Sharife Cooper: floor general, offensive mastermind, and the crowning jewel of Auburn’s 2020 recruiting class. It’s not easy to instill fear into opposing defenses at 6’0 165 lbs, but Cooper is a terror no matter who is on the floor.
His highlights and accomplishments are all over social media, but how well do you know his game and what to expect from him at Auburn? I’ll run through film to emphasize the parts of Cooper’s game that I think are some of his greatest strengths and some areas where I think he can improve.
Cooper is a dominant scorer. He can score from deep, off the dribble, around the rim, in catch and shoot scenarios and he has an underrated mid range game that helps open up the court.
This was from Cooper’s 37-point senior season debut, when he made six threes. Watch his shot selection from deep, and how Cooper shows off the versatility he possesses with his jumper.
The first three is off a behind the back, stop on a dime dribble. He dices the defender up, almost lulling him to sleep before a smooth crossover that creates a ton of space on the second. The next three is a catch and shoot from beyond college range.
Notice how far behind the line he is shooting. Jared Harper-esque?
Cooper doesn’t use his mid range game as much as he attacks the rim or shoots from the perimeter, but it serves an effective purpose.
The first part is a relocation from a drive and kick out. He catches it in rhythm, turns and knocks down the fade away.
The second part is Cooper taking what’s given to him. The defense is sagging to protect the paint, so he takes an easy step back and drills the open look.
On the final clip, Cooper quickly scans the court from the post with the defense doubling him. With no passing options, he bullies the smaller of the two defenders and spins into a smooth, contested fade away. That’s hard to defend, and the threat of it is enough to make defenses respect Cooper in any offensive set.
Another mark of Cooper’s versatile shooting is how he’s able to comfortably take these shots while facing up a defender or with his back to the basket.
Cooper is extremely ambidextrous and takes contact shockingly well for his stature. His layup package is elite, and there’s no staying in front of his first step. It’s a large factor in how he was able to lead the EYBL in scoring as a junior.
Cooper’s ambidexterity plays a big part in his ability to distribute. He can throw sharp, accurate passes with either hand at almost any angle. His ability to score has defenses constantly shifting around, and Cooper’s control and vision allows him to feast on the chaos. Pay attention to how Cooper baits defenders into opening up scoring opportunities for his teammates (and enjoy some nice finishes from Devan Cambridge, No. 22, and Dylan Cardwell, No. 23).
This brings me to one of my favorite aspects of Cooper’s game, his pick-and-roll mastery. The way he’s able to manipulate defenses with ease as he’s dancing around screens is lethal. Example:
Here, the defender covering the screener flashes out to prevent Cooper from coming off the screen too hard but doesn’t flash hard enough. Cooper recognizes the bigger defender has some open court behind him and blows by him for an easy finish.
The second clip shows Cooper coming off a screen and seeing the defense forcing him away from the basket. As No. 10 takes a step towards him, Cooper whips a no-look, one handed pass to his open teammate cutting to the hoop.
Cooper incorporates almost everything I’ve discussed in this play.
Cooper comes off a screen from Cardwell with no defender hedging the other side of the pick. The defense is doing everything they can to stop Cooper from getting to the rim, which leaves them unbalanced.
Once Cooper realizes he can’t blow by the defender to attack the rim, he brakes with a smooth behind the back dribble into a pump fake. Remember when I mentioned the effective purpose for his mid range game outside of just scoring? This is it.
The fear of Cooper knocking down an easy jumper makes both defenders leave their feet immediately, creating an open lane for him to throw a lefty pass in to a wide open Cardwell for the easy dunk.
Defenses cannot defend Cooper on a pick and roll with only two players. The result will be a bucket or a foul almost every time. It creates a numbers advantage with Cooper handling the ball and can open up a lot for Auburn’s offense.
Areas of Improvement
Cooper is a well rounded player, but players can always improve. I think Cooper is a better defender than he gets credit for, but his on ball defense could use some work. He plays passing lanes well and is a competent team defender, but he can get into some trouble in isolation. Sometimes he gets too trigger happy with difficult passes, but that has become a less frequent issue.
Get ready for some high powered offense. Sharife Cooper is coming.