LAS VEGAS – Playing to impress strangers isn’t the same thing as playing to impress one’s coaches, and it’s easy for young guys to veer recklessly toward the former.
Bob Thornton, the Memphis assistant coach working the Grizzlies’ game against Washington Wednesday, was thrilled for Jack Cooley, the undrafted rookie from Notre Dame who did the things he’s good at and mostly avoided the things he’s not. In the case of a wide-body like Cooley, Thornton said, that means “rebound, set screens, play defense and hit the shot when it’s there.”
That’s what Cooley did, with an efficient 20 points on 9-for-14 shooting and 12 rebounds (six offensive) in just over 30 minutes in Memphis’ 90-83 victory. Left open on the elbow on a couple of times, he boldly stuck the shots. Cooley even drained a 3-pointer when it was there, while forcing nothing. Following his lead, the Grizzlies grabbed 20 offensive boards in the 40-minute game.
Afterward, Thornton said: “He’s out here creating opportunities for himself.” Through four games, Cooley is averaging 15.3 points and 9.5 rebounds while shooting 52 percent — earning him a spot on our Rookie Ladder.
Non-rookie of the day: Travis Leslie, Heat. In a little more than 23 minutes off Miami’s bench in its 113-66 blowout of New York, Leslie scored 23 points on just 13 shots. The 6-foot-4 guard from Georgia gets around -– he was a first-round pick of the Santa Cruz Warriors of the D-League before last season and averaged better than 15 points. He participated in the Orlando Summer League with Philadelphia.
Other notables: Jordan Hamilton, Nuggets. A 6-foot-7 guard from Texas, he scored 23 points in Denver’s 87-82 victory over New Orleans, hitting four of his seven 3-pointers. Thomas Robinson, Trail Blazers. He was at it again, good for 13 points and 17 rebounds in Portland’s 70-69 victory over Atlanta one day after getting 12 points and 18 boards vs. Chicago. Josh Akognon, Mavericks. The 5-foot-11 guard from Cal State-Fullerton was a sparkplug off the Dallas bench, scoring 24 points in 24:50 in a 95-89 victory over the L.A. Clippers.
Rookie of the day (after Cooley): Dennis Schroder, Hawks. He has been valued more for his defense than anything else, but the Atlanta point guard got to the line, sank 7-for-8 and wound up with 16 points despite 4-for-11 shooting from the floor (1-for-5 from the arc). He had five assists and three steals with (oops) six turnovers.
Other notables: Shabazz Muhammad. The former UCLA forward, whose selection by Minnesota at No. 14 drew some criticism, had his best day as a pro. He scored 17 points and sank three of his four 3-pointers in the Timberwolves’ 92-54 laugher over Sacramento. Muhammad had been sputtering along at 7.3 ppg on 34.6 percent shooting. (Ben McLemore, the Kings’ touted shooting guard, was back in struggle mode, missing all eight of his field-goal attempts.) C.J. McCollum, Trail Blazers. The combo guard continues to put up solid numbers for Portland, his 19 points just shy of his average (21.3 ppg) coming into the victory over Atlanta.
Coming up: The byes are over, the goodbyes start soon. In the new tournament format, the 10 top-seeded teams all were idle Wednesday but will take on the day’s winners Thursday (and in a couple cases, each other), with action starting at 1 p.m. ET with No. 7 Cleveland vs. No. 10 San Antonio. Once everyone has five games completed, the single-elimination feature kicks in. Starting Friday, losers head home and winners keep going, with the championship game set for Monday