Cooper Flagg Is A Real Guy That You Need To Know About
10:27 AM EDT on August 15, 2023
The list of NBA players from Maine is unremarkable, considerably shorter than both the roster of Defector staffers with Maine connections and the list of NBA players from Alaska or Hawaii. You have Duncan Robinson, and you have Rick Carlisle. Two years hence, that will change in a serious way, when now-16-year-old super-prospect Cooper Flagg gets taken somewhere at the top end, probably at the very top, of the 2025 NBA Draft.
Flagg initially planned to graduate from high school in 2025, though as he was born 10 days before the end of 2006 and because he just spent the summer dominating the very best high school players in the country like an NBA player at a kids camp, Flagg reclassified late last week. In doing so, he accelerated his path to the NBA by a year, and amped up the already-fervent hype around himself. Flagg has long been a favorite of the Ball Is Life set who primarily engage with basketball through short highlight reels on social media, though he is now on the cusp of breaking into mainstream popularity. As he will be in college next year (probably at Duke but who knows), the time has now come for you to learn his deal.
Flagg has racked up a pretty stunning list of accolades in his first two seasons on the prep circuit. He became the first freshman to win Maine's high school player of the year award as he led his small local high school to the state championship alongside his twin brother Ace and their older brother Hunter. The individual award and the championship are impressive, though the manner in which the Flagg trio won their title is very illustrative. Cooper dropped 22 points in the final, only five fewer than their opponents scored all game. There is a lot to be excited about with Flagg, primarily the frankly unprecedented way he affects the game on defense. When he helped Team USA win the U-17 World Cup later last summer, he notched eight steals and four blocks in the final against Spain, all while playing up against older competitors.
It's tricky to find a readymade NBA comparison for someone like Flagg, as he's a huge wing who protects the rim like Rudy Gobert and guards in space like a guard. Opponents on the AAU circuit shot just 40 percent at the rim in 24 games against Flagg's Maine team this summer, largely because Flagg blocked five shots a game and nailed extremely difficult weakside rotations with the skill of a seasoned veteran. Look at how many of these blocks start with Flagg out of the action, only for him to get to exactly the right spot at the right time and destroy an otherwise worthy shot attempt.
I look at someone as athletic and huge as Flagg—he is listed at either 6-foot-9 or 6-foot-10, though he is growing and his unmeasured wingspan is clearly longer than seven feet—obliterating the best players in his high school cohort and see him porting into the NBA as essentially the perfect power forward. The game is moving inexorably towards one-big offenses, making the four spot the most tactically critical in the lineup. Do you want a shorter four like Keegan Murray who is mostly just an oversized three, or do you want a huge four like Jaren Jackson who is really an overskilled five? You don't have to make that choice with Flagg. He can clearly make scoring at the rim a real pain, and his sense of timing as a help defender makes me optimistic about his ability to play in any modern scheme.
He is not quite as polished offensively, though he has a very smooth handle for someone his height. He doesn't do anything too fancy, but something I like about Flagg on the ball is that his head's always up and he's always looking at the rim, so when he gets even half a step on a defender out on the perimeter, he's instantly on the runway. His pull-up mechanics are fluid already, and obviously he is tall enough to be able to walk into that shot any time he wants. You might watch his recent tape and think All this guy does is dunk, which, fair! He doesn't have what would conventionally be termed a "huge bag," but also we just saw Aaron Gordon play a huge role for an NBA champion as a cutter, and since Flagg is 16 and has made huge leaps on offense every year, you have to feel optimistic about his NBA future.
This also makes the NBA comp tricky. Wing Anthony Davis? Huge Aaron Gordon? JJJ with some sauce? The closest I can get is Evolutionary Andrei Kirilenko, someone who will be a high-level impact defender and will be big and athletic enough to help contribute at a high level even if his outside shot isn't falling.
The degree to which zoomer-based hoops fandom has moved entirely onto social media is unclear, though certainly more people consume the NBA and get their basketball highlights and news from Instagram and YouTube and the like. Because of the bombastic nature of Flagg's game, he's extremely popular on these platforms—I watched both "COOPER FLAGG TOP PLAYS! ILLEST WHITE BOY SINCE BIRD!" and "TRASH TALKER GETS EXPOSED!! 6'8 Cooper Flagg RESPONDS with 32 Points!" Monday afternoon—and that's helped build his hype over the course of a summer where he regularly notches triple-doubles with blocks. He'll probably commit to a college soon, if he doesn't join the G-League Ignite, and the rumored favorite is Duke. Can you imagine if a guy from Maine named Cooper Flagg goes to Duke then somehow winds up on the Celtics? I hope to never live in that world, but I'm excited to watch Flagg continue to develop in the meantime.