Hours before the Hornets and Warriors took to the court Wednesday night, Golden State coach Steve Kerr held court with the media. He addressed any number of questions, but the theme of the interview was glaring: How do you replace Steph Curry (who is out at least two weeks with a sprained ankle)?
That is, of course, impossible. Curry is a two-time league MVP and one of the most talented shooters not only in the NBA today, but in the history of the sport. He averages over 26 points and six assists per game. There is no replacing that production.
But the Warriors did not need Curry to topple the Hornets 101-87 on Wednesday. Nor did they need his replacement to try to mimic him.
Instead, Kerr needed a steady hand, someone who knows the team’s system, is capable of distributing the ball, and wouldn’t make loads of mistakes – and that’s why he tapped Quinn Cook, the former Duke guard and current G-League player, to start in Curry’s place.
“Quinn was fantastic,” Kerr said after the game. “I knew Quinn would play well. ... Quinn knows all the plays. It’s an important addition to our franchise, I think, really developing that relationship between the two franchises and being able to shuttle guys back and forth (from G-League) if we have to.
“Quinn is really a good guy for that role.”
It was Cook’s first NBA start, but based on the way he played in Curry’s stead, he figures to have more while Curry rehabs from his injury. Cook finished with a modest statline – eight points, plus three assists and three rebounds, in 22 minutes – but the numbers do no justice to Cook’s journey.
In 2015, in his final season at Duke, Cook won a national championship with the help of a heralded freshman class. But while that trio of first-years all were first-round NBA draft selections, Cook wasn’t picked. He instead ended up in the NBA’s G-League, a developmental league for fringe NBA players waiting for their opportunities.
But there, Cook excelled. He averaged 19.6 points his first season as a professional, and in his second, he increased his scoring to 26 points per game. He played limited minutes for the Pelicans last season, too.
Those performances in New Orleans were part of the reason the Warriors signed him to a one of the NBA’s new two-way player contracts this season, which allows him to split time between Golden State and the team’s G-League affiliate, the Santa Cruz Warriors.
Wednesday was his first ever NBA start, though. Cook had trouble early trying to assert himself as a scorer, including a nasty block just minutes into the game, but when he settled into more of a distributor role, he found a rhythm. He allowed Kevin Durant, who had his first triple-double of the season, and Klay Thompson, who finished with 22, to carry the offense, as they have shown throughout their careers they are capable of. Even when the Hornets rallied, cutting what was once a 26-point deficit back to a single-digit margin, Cook stayed calm.
“When the game got close, they (the coaches) were telling me to play my game, that everybody believes in me,” Cook said, “and that did a lot for my confidence.”
So there was no one standout play from Cook, but rather the consistency the Warriors needed with their leader missing. Cook wasn’t a superstar Wednesday, but he didn’t need to be, like he was at times at Duke and later in the G-League.
“I know my role; I know the situation I’m in,” Cook said. “When stuff goes on, just never be overwhelmed.”
And Cook showed Wednesday that he was far from overwhelmed. He steered the offense effectively and guarded Kemba Walker, the Hornets’ top scoring threat, with tenacity. Now all he has to do is keep up that level of play, and Cook should have more starts in his future – and that’s saying something when you consider the journey he’s been on.