

© Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

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Iowa's leading scorer and rebounder chooses to stay for another season in the black and gold.

Exhale, Hawkeyes: Tyler Cook is coming back. On the last day before the deadline for inclusion in the 2018 NBA Draft, in the waning hours, Cook called the Iowa coaches and gave them the good news:

According to Cook's mother, Tyler was "really, really close" to starting his pro career; after six workouts with NBA teams, it was probably tough to go back to the collegiate ranks. 

Cook did return, though, and for that Fran McCaffery and his staff can breathe a giant sigh of relief; Cook accounted for a team-high 15.3 points and 6.8 rebounds per game, and in just two seasons he cemented his legacy as the best dunker in Hawkeye history, full stop.

Of course, Cook shoulders some blame for the unexpected slump in the standings; he's hardly a perfect player, and we can talk about that. But as for whether Iowa fans should want Cook back, the answer is a resounding YES ARE YOU KIDDING ME. He's a prodigious talent, he can finish with both hands, he eats smaller defenders alive and his aggressive play can provide an emotional boost to the team and crowd. And he's getting better. Here's a brief list of improvements Cook made from his freshman to sophomore years:

  • Minutes per game: 24.5 to 28.0
  • Points per game: 12.3 to 15.3
  • Shooting percentage: 55% to 57%
  • Rebounds per game: 5.3 to 6.8 
  • Offensive rebound rate: 8.7% to 9.1%
  • Defensive rebound rate: 14.3% to 18.2%
  • Assists per game: 1.0 to 1.8
  • Assist rate: 7.9% to 12.5%
  • Blocks per game: 0.4 to 0.6
  • Free throw percentage: 60% to 66%
  • Free throws made and attempted: 2.7/4.5 to 3.7/5.5 
  • Fouls drawn per 40 minutes: 5.8 to 6.2
  • Fouls committed per 40 minutes: 4.0 to 3.8
  • Turnovers committed per 40 minutes: 3.9 to 3.6

You know, stuff like that. 

That all said, Cook almost certainly got an indication from the NBA teams who scouted him that he wasn't getting drafted. His defense needs a lot of work—especially rotations and playing away from the basket. He's not a high-level shot-blocker to make up for it. His footwork in the post (on both sides of the ball) can be messy. His range for a player his size is college-good, but not NBA-good (and not college-great either). And coaches probably want to see Cook grow as a leader. 

The great thing is that his junior season is a perfect opportunity to address every one of those concerns and give scouts what they want to see—to the point that this statement by McCaffery is probably truer than most Iowa fans realize:

The potential's there, the growth as a player is ongoing, and Cook now has all the feedback he could ask for on how to be the type of player the pros want to see. Hard to complain about that.

As for how the lineup shakes out, Cook and Luka Garza are near-mortal locks to share the frontcourt as starters. Ahmad Wagner's departure helps clear up a backup rotation of Cordell Pemsl and Ryan Kriener, though the question remains what to do with talented sophomore-to-be Jack Nunge, who played some 3 and 4 last season but often struggled with consistency, especially against smaller lineups. 

Nonetheless, too much talent and not enough minutes is a problem, but it's a Good Team Problem; take Cook out of the equation and Iowa's one injury or struggle away from a certified Bad Team Problem on the interior.

So yes, with open arms we welcome Cook back into the mix. And we offer our sympathies to opposing rims, which are in for another year of getting destroyed by Iowa's very own Godzilla. 

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