By C.J. Peterson
Special to S.F. Examiner
OAKLAND — On Wednesday night, in an empty Oracle Arena, with the fans long gone after a 131-121 Golden State Warriors win, Quinn Cook — still in his warm up gear — got up shots. He hadn’t played a single minute against the New Orleans Pelicans, his second DNP of the young season and first of two consecutive non-participant designations that week.
Despite the fact that Golden State has been down a guard — due to Shaun Livingston’s nagging foot injury — the Warriors have opted to give minutes to productive wing Alfonzo McKinnie, instead of Cook. That doesn’t mean he won’t have a place in the rotation, though.
“We’ve just been playing Zo [Alfonzo McKinnie] in those minutes,” said head coach Steve Kerr. “Zo’s been playing so well that we’ve decided to stay bigger on the perimeter. We have more length defensively. But it doesn’t mean that Quinn is out of the picture”
Last season, the Warriors recalled Cook from the Santa Cruz Warriors — Golden State’s G-League affiliate — after Stephen Curry was hobbled with an ankle injury late in the year.
At the time, Cook was playing under a two-way contract, but remained on Golden State’s active roster for the remaining 20 games of the regular season.
In those 20 games — including 11 starts — Cook averaged 13.5 points per game and 3.1 assists, including a 30-point performance against the Milwaukee Bucks, which was the most points any two-way player scored in a game that season.
By the end of the regular season, Cook’s contributions were convincing enough to persuade the Warriors coaching staff to cut forward Omri Casspi in order to keep Cook on the playoff roster.
“We had the Steph injury and we had no choice,” Kerr said. “We had to have Quinn because he had played so well and we didn’t have Steph going into the playoffs.”
On April 10, the Warriors signed Cook to a two-year, $1.5 million contract, keeping him in blue and gold until the end of the 2020 season, when he is set to become a restricted free agent.
So far this season, Cook has seen minutes in seven of Golden State’s 10 games played. Averaging 4.8 points per game on 42 percent shooting, however, the Duke product has seen a steady drop off in production from the previous season.
During this time, McKinnie — another former G-Leaguer who signed a two-year contract himself before the season began — has experienced a breakthrough. McKinnie entered training camp in October and quickly established himself as a replacement for Patrick McCaw, who has been missing in action due to an ongoing holdout that began before the start of the season.
Thanks to his proficient ability to rebound and general understanding of floor spacing, McKinnie has earned a surplus of on-court time, playing 38 minutes and 19 seconds between two double-digit wins at Oracle Arena.
By putting up 13 points on top of 13 rebounds and shooting 70 percent from the floor, the 6-foot-8 wing’s production has been convincing enough to bump him ahead of Cook in the rotation.
Even as Cook’s role has shrunk, the 25-year-old hasn’t let the lack of playing time stop him from keeping up with his game, leading to the post-game workout on Wednesday.
“I didn’t even need to see that to know what kind of teammate and worker Quinn is,” Kerr said. “He a phenomenal human being just in terms of his acceptance of the role and his awareness of how this works.”
According to Kerr, Livingston may miss up to two more weeks, including Monday’s game against the Memphis Grizzlies, with that same foot injury. Depending on how matchups play out, it may be there where Cook will see on-court time.
“Lately he hasn’t been in the mix,” Kerr said. “But he’ll be back in there at some point.”