Pelicans summer league preview: Quinn Cook tries to build on late-season NBA experience

Paranoia is generally never a recommended mental state to embrace, especially for someone trying to gain a permanent foothold in his chosen field. Yet for New Orleans point guard Quinn Cook, it’s one element of the approach to how he’ll try to cement himself as a permanent NBA player.

“Staying paranoid,” Cook said, when asked what will be key for him to remain in the league. “I’ve never gotten too comfortable or complacent or looked ahead. I just try to win every day. There are a lot of guys in my situation who have done that, gotten an opportunity and never looked back.”

After going undrafted in 2015, the Duke University product spent ’15-16 and part of ’16-17 in the D-League, before finally getting his first NBA break this winter. Cook was signed to a 10-day contract by Dallas on Feb. 26, then hooked on with New Orleans to close the ’16-17 regular season. Over a nine-game stint with the Pelicans, Cook delivered a few memorable performances, highlighted by scoring 22 points at Golden State on April 8, on 10/13 shooting from the field. Prior to a season-closing, four-game road trip of significant minutes, Cook had mostly watched, including during his October training-camp stay in New Orleans.

“It was great for a variety of reasons, one being teammates’ trust in him,” Pelicans summer head coach Jamelle McMillan said of Cook’s chance to contribute, after NOLA’s playoff hopes had ended. “Guys didn’t really know much about him, but had seen flashes here and there in practice, or knowing him from (his preseason stint). They really saw what he can do in that type of setting, and that’s huge from a culture standpoint. He gained trust from the coaching staff and helped us understand what we have and how we can use him, instead of playing the guessing game. It’s hard when you’re getting inconsistent minutes, or you’re on a 10-day contract, and so many scenarios happen.”

“It did a lot for my confidence,” Cook said of his April. “The biggest thing for me was trying to get familiar with my teammates. I got here late and really wasn’t playing, and we didn’t have a lot of time to practice. So I wasn’t acclimated with them. Just getting some game reps at the highest level of basketball did a lot for my confidence. Now I want to use that momentum I had from the end of the season and take that into summer league.”

Dating back to the ’16 preseason, highlighted by Cook posting a 15-point quarter for New Orleans in China vs. Houston, Pelicans coaches have praised his professionalism. McMillan – whose father Nate McMillan is the Indiana Pacers’ head coach and served on USA Basketball’s staff under Mike Krzyzewski – gives Coach K credit for developing players who arrive in the NBA with a common approach. The Pelicans added another Duke backcourt player to their roster on draft night June 22, when they acquired combo guard Frank Jackson with the first pick of Round 2.

“(Duke players) come from a work mentality,” Jamelle McMillan said. “That culture is about work and the guy next to you. Being around Coach K with the Olympic team and being around some of his players over the years, they show up to do things the right way. That’s what Quinn has done, as well as the other (Duke) players we’ve had who’ve passed through here. That’s really valuable for the culture of your team, especially at this level, where it’s a very long, grueling season.

“Quinn is very even-keeled in his demeanor and presence on the floor. Nothing seems to bother him. He kept a level head (last season), showed up every day and did what he was supposed to do. Phenomenal human being, phenomenal teammate. He established a lot of trust in our locker room, which is huge.”

In summer league, Cook will partly be focusing on leadership and defensive play, having shown several times that his offense is perhaps his biggest strength.

“An area he’s working on is being a little more vocal,” McMillan said. “That part of his presence needs to improve, and that just comes with knowledge of the game and understanding what’s going on. It’s something he will be good at. Another big thing for him is his pace and understanding reads and how to create opportunities for guys in their specific roles, in terms of how they can be successful.”

A native of the Washington, D.C. area, Cook has spent extensive time this spring with summer-league teammates Cheick Diallo and Axel Toupane at the club’s Metairie practice facility, often practicing defensive drills.

“A lot of guys are working on offense (in the offseason), but this is really my first time working on defense every single day,” Cook said. “My biggest thing for summer league is just being a leader, being a coach on the floor, being an extension of the coaching staff and to win as many games as possible. I want to be a pest defensively and have the drills we’ve been doing translate to the floor. Everyone knows my offensive ability and knows that I can score, but now I want to show myself and everybody that I can play defense at a high level.”

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