The Sydney Kings’ Xavier Cooks already asserted himself as a star in NBL22, being selected in the All-NBL Second Team. But as his performance against Melbourne United showed, the 27-year-old is still pushing his game to the next level.
In the 20-point demolition on Sunday, Cooks not only offered additions to the highlight reel, but big acts at both ends.
While what will be most remembered out of this match was his poster dunk over big man Isaac Humphries, his game was so much more than that.
His work on offence was nothing short of spectacular. He finished the game with a team-high 23 points – shockingly consistent with his season average so far of 23.33.
In fact, Cooks has scored 24, 23, and 23 points in his three games so far. Coach Chase Buford knows literally almost exactly what he’ll get out of him game-to-game.
It is clear that he’s cleaned up one of the weaker parts of his game in his three-point shot. Shooting at a respectable 30.2 per cent from long-range last season, Cooks has gone 55.6 from three so far in NBL23, seeming significantly more comfortable from long range.
But it wasn’t just his shooting that was noticeable against United. He was just one rebound shy of a double-double, finishing with nine, along with a steal and a block.
Almost immediately after landing his highlight-package dunk, Cooks hit a big three, followed by stopping a Chris Goulding long-range shot before it had barely left his hands.
He drew plenty of praise from his teammates and coach post-game.
“He punched [the dunk] on that man real bad, that was probably the best dunk I’ve ever seen,” teammate Dejan Vasiljevic said of Cooks post-game.
“X is just an great all-round player. He can play point guard all the way through centre… he’s so athletic. I’m lucky to play alongside a guy like that.”
“He was obviously just in the zone in the first half,” Buford added.
“He’s fun to watch when he’s going. I don’t think there’s anybody that’s more pleasing on the eye… to watch when he’s on at full tilt. He’s a joy to coach too.”
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The Kings nearly set records in the first half of the encounter, playing a complete game on defence against a side with plenty of scoring power.
Xavier Rathan-Mayes had a brilliant start to life in United colours against the New Zealand Breakers with 33 points, but managed just six on Sunday.
Only Jordan Caroline and Lachie Barker managed to crack double figure scoring, as coach Dean Vickerman tried to find the best combination of his shooters on the floor.
United ended the game with a shocking 29 per cent field goal shooting, taking rushed long range shots for much of the first half as they couldn’t break through either inside or at the perimeter.
While the pressure let up after half time, the Kings coach was still satisfied with what his players put out.
“It was a game of two halves,” Buford said.
“What I was really, really pleased with the first half was that we were really guarding them. Second half, I really came out and put the clamps on us and our offence was stagnant.
“There was a little fatigue, we just came off a game the other night, that probably played into the tiredness a little bit.
“I saw DJ [Vasiljevic] getting up into them. He’s going to be hard to beat on defence on Goulding for most of the night.”Embed from Getty Images
In a strong performance of his own, Vasiljevic finished the game with 15 points (4/11 from the field), two rebounds, an assist, and a steal, while keeping Goulding to just seven points of his own.
Despite Cooks’ starring role, there was an even contribution across the squad, with five players in double figures.
Tim Soares (12 points), Justin Simon (12 points) and Shaun Bruce (10 points) all got involved on offence. Soares also picked up a double-double, with 10 boards.
While it was a quiet shooting night for star import Derrick Walton Jr. (five points at 1/7), he excelled in other areas of the game, with seven rebounds and six assists.
The Kings will return home to host the Cairns Taipans, who currently sit atop the NBL table with wins over the Tasmania JackJumpers and South East Melbourne Phoenix.
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