The Idaho Stampede teammates are on the cusp of the big league. What can they do to get in there and stay in there?
There are currently two teammates on the Idaho Stampede, both of which are currently unaffiliated with NBA teams, that are looking to fill a similar role at the NBA level. Jack Cooley and Jerrelle Benimon are hoping to utilize their skill sets to contribute at the next level by rebounding, having a high motor and providing other intangibles to a bench unit.
Idaho has struggled to mesh as a team this whole season, as they currently sit at 4-26, the worst record in the league. The Stampede sport a -10.2 net rating as a team, and both Cooley (-10.7) and Benimon (-8.7) look poor in this regard. However, that says more about the struggles of the team than the individual players themselves.
With rumors that Jack Cooley is drawing NBA interest, is he the right Stampede big man to be signed to a 10 day contract, if one is to be extended to either of the two players?
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After four years at Notre Dame, Cooley spent most of last season in Turkey playing for Trabzonspor. After bouncing around summer league and preseason affiliations, including an unsuccessful training camp bid with the Utah Jazz, he found himself without an NBA contract heading into the 2014-2015 season, leading him to signing with the Stampede. Cooley is there currently averaging 17.1 points and 11.9 rebounds per 36 minutes, while logging 28 minutes per game.
Cooley’s most marketable skill is his rebounding, which goes back to his college days. He is particularly good here on the offensive end; his 11.9 boards per 36 minutes breaks down to 5.1 offensive rebounds and 6.8 defensive rebounds. Cooley is a relentless rebounder on both ends of the court, and will need to bring the same energy to his next team to give his unit a boost in this area. His 17.9% rebounding percentage ranks 12th among players with ten D-League games this season, and, clearly, any NBA team that calls up Cooley will be getting a great rebounder. But will they be getting anything else?
Cooley’s footwork and fundamentals are poor, and when these mistakes are compounded with his physical skill-set, he doesn’t project as a useful defender at the next level.At the D-League level, he is allowing opponents to shoot 60.1% within five feet of the rim, a reasonably average mark amongst forwards with at least 200 such attempts defended. However, he blocks only 1.9 shots per 36 minutes, again showing his lack of athleticism and length to be a rim protector. Without the tools to be a rim protector and the lateral quickness to be a perimeter defender, there will not be many players Cooley will be able to guard in the NBA, and teams that can’t hide Cooley on defense may have its patience run thin with his defensive mistakes.
He doesn’t have much to provide from a scoring perspective either, with many of his offensive possessions stemming from post-ups or offensive rebounds but not much else. Cooley is around a league average finisher at the rim at 59.49%, but with little from outside of them, and his physical tools do not project him to suddenly become a great finisher at the basket in the bigger and more athletic NBA with its considerably better rim protection.
While Cooley’s offensive rebounds often put him in great position to convert putbacks, he isn’t always able to finish in traffic due to a lack of touch on his close range shots. He is a below-the-rim player and can be bothered by longer players, as shown in the clip below. This issue will only be exacerbated against the height and length of NBA paint players.
His post game isn’t efficient, either, and NBA teams won’t be going to him on the block with any regularity. His footwork is poor which leads to difficult, contested close range shots, and again, his touch around the basket needs some work, as he tends to throw up wild attempts that have little chance of success.
On the plus side, Cooley attempts to mask his deficiencies by playing with high energy on every possession, which will be helpful in a limited role. He can provide a high motor, rebounding and screening to a bench rotation, which, despite his physical limitations and skill level, will always have their uses in the NBA. Cooley will need to find the right team that values the skills he offers but can also handle his clearly defined weaknesses.
Meanwhile, Benimon offers many of the same strengths as Cooley but checks in at just 6’8″, which puts him at a bigger disadvantage for his current skill set. Benimon wasn’t measured at the pre-draft Portsmouth Invitational Tournament, but his length doesn’t leap off the page and he doesn’t have great explosiveness, which has made scoring for him hard work as he has to expend a ton of energy to get good looks at the rim.
Despite his size, though, Benimon has become one of the best rebounders in the D-League as well, checking in two spots behind Cooley with a 17.8% rebound percentage, spurred on by being the third best defensive rebounder in the league. Benimon is a tough rebounder, gathering loose balls in traffic despite being less explosive than his opponents. He also has the strength to hold offensive rebounders off with a strong boxout to give him space to corral the rebounds, as demonstrated here.
However, while we don’t have SportVU information to quantify the amount of uncontested rebounds, combing through the video shows many defensive rebounds are uncontested, as seen in the second example below. This can be backed up by his average offensive rebounding rate of 9.9%. While some of the offensive rebounds are cannibalized by Cooley, this shows that Benimon may not be the best rebounder in traffic. Benimon deserves credit for crashing the defensive glass every possession but in a different rotation, he may not be required to rebound as much as he is in Idaho which would limit his contributions. Nevertheless, however uncontested they may be, few grab the boards like Benimon does, a testament to his position sense and desire to board.
Cooley and Benimon have similar rebounding numbers, but Cooley’s height advantage perhaps gives him the slight edge to project as a better rebounder at the next level. With both players boasting similar skill sets, this difference could be the factor in which player gets a shot with a 10-day contract.
Benimon, though does have more confidence and more skill offensively, especially when it comes to handling the ball and creating off the dribble. Averaging 4.0 assists per game in his freshman season after averaging a team leading 3.6 in his final year at Towson, Benimon handles the ball assuredly and often for a power forward; indeed, at Towson, due to being a better ball handler than any of the guards alongside him, Benimon brought the ball up and initiated the offense as a matter of routine in a way almost never seen of a chunky 6’8″ power forward. He also posted a triple double for the Stampede this season, a 20 point, 17 rebound, 12 assist game that is sufficient to immediately grab the attention of anybody potentially looking for a D-League big man to call up.
However, after four years in college and half a season in the D-League, Benimon still has not developed a good jump shooting stroke. He has taken just a handful of attempts from midrange and beyond, which would hurt spacing for most NBA bench rotations, and which limits the effectiveness of his ball handling skill.
The sequence below shows Benimon’s room for improvement. Given space at the elbow, he should feel comfortable taking that mid-range shot to stretch the defense. Instead, he hesitates before launching a desperation off-balance shot after getting the ball back which glances off the rim.
When he catches the ball on the elbow, Benimon likes to put his head down and bully his way to the rim. He is a straight line driver to the rim and has had success with this in the past, but will not be able to do so so readily against quicker, stronger NBA players. The first clips shows an example of how he can put his shoulder down and get to the rim, but the more common ending is in the second clip, as he struggles to get past the defender (Erik Murphy) before getting his shot blocked.
Benimon seems to have the higher ceiling with these more developed and more diverse skills, but is hurt by his inability to demonstrate a consistent outside shooting stroke. Teams have seen what he can do throughout his time at Towson and so far in the D-League, so it would serve him well to begin rounding out his skill set to market himself to NBA teams. His current situation, as an unaffiliated player in the D-League, seems to be a great situation to develop his jump shooting skills, which could make him more coveted among NBA and international teams.
As they currently stand, then, both Cooley and Benimon would likely struggle on a NBA roster to even earn time in the rotation, much less contribute on a regular basis. While they have tangible skills that will likely translate to the next level, their weaknesses will at this point limit them from becoming mainstays in a rotation. However, both are productive enough to have a chance. Cooley appears to be more NBA ready because of his height advantage, but his ceiling is much lower than Benimon’s, as Benimon is a more skilled player. Cooley may get his NBA chance first, and could contribute well in a limited role, but both have work to do before either will be extended guaranteed contracts.