- From playing on the G-League circuit to soaking up minutes with the Warriors, Quinn Cook has seen it all. The Golden State understudy reflects on his winding NBA journey.
A Warriors-Spurs postseason rematch was once highly anticipated. Kevin Durant cooking with Steph Curry sidelined was always expected. Durant feeding a fellow Warrior, curling off a pindown screen, is typically regimented; Quinn Cook serving as that teammate—draining a two-dribble pull-up jumper and extending Golden State’s lead into double digits—was, even very recently, highly improbable.
Cook will play a valuable role as the Warriors look to vanquish San Antonio in Tuesday night’s Game 5. He’s seen 19.8 minutes per outing during the first-round series’ initial four contests, providing imperative floor spacing for Golden State’s reserve units that often feature interior-inclined veterans Shaun Livingston and David West. Cook has earned Steve Kerr’s trust. You warrant quite a bit of faith after seamlessly starting in Curry’s place for 18 games, shooting 44.2% from deep and routinely scoring 20 points. “It was just a wild, wild year,” Cook says.
The three seasons since Cook went undrafted have been equally tangled. In June 2015, he thanked the dozen confidants who packed his mother Janet’s D.C. apartment after the 60th pick was announced, then retreated to a close friend’s car to cry in solitude. Three 10-day contracts, three unfruitful training camps and dozens of G-League connecting flights later, Cook has ultimately cemented his spot within—perhaps—the next great NBA dynasty. “Every phase of my life always hasn’t been perfect for me,” Cook says. “I’ve had to go through some adversity.”
At 14, Cook lost his father to a cardiac arrest. He found refuge on the basketball court, leaning on childhood friends Durant and Victor Oladipo, Jarrett Jack and Nolan Smith. He matured into a McDonald’s All-American, earned a scholarship to Duke, and the rest seemed like prewritten, storybook history. Yet college only presented another hurdle. The Blue Devils staff was unimpressed with Cook’s body language, game conditioning and commitment to defense. “It wasn’t smooth sailing,” says Duke assistant coach Jon Scheyer. “He had to grow as a person and a player.” “It took me a while,” Cook admits. “My whole freshman year was just me learning.”
After studying under Austin Rivers and Seth Curry, Cook started 34 of 36 games his sophomore season. He blossomed into the lone senior captain of Duke’s 2015 NCAA Championship team, flirting ever-closely with a vaunted 50/40/90 season. All-American honors came his way once more. An NBA Draft Combine invite followed. Only then were those welling draft-night tears shed. “I went harder after that,” Cook says. Invited to Cleveland’s training camp that fall, Cook shined within the Cavaliers’ internal scrimmages. He hounded opponents on defense, slithered through pick and rolls and drained triples off LeBron James’s passes. “He was killing,” says Ben Resner, then an assistant for Cleveland’s G-League affiliate Canton Charge. “It was almost like, the last couple days, we didn’t want him to play as well because then we wouldn’t see him [in Canton].”
By night, Cook returned to a basement guest room in Kyrie Irving’s home, despite Cleveland booking him a hotel in the city. The two point guards sparked a friendship during Cook’s fateful first semester at Duke, when Irving returned to Durham to take classes during the 2011 NBA lockout. While Irving rehabbed from the knee injury that eliminated him from the 2015 Finals, he counseled the younger Blue Devil. They tossed a baseball around Irving’s backyard, played video games, cards and Monopoly, splicing in film study amidst the activities. Irving’s penchant for improvement struck Cook. James’s unrelenting work ethic—arriving before every teammate each morning—was undeniable. “And this is LeBron James, two-time champion, at the time. It kind of puts things in perspective,” Cook says. “The best players in the world are working so hard, I gotta work even harder.”
Cook’s scrimmage brilliance never translated to Cleveland’s actual preseason competition. He was ultimately waived, rendering him one of the team’s designated G-League affiliate players the Cavs could secure on the Charge. For a point guard, life on the NBA’s doorstep can unjustly funnel players into a box. There are floor generals and defensive stalwarts and sharpshooters alike. When NBA executives label a youngster as a scoring point guard, it can function like a scarlet letter. “I thought his shot-making was always a skill that’s underrated,” Resner says. “He can really make shots and create his own shot and for some reason that gets undervalued.” Cook and Resner tracked Kobe Bryant through the bowels of Quicken Loans Arena when the Lakers visited Cleveland, one stop along the Mamba’s retirement tour, that winter. The Charge duo ultimately snapped a photo with the legend out in the parking lot. A scorer’s mentality always proves unwavering.
That unrelenting mindset powered Cook to G-League Rookie of the Year honors, but never bore a 10-day contract. Cook went to camp with the Pelicans in 2016, only to lose out on their final roster spot to the reincarnated Lance Stephenson. Another year in the G-League commenced, this time sparking a call-up with the Mavericks and two consecutive 10-day contracts back with New Orleans. A stable roster spot never emerged, although neither ever considered heading to Europe. “That never came into my head,” Cook says. “I knew I was an NBA player and that I just needed the right opportunity in the right situation.” “He turned down lucrative opportunities overseas to play in the G-League and work toward his NBA dream,” says Cooks’s agent, Jim Tanner.
After torching the Hawks’ summer league unit last July, Atlanta signed Cook to a guaranteed contract, effectively clinching that elusive security. The vision seemed like it had finally crystallized. Cook headed into the Hawks’ facilities for the off day following the final afternoon of training camp, running a few drills and sparring one-on-one with Tyler Dorsey and Nico Brussino. He returned home. The flat screens had just been mounted in his leased apartment. And then a phone call from Tanner disrupted the solace, bearing another round of unfortunate news. Atlanta had waived Cook.
His destiny once more pointed toward the G-League. Although the Warriors called shortly after Cook resurfaced as a free agent, offering one of Golden State’s inaugural two-way contracts, allowing players to spend upwards of 45 days on the NBA club while primarily suiting up for the team’s G-League affiliate. Cook shuttled back and forth from Oakland to Santa Cruz, often carpooling with Warriors center Damian Jones. Curry went down in December, then again in February. Cook filled the role as aptly as possible. “Quinn Cook is a fantastic example of how the system is supposed to work,” says Kiki Vandeweghe, the NBA’s executive vice president of basketball operations. In Golden State’s whirring egalitarian offense, Cook’s scoring and shooting prowess naturally melded. He shed the scarlet letter for a green light, complementing old friend Durant. “He’s fallen into the perfection situation,” Resner says.
With a left knee injury leaving Curry inactive for a large portion of the postseason, and the 45 days allotted within Cook’s two-way contract ticking away, Golden State waived veteran forward Omri Casspi in favor of signing Cook to a multi-year contract. A plightful decade finally in the rearview, Cook found no celebration in the moment. The Warriors faced the Jazz the following day. “All I was thinking about was that game. I’m always living in the moment,” he says. “Now we’re in the playoffs. I haven’t really sat and thought about it and enjoyed. I’m just focused on ending the season the right way.”
In Golden State, searching for a third title in four years, the only optimal finish culminates with hoisting a Larry O’Brien trophy. Should the Warriors advance past the Spurs, they will continue to rely on Cook’s understudy performance. Curry will likely be sidelined for most, if not all, of the second round, according to Kerr. When Durant finds Cook scurrying around a screen, he will be primed to fire.