There’s something unique happening in the land of Cameron Crazies. A player we’re all familiar with, who has been playing in front of us for years, is somehow bereft of attention.
The whole thing sounds pretty much impossible. As you know, Duke has always been on TV. They were always on TV before all of their peers were always on TV. Rarely is a Blue Devil overlooked; the stars always get to be superstars, the role players often over criticized. Everyone quickly earns a hyperbolic identity.
But somehow, Quinn Cook -- a senior, a three-year starter, a McDonald's All-American -- has defied those conventions, which make him one of the most unlikely overlooked players in college basketball this season. Cook ranks in the top 5-10 in a plethora of pertinent ACC offensive statistical categories, which you can peruse for yourself. As the Blue Devils enter the stretch run of conference play, there’s a strong argument to be made that it will be the senior guard, not the trio of outstanding freshman in Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow that will key their success.
He’s become the de facto player in Duke’s offense who can get you a bucket on the perimeter when you need it. Entering the season, it didn’t feel as though the team had such a player.
"I don’t know if there’s a more valuable player on any team," Mike Krzyzewski said to DukeChronicle.com. "Just performance-wise, he’s been outstanding. But leadership-wise, he’s been even better. I don’t think any of us -- not that we didn’t expect him to be good -- but when two areas are outstanding, you just can’t expect that."
Coach K, it should be noted, went on the record with the aforementioned praise before Cook dropped 22 points against rival UNC and 27 vs.Clemson, respectively.
The Blue Devils are a perfect 7-0 since Rasheed Sulaimon was booted from the team. While Sulaimon didn’t progress as a player following a promising freshman season, he was an experienced veteran and the team’s best three-point shooter in terms of percentage. In Duke’s offense that relies on penetrating point guard play with kick outs to open shooters, you can never have enough of them.
While Matt Jones and Grayson Allen are filling Sulaimon’s minutes, almost all the pick-up in scoring production has come from Cook. Since Jan. 31, he's has averaged 19 PPG, five above his season average, and boasted an offense rating of 141.
Sure, Tyus Jones may be a more electric player who has just gotten into the groove scoring and distributing as the Blue Devils point guard, but Cook has truly carried the weight of a lost rotation player, both in volume and efficiency, all while moving off the ball for the betterment of the team.
Cook’s lack of acclaim from pundits borders on laughable. Last fall he barely received enough votes from the media to place him on what would be a conference pre-season third team, and he’s not on the current list of Wooden Award candidates.
For some context, consider Cook’s senior year stats (through Duke’s most recent game) stacked up against far more heralded Blue Devils to come through the program in recent years.
Aside from Jabari Parker’s ability to score in bunches, there’s a case to be made that Cook, and not any of the other players who are comfortably building NBA careers for themselves, is statistically having the best season of any recent Blue Devil perimeter player.
Sure, plenty of you that watch and re-watch Duke games can easily refute that declaration: there’s too many variables to compare players across seasons; some of those players’ games are about isolation and creating their own shot; and Austin Rivers never passed.
We get it. But he's on their level in terms of what should be expected. You can’t scan those numbers and not be surprised at just how great a season Cook is having relative to a collection of big names.
Opportunity has knocked and Quinn Cook has answered, and answered when it matters most. NCAA Tournament games are won on the perimeter, and right now Cook continues to score efficiently as defenses (finally) start to key on him. You can't leave him when Jones gets into the lane, meaning his mere presence is starting to open up opportunities for teammates.
"He’s had a fabulous year, not just a good year," Krzyzewski said. "Our guys believe in him, and he’s been like a rock."
It's time to call Cook a game-changing college star. One with a chance to be super in March.
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