Sharife Cooper has been racking up the accolades with the Cleveland Charge. This season, he has been named G League player of the week twice, player of the month and was named a starter in the Next Up Game.
Despite the impressive achievements, the former Auburn Tiger is still waiting for a call up to the next level this season. The lack of one hasn’t defined his season thus far.
“It’s definitely a success,” Cooper says when asked about whether this season could be considered successful so far even though it hasn’t resulted in any time in the NBA. “I try to just control what I can control. Anything I can’t, I try not to get too caught up into it. Coming out here and playing basketball is all that I can control. Whatever happens, whether it’s a call up, whether it’s not a call up. I’ll be satisfied with playing good basketball.”
“I’m super ready. I’m ready right now,” he says, ”I can’t wait.”
“Right now? He’s ready,” Gerriy say. “He’s had an MVP type season for this league. He’s done it consistently night in and night out. I’m hopeful that he gets his opportunity because I feel like he’s really embraced the situation. I’m thankful that we’ve had such a good group, but I’m hopeful he’s going to be able to get his chance.”
Cooper has easily been the Charge’s most impressive offensive player. Through 33 games, he’s averaging 23.5 points, 7.2 assists and 4.8 turnovers per game on .470/.367/.833 shooting splits. The Charge have also played their best basketball of the season with Cooper on the floor. They’re 23-10 in games he plays while being 2-5 without him. This has led to Cooper posting a team-high 5.5 net rating.
One person who admires Cooper’s ability is Charge assistant coach Daniel “Booby” Gibson. The former Cavalier guard’s face lights up when asked about Cooper’s game. “He’s just incredible. The kid can do everything,” said Gibson. “The way he’s shot the ball this year is big for him. I know he wanted to improve on his jump shot. The three ball is looking good.”
The Charge have provided the infrastructure needed for Cooper to be the best version of himself. While the team lacks other on-ball creators, they have surrounded him with knock-down shooters like Sam Merrill (43.5%) and Nate Hinton (38.1%) and imposing bigs in the paint in Isaiah Mobley, Jamorko Pickett and Mamadi Diakite when he’s with the team.
This, and the off-the-court fit with the coaching staff is something Cooper readily admits has made this a good pairing.
“I feel like they’ve allowed me to be myself on the basketball court,” he says. “They push me to be myself. They give me confidence. They instill confidence in me. They put me in a position to make plays with the player I am. They allow me to play my game and they’re helping me play my game. That’s all you can ask for.”
Regardless of the success Cooper has had, there are valid concerns about his game that have kept him from latching onto an NBA roster despite being a second-round pick and on a two-way deal with the Atlanta Hawks last season. There just isn’t a big market for 6’1” score-first point guards who aren’t great playmakers and don’t have the tools to be good defenders.
Gibson, who also faced similar questions coming into the league, wants to see Cooper become a better game manager.
“When he gets to the next level, he won’t get the 30 or 40 minutes he’s getting here. So he’s going to have to be able to be efficient with those minutes and be able to run his team and get his team in position,” said Gibson. “Just continuing to work on being that floor general and that guy the coach trusts giving the ball to with the second unit.”
“Finding that balance between being that aggressive scoring guard that he can always be, but at the same time being a facilitator that gets others involved is something he’s going to be called upon at the next level. He understands that,” Geritty says. “Continuing to take care of the basketball and continuing his leadership role. Point guards just have a responsibility. They have the ball in their hands and they’re at the top of the defense. They’re the talent centers. The guys look to them.”’
It’s easy to point out what Cooper’s limitations are. He competes defensively, but doesn’t have the physical attributes to be a consistently good defender. The turnovers are and have been an issue for him as his assist to turnover ratio is currently 1.52 and was 1.75 last season with the College Park Skyhawks on top of not always being a prototypical floor general.
Cooper doesn’t let those criticisms bother him. When asked what his response would be to someone who questions his game because of those he said, “I don’t really have a counter honestly. I like to show it more than I like to talk about it. You think I can’t play defense? Come watch me play and you’ll see I can play defense. If you think I can’t pass or distribute then ask my teammates if I can pass and distribute.
“So, I don’t get too caught up in what naysayers are saying. Nine times out of ten they don’t watch basketball. They’re looking at a stat sheet and judging off of that. It is what it is.”