Seeing limited playing time in his first two years at Notre Dame, few could have envisioned Jack Cooley developing into one of the most productive big men in the Big East as a junior. That's exactly what he did, though, leading the conference in rebounding
per-40 minutes pace adjusted and True Shooting Percentage
, while finishing 11th in scoring.
A 6-9 center with a strong, wide and well-conditioned frame, almost all of Cooley's offense comes right around the basket. He does a terrific job of establishing deep post-position thanks to his excellent lower body strength, and doesn't have any qualms banging up against his opponent ferociously to carve out an extra inch or two of space to get his shot off. He also sets very good screens, and shows perfect timing rolling to the rim, having soft enough hands to catch virtually anything thrown his way, and excellent touch finishing off the glass, with either hand.
In addition to his proficiency finishing off cuts and pick and rolls, Cooley is one of the most effective back to the basket scorers in all of college basketball. He sees more than a third of his half-court touches in post-up situations, and scores 1.063 points per possessions on them according to Synergy Sports Technology, which ranked in the top-10 amongst collegiate players with 100+ post-touches.
He doesn't have a terribly diverse arsenal in terms of advanced footwork and moves, though, as most of his post-offense is heavily predicated on him establishing and catching the ball with one or two feet in the paint, and he tends to struggle dealing with double teams. NBA scouts may wonder whether he can continue to score in this manner against better competition, as the big men at the next level are generally much taller, stronger, longer and more athletic.
With that said, there is no question that Cooley's style is brutally effective at the college level, as he scored at a very high rate last season, shooting a terrific 63% from the field, #1 in the Big East by a wide margin
. He also gets to the free line relatively often, and makes 68% of his attempts once there.
Cooley is also a force on the offensive glass, pulling down 5.8 offensive rebounds per-40 minutes pace adjusted, which ranked #1 amongst all prospects
last season. He attacks loose balls coming off the rim with reckless abandon, showing a terrific activity level and great timing. Unlike his post-game, these are things which would undoubtedly translate in some shape or form to any level he played at.
One part of his offensive arsenal that NBA scouts may have questions about is his mid-range jumper. This isn't a part of his game he's asked to display very often, as he only took a dozen or so jump-shots all of last season, some of which he actually managed to convert. Based on the hesitance he showed taking these shots, it doesn't look like this is something he's incredibly comfortable doing right now. Considering he'll likely be asked to move down a position and spend most of his time at the power forward spot, this is a part of his game he'll probably be asked to develop in time.
Likewise for his ability to put the ball on the floor from the perimeter or make plays for teammates things he simply isn't asked to do as a center in Notre Dame's offense. Cooley dished out an assist on just 6.6% of his used possessions. To his credit, though, he is not a turnover prone player. He's simply used as a finisher, not a creator.
The biggest concerns Cooley will face making the transition to the pro level will likely revolve around his play on the defensive end. Spending all of his minutes at the center position, he really struggles any time he's asked to step out outside and guard a perimeter oriented big man. Looking very upright in his stance, and showing poor lateral quickness, Cooley has a difficult time bending his knees and moving his feet effectively, usually letting players drive right by him when being isolated against. At the college level his team can just go into a zonewhich Notre Dame often doesbut in the NBA that's not as much of an option. If he's going to transition to the power forward spot, this is something he'll likely have to overcome.
Playing man to man defense inside the post, Cooley is a little bit more effective, thanks to his strong frame and high activity level. He tends to struggle here too at times, though, giving up deep post position and allowing taller big men to shoot over the top of him. The Big East didn't have very many talented back to the basket players who could expose him too badly last season, but he did have some poor outings against some fairly undistinguished big men.
Cooley does show very good timing as a weakside shot-blocker, doing a nice job protecting the rim last season. He rotates very well inside the paint, rejecting shots with either hand, and usually keeps his blocked shots in-bounds, which is an added bonus. On top of that, he's also a pretty good defensive rebounder, ranking third in the Big East in that category on a per-minute basis last year.
All things considered, Cooley is likely to get some very strong looks from the NBA at the end of the season, provided his junior year performance wasn't a fluke and he's able to make some progress on some of the weaknesses outlined above. Solidly built 6-9 big men who can score, rebound and block shots and play both hard and smart don't grow on trees, so there's a good chance Cooley will get an opportunity to show he belongs.