The importance of Jack Cooley and JaKarr Sampson
The Sacramento Kings are mathematically eliminated from playoff contention as many experts had predicted to begin the year and the “tanka-pa-looza” race begins for many of the bottom feeders in the NBA.
The Kings standing at a record of 22-47 know the final 14 games of the season are about developing the young guys and getting them accustomed to NBA talent on a night-to-night basis.
As these young rooks and second year players continue to develop and gain experience, we see flashes of brilliance from De’Aaron Fox, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Buddy Hield, Justin Jackson, Willie Cauley-Stein and Frank Mason, but never on a consistent basis.
While this was expected in any young player’s development, where is that high-energy, blue-collar, rebound scrapper in that group mentioned above?
Yes you can include Garrett Temple or Kosta Koufos of your Sacramento Kings on that list but what happens once they are no longer there and the Kings finally have a taste of that playoff experience?
Majority of the playoff contending teams you see in the past have role guys built for the future such as a Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors, Steven Adams of the Oklahoma City Thunder, Patty Mills of the San Antonio Spurs or even Otto Porter of the Washington Wizards.
All tremendous players in their own right but one common theme that sits with them all, high intensity role players, exhausting everything they have.
They understand and accept that they aren’t the main option on their respective teams but realize without them and their scrappy efforts the team would significantly suffer because of it.
It’s a mindset, a feeling, an energy that propels others on the team to do the same and follow suit.
Seeing your teammate lay it all out there like it’s his last possession, his last game he will ever play, it’s contagious and something every player would love to catch.
Two journeymen that come to mind currently serving two-way contracts to play for both the Reno Bighorns and Sacramento Kings, Jack Cooley and Jakarr Sampson.
Jack Cooley, a 4-year player out of Notre Dame went undrafted in 2013 proceeding to sign with a few teams overseas after hopping back and forth between the Utah Jazz and their G-League affiliate.
Cooley set a D-league record in 2015 by gobbling up 29 rebounds in a game against the Los Angeles D-Fenders.
After playing one final season in Germany in 2016, the Sacramento Kings took notice and signed Cooley to a two-way contract.
Recently, Cooley finally got his opportunity to get some real time action in during a regular season game against the Orlando Magic as Coach Joerger elected to rest some of his veteran big men.
In Cooley fashion, while smaller than most power forwards and centers in today’s NBA, showed why he deserves that 15th spot on any NBA roster.
Through the use of pure heart and grit, Cooley rumbled and stumbled his way to eight points and three rebounds in only eight minutes of action helping to lead his team to 94-88 victory over the Orlando Magic, giving Coach Joerger his 200th career victory as a head coach.
And although the sample size is extremely small and only 10 minutes of action in two appearances overall this season, Cooley has provided a player efficiency rating of 48.0 a number not many players are able to achieve regardless of the amount of time played on an NBA court.
Koufos and the rest of the Sacramento Kings bench showed their support waving towels and chest bumping each and every time Cooley was fighting down low for defensive rebounds or scoring his beautiful lob layups, giving everything he had for the betterment of the team.
The high intensity and awareness Cooley displays is something to commend as normal rotational players have been cited for lack of energy.
We can only hope that this type of effort is being demonstrated by the rest of the team going forward.
JaKarr Sampson, who also went undrafted in 2014 after playing three years for St. John’s has spent time with the Philadelphia 76ers, Denver Nuggets and Sacramento Kings on two-way contracts between their G-league affiliates in his 4-year professional career.
Being from Cleveland, Ohio, Sampson has notably trained with LeBron James in the offseason to help with his overall game and making an NBA roster on a consistent basis.
Kings fans have already learned in 14 games of action, Sampson is a grind-out player and isn’t scared of anyone he faces whenever presented with the opportunity.
After getting word that he would start against the Cavaliers early in the year, Sampson provided the team with a career high 16 rebounds in the loss 101-95.
After the game when asked about Sampson’s assessment of his play, he had this to say.
“I want to be that energy guy out there, that guy goes out there and do all the dirty stuff,” Sampson said. “Get my hands dirty, lock up the best player, grab rebounds, make it easy for my teammates. And that’s what I’m good at and that’s the type of player I am.”
Displaying unearthly dunks over defenders, using that 7 foot wingspan to send opposing teams shots into the stands, or even getting posturized himself, nothing seems to phase the young 24 year old still trying to find his way in this league.
Early in the year Coach Joerger reiterated, “He has a body that we need – an athletic, 6-foot-8 guy who can play a couple of positions. It’s a little easier for him to stand in front of some versatile dudes, some drivers and some physical guys. He was ready for the moment and I think we’ll be seeing more of him.”
This season while honoring his two-way contract, Sampson managed to earn an All-Star selection with the G-league affiliate Reno Bighorns while also receiving action in 14 games and three starts for the Sacramento Kings.
In those 14 games, Sampson provided an impressive player efficiency rating of 15.5 when you consider the amount of back and forth between the G-league and NBA and getting to know the styles of play each of his teammates provide.
While these guys won’t take the Kings to the NBA playoffs alone, there needs to be more players like Cooley and Sampson fighting this hard for the team on a night-to-night basis to become competitive once again.
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