The last month of basketball for the Detroit Pistons has been unpredictable, due to a multitude of lineup changes. They’ve trotted out several new starting lineups, and gone to the end of their bench because of injuries and rest.
The constant movement has made forward Tyler Cook’s game-to-game consistency stand out. The team knows what it’s going to get from him every night. He defends, rebounds and attacks the rim on offense, repeatedly and aggressively. His game is simple and predictable, and it has helped him carve out a defined role as an energy big man off of the bench.
Cook has only been on the roster for two months, but has proven to be a solid emergency option on nights like Friday, when the Pistons were light on depth and needed him to fill a bigger role. He had a career-high 17 points on 7 of 8 shooting and grabbing five rebounds during the Pistons’ 104-91 loss to the Denver Nuggets at Little Caesars Arena.
“I’ve just been trying to learn and get better every day, try to keep stuff as simple as possible, do whatever the coaches and my teammates need of me and just be ready when my name is called,” Cook said. “Just try to keep it as simple as possible, try to do my job every time I’m out there on the floor. I think my coaches and my teammates appreciate that.”
The Pistons were without Mason Plumlee (rest) and Isaiah Stewart (personal reasons) on Friday, leaving Cook to be an undersized center. He sticks with what he’s good at, and takes most of his shots at the rim, thriving as a rim-runner and lob threat. Five of his seven made shots were dunks, and the remaining two were short hooks.
Entering Friday, Cook had taken 76% of his shots at the rim this season, according to Cleaning The Glass. In a league that values bigs who can stretch the floor, he has stood out as something of a specialist. Among bigs, his shot rate at the rim is in the 88th percentile. He has only attempted two 3-pointers this season. Of his 84 field goal attempts with the Pistons, 33 are dunks.
His efficiency near the rim was needed for the Pistons, because they couldn’t hit an outside shot against the Nuggets. Detroit went 6-for-37 from 3, and its 16.2% clip was the second-worst of the season. Denver only shot 28.1% from deep, but the shorthanded Pistons didn’t have the firepower to hang around.
“They just wouldn’t fall,” Pistons coach Dwane Casey said after the loss. “We had some good looks. I thought our ball movement in the first half was excellent, our decisions on penetration was excellent and we only had four turnovers in the first half.
“We’ll take those looks and that execution to get those looks, because as you see in this league, you gotta be able to make them. They only shot 28%, it seemed like it was a heck of a lot more. That’s the area of our game. Some of it is fatigue, guys playing bigger minutes. We only had eight guys and that goes to your legs.”
But Cook’s performance was another reminder as to why the Pistons signed him through the rest of the season after two 10-day contracts.
“He plays hard,” Casey said. “He’s kinda an undersized four/five. We have to play him at the five now against JaVale McGee, who is 7-plus (feet). And guarding (Nikola) Jokic is not easy. Again, he’s a competitor, he’s a tough kid and he’s a kid that will be working in our program this summer to see where he is and see if he can stick with us.”