Friday, December 3 2021

Atlanta Hawks head coach Nate McMillan praised rookie Sharife Cooper on Saturday for the energy and effort he brought late to lead his team to a comeback win over the Memphis Grizzlies.

Cooper scored all 10 of his points in the fourth quarter as the Hawks overcame a 10-point deficit to defeat the Grizzlies, 91-87. He also added four rebounds, three assists, three steals and one blocked shot in 21 minutes of work.

“I love the energy that he’s bringing,” McMillan said of Cooper. “He’s scrappy. He’s playing scrappy basketball out there. He’s trying to make a statement. He’s stepping up and he’s not pacing himself. I love the energy that he is bringing.”

McMillan gave Cooper credit for changing the tempo of the game when he was on the court. He organized the team well, and helped lead the charge back after trailing in the final period. The effort, Cooper said, stemmed from just doing what he had to do to win.

My mindset was just to win at all costs. That is something I don’t like doing, our team doesn’t like doing and that is losing. Before the game, they told us we only won one quarter out of eight and that’s not how we want to do things.

I know I’m new but I definitely understand that from the time I’ve been here. The mindset was win at all costs and in the fourth quarter, that’s definitely closing time so I definitely wanted to make a big impact on that.

The defensive showing by Cooper versus Memphis was not by accident.

Cooper made it a point of emphasis over the summer to work on that area of his game. He improved his conditioning to give him the ability to continue to make hustle plays and play defense at a high level for every play when he is on the court.

He entered the NBA draft highly touted for his ability as a floor general and willingness to get his teammates involved. However, some believe he left much to be desired defensively so he went to work to try to change that narrative.

I feel like that was a thing people would say during my draft process that I kinda lacked on defense. I feel like that was a big emphasis I wanted to make this coming year, just show I can defend, defend multiple positions and make an impact on that end. That’s why I have so much energy, I’m definitely trying to get that narrative changed and start and a new chapter.

Cooper was graded by some as a potential first-round prospect but eventually fell to the Hawks at 48. He has played like a first-round player to this point and could emerge as a steal for Atlanta. Certainly, improving defensively will help him achieve that.

Atlanta will finish up preseason play on Thursday versus the Miami Heat.

This post originally appeared on Rookie Wire! Follow us on Facebook!


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