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How Tyler Cook’s signing shows Nets still look for ‘diamonds-in-the-rough’

Iowa Wolves v Long Island Nets Photo by Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images

The Nets, rightfully, are looking at the present more than the future. Having three of the best players in the NBA in their primes will do that.

But despite losing two of their best young players in Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen in the trade that brought James Harden to Brooklyn —not to mention control of their first rounders through 2027, the Nets are still looking at development as a priority.

After the Harden trade, Sean Marks noted the Nets success with scouting and development, adding that he and and the front office will continue to look for “diamonds in the rough.” It’s no secret by now the Nets have been one of the most successful teams across the league when it comes to scouting, development ... and evaluating G League talent

It’s worked before with Joe Harris and Spencer Dinwiddie whose last games before being signed by the Nets were with the Canton Charge and Windy City Bulls. It hasn’t worked a lot more times, starting with players like Anthony Bennett, the overall No. 1 pick who the Nets thought they could salvage, and Clifford Alexander who went from being projected as the overall No. 1 to undrafted. Then there were the two prospects who the Nets acquired (along with a second round pick) in a 2017 trade: Jahlil Okafor and Nik Stauskas. Most recently, 25-year-old Noah Vonleh didn’t cut it. You take your chances.

Enter Tyler Cook, 6’8” (6’9” in sneakers) and 255 pounds, who the Nets plucked off the Iowa Wolves roster, signing him to a 10-day deal this week. The Nets like what they saw in him as a small-ball 5, athletic, hard-working and with a nice set of skills that includes ball-handling and passing. On Thursday, Cook will get his latest NBA opportunity, having been signed by the Nets on a 10-day contract. The 23-year-old is not a big signing. He’s a G League call-up on a short-term deal that will give him a few weeks to show what he can do, how he fits.

For now, the question will be whether Cook will get an opportunity to prove his worth as Marks and the Nets remain flexible with their roster, leaving things loose so they can sign a player who will get bought out after the March 25 trade deadline.

Still, Brooklyn is on the lookout for shiny objects amid the mud. In Cook’s case, it only took one G League game for the Nets to grasp the potential and envision him as one of those “diamonds in the rough” Marks talks about. (Similarly, Nets found Dinwiddie by watching him play against Long Island, as Mike Mazzeo reported.)

Cook had a huge game against the Long Island Nets in their season-opener. He finished with a dominant near triple-double of a career-high 31 points (on 14-of-20 shooting), 10 rebounds, nine assists and two blocks in 40 minutes of play.

Outside of the eye-popping stat line, Cook displayed great footwork, quickness, patience, and strong finishes around the rim as well as an ability to bully his way down the lane and in transition to the basket, displaying strong ball control along the way. Although Cooks does not have a 3-point shot, he shot 59.8 percent from the field in the G League ‘bubble,’ building a reputation for his dominance in the post and around the rim.

Cook, who went undrafted two years ago and has 13 games of NBA experience, did his damage against Reggie Perry, the Nets second-round pick, and Tariq Owens, a former Suns two-way player with potential himself.

Defensively, Cook displayed agile footwork and lateral quickness in addition to his stealthy switching while swatting two shots and picking up one steal in the process - attributes that mold well into Brooklyn’s switching scheme defense, highlighted by his impressive quickness and strength.

While Cook fits as a fun tool for Brooklyn to pull out of its toolbox, especially defensively and on the boards, his window of opportunity with a 10-day contract is limited, The Nets would be allowed to sign Cook to another 10-day contract after his first expires ... and the All-Star Break won’t count against the 10-day limit. Not a lot of time.

He’ll also face competition from the Nets biggest prospect, Nic Claxton, who is finally healthy and plays (basically) the same position. And as Cook’s 10-day run out, Perry will be back in Brooklyn after what has been a solid turn with Long Island in the ‘bubble.’ Do the Nets have room for three young bigs aged 23 (Cook), 21 (Claxton) and 20 (Perry)? We’ll have to see and the Nets do have ways of manipulating the roster to meet both their current and future needs.

By the time they re-sign Iman Shumpert and Andre Roberson, presumably on Friday, they’ll have 12 players on standard NBA contracts, three on 10-day deals and two on two-ways including Perry. Two-way deals don’t get guaranteed until March 7 and players can be moved from one contract bucket to another. Also, there’s increasing belief Shumpert and Roberson are competing for one job. So there is some room.

Development is tricky, but the Nets have a track record and it should be noted that Cook wanted to play for Brooklyn, presumably because he —and his agent— understand that. Players know where they’re likely to get a shot.

The Nets may not have anyone on The Athletic’s top 50 NBA prospects, but in addition to the three young bigs, Landry Shamet (23), Bruce Brown (24), Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (25) and Chris Chiozza (25) could all be considered development prospects. That doesn’t count a number of Long Island Nets players with longer development horizons.

Cook was averaging 20.8 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 4.4 assists in 33.3 minutes per game with the Wolves in the “bubble,” good numbers for the G League. Whether he’ll follow in the footsteps of Harris and Dinwiddie and, yes, Luwawu-Cabarrot or be relegated to the list of might-have-been’s is going to take some time, some roster creativity.

In the end, though, the Nets development ethos is still in place, despite their win-now strategy. They continue to invest heavily in scouting and development and the G League, Brooklyn, unlike the Lakers, the Celtics, the Mavericks, among others, decided to field a team in the G League “bubble.” Cook isn’t a fill-in. He’s a prospect. Maybe a “diamond-in-the rough?”