Auburn Basketball: Sharife Cooper’s potential on full display vs. Alabama

Sharife Cooper’s collegiate debut for Auburn Basketball was as electric as advertised vs. Alabama. Here is a look at the flashes he showed, specifically highlighting his elite burst and court vision.

Sharife Cooper is must-watch television. That was the assumption before he stepped foot on the college basketball floor and was the exclaiming takeaway following his electric debut for Auburn Basketball vs. Alabama. The generously-listed 6-foot-1 point guard scored 26 points along with nine assists and four rebounds in a 90-94 loss against the Crimson Tide.

The back and forth contest between the in-state rivals was arguably the most exciting game college basketball has seen thus far in the 2020-21 season. Much of that excitement was a product of Cooper’s debut, who dazzled with pristine floor general play on the offensive end.

Auburn Basketball (who has gotten off to a rough 6-6 start) looked like a completely different team against Alabama. Despite the loss, there are still plenty of things to feel good about going forward and almost every last one of those things has to do with Cooper. He gives the Tigers a needed identity on offense and that identity can be summarized in one word: explosive.

Cooper’s game can be decently summarized by looking up the word “speed” in a thesaurus. He makes up for his small stature by being a lightning rod with the ball in his hands. He might always be the smallest player on the court but he is also almost always the quickest. That was the case against Alabama; the Crimson Tide defenders struggled to stay in front of Sharife and they paid for it immensely (luckily, they still came away from doing so with a win).

Those who saw Cooper play in high school should not be surprised by that fact; his elite burst is no secret to those familiar with his game. If truth be told, his speed is so in-your-face that it almost distracts from his other elite skill that was on full display during his debut showcase.

Cooper also possesses next-level court vision and awareness on offense. He is a quarterback on the basketball court, constantly breaking down the defense with his speed and navigating the chaos that his speed causes. If Russell Wilson were to have a basketball counterpart, then Sharife would seem to fit the bill. He at least looked the part against the Crimson Tide in his debut.

He proved himself as a potentially dominant half-court, drive-and-kick initiator. He was excellent at beating his defender off the bounce, forcing the defense into a 4-on-5 disadvantage and capitalizing on whatever that mismatch presented to him. Whether if it was a shot at the rim, a dump into the post, a lob over top, or a kick-out for an open 3-pointer; his combination of burst and court vision created an attack that was extremely difficult for Alabama to counter.

Take this possession as the first/base example:

After a brief size-up, all it takes is one simple crossover for Sharife to beat his man off the dribble. Notice how upright his defender is upon the initial contact; his defender has little to no hope of stopping him. Now, notice the three options Cooper has created for himself.

He can either: finish around the collapsing weak side defender his own, dump it to his own wing for the easy layup, or kick it out to his other wing on the perimeter (whose defender is also collapsing on the advantage Cooper has created). Evidently, he decides to take it himself, ending up with two easy points.

But what if the easy finish is nowhere to be found?

A few possessions later Cooper ran into that problem to much avail (as seen above). This time around Cooper acts as a pick-and-roll ball-handler and forces both defenders of the action to follow his pursuit to the basket. He hesitates his dribble before electing to attack the two defenders with his burst instead of kicking it out to his popping roll man. With one dribble he manages to get by both defenders, forcing the post defender down low to help.

By the time Cooper goes up for the layup he has 3 defenders attempting to contest his shot; he also has a wide-open big man by his side waiting to strike. He notices this and hits an eye-widening wrap around pass which leads to an easy dunk. Similar scenario to before, different successful outcome. Cooper’s burst again created numerous opportunities; his court vision and decision making capitalized on the best of those opportunities, again ending in two easy points.

Now, lets say both the finish and dump down low are not available.

Here, Cooper’s initial crossover is stalled hard by his defender’s hips, but he manages to squirm around and carve his way through the help defense to create an advantage situation. This draws the defending big to close in on him and leaves him with three options: he can try to finish through two defenders, pump fake and dump it to his big man, or kick it out to a perimeter shooter.

He decides to go with the lattermost option. He likely notices that a contested shot or a dump to his big man would be rather difficult; he also notices an opposing perimeter defender routinely rotating to the paint, leaving a wide-open shooter from deep.

Cooper completes an extremely difficult mid-air kick-out which does not quite make it to the wide-open shooter. Luckily, the advantage that Cooper’s drive created was big enough for his teammate to easily blow by his closeout defender and dump it to his earlier-covered big man for the dunk. Once again: a similar scenario, different successful outcome.

As a little bonus, since Cooper showed off his ability as a lob-thrower on numerous occasions during his debut, here is an example of said ability (which is working parallel to his elite burst):

Auburn should hopefully be planning to run more high pick-and-rolls with Cooper because it is a deadly action. The opposing defense is a lost cause as cooper splits the hedge screen defense, which he does so quickly that it creates a 3-on-5 advantage.

The three remaining defenders are forced to collapse inside on the action leaving a plethora of passing options (two lob threats, a roll man, and a shooter) for him to choose from. It was his speed that granted him with all those options, in which he ends up tossing it to his weak side lob threat for the alley-oop.

These examples may only touch the surface of the damage Cooper did for Auburn Basketball in their loss against Alabama, but they perfectly encapsulate the potential dominance he can display for the rest of the 2020-21 season. Thanks to his elite burst and court vision, Cooper is the prototypical drive-and-kick initiator. He is an uber-explosive playmaker who thrives off of the mismatches he creates. He did so against Alabama in his debut and he should continue to do so against the rest of college basketball as the season continues.

Cooper’s collegiate debut lived up to every expectation that could have possibly been presented beforehand. Despite Auburn Basketball’s loss, they have plenty of positive things to take away from their game against Alabama. Cooper’s explosive, “Russell Wilson-like” offensive ability (which is highlighted by his elite burst and passing) should sit atop of that list of things. Keep a keen eye on that ability as the 2020-21 season progresses as it will seemingly always be present.