Culture of Hoops

DeMarcus Cousins, NBA All-Star?

Image courtesy of RMTip21/Flickr.

Image courtesy of RMTip21/Flickr..

There is less than a week left until balloting for the NBA All-Star Game closes and some are bound to be disappointed by the results.

It happens every year. In a league with an expanding talent pool, and an event with limited invitations, it’s a forgone conclusion that there will be worthy snubs.

At 23 years old, the ever-polarizing DeMarcus Cousins is having the best season of his career, but he may very well add his name to the list of the NBA weekend’s elite rejects.

A multitude of factors go into the players’ selections, which ultimately make the process an arbitrary one. Fans vote for any number of reasons, with no guideline other than to follow one’s proclaimed allegiances, while coaches have brief, but vague rules of their own to follow when completing their ballots.

Arguments of a player’s worthiness typically come down to statistics, but perception and preference are sure to weigh heavily at the ballot box, something Cousins understands and accepts.

“It just depends on what you’re looking for,” Cousins said. “Individually, I think I’ve had a pretty good season, but as a whole, our team is still behind. It just depends on your opinion of that person.”

If what voters were looking for in an All-Star were simply numbers, then Cousins, averaging 23.3 points and 11.5 rebounds per game, might be a shoo-in. He’s first among NBA centers in scoring and fifth in rebounds. Just take a look at the top 10 scorers in the NBA (Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, Kevin Love, James Harden, LaMarcus Aldridge, Cousins, Steph Curry, Paul George and Blake Griffin) and it’s hard to deny Cousins belongs in their company come All-Star Weekend.

Those last two sentences are where Cousins’ problems begin to arise, though.

This season, there will be no center position on the All-Star ballot, for fans and coaches alike. Instead, fans will vote for three frontcourt starters, as will coaches for the reserves. (The coaches get two “wild card” slots to vote for, which may be Cousins’ saving grace; and how perfect would that be? Cousins, a wild card if there ever was one, getting his All-Star recognition in the form of one of the game’s four wild card invitations.)

The number of fan votes gets the most attention, and, while it’s interesting to see who’s currently winning over the hearts of NBA fans, they don’t hold much bearing in Cousins’ situation. In the most recent voting returns, Cousins was 11th in the Western Conference and well behind the starting center spot even if it was still up for grabs. (He’d be a distant third or fourth, depending on what position you list Anthony Davis as.)

The alteration to the coaches’ ballot may hurt Cousins’ chances most. Night after night, opposing coaches have seen firsthand, Cousins overwhelm their teams’ frontcourts, but without the center position they’ll be forced to weigh him against the likes of Kevin Love and David Lee, players that don’t share his position. Not to mention the wide array of talent to choose from in the West versus the concentrated East.

Another problem Cousins might run into is how people define an All-Star. To some, putting up numbers isn’t enough, but a player’s team must succeed as well, an indicator of the prospective All-Star’s impact.

Whether you think the Sacramento Kings have underachieved or are playing to expectations is splitting hairs; they’re one of the Western Conference’s worst teams. Although Cousins is having a standout year, it’s reasonable to expect voters may hold the Kings’ poor record against him in favor of someone on a better team, logic that Cousins disagrees with.

“I believe—when I was coming up, it was the All-Stars; now, I wouldn’t really say so,” Cousins said. “Some guys are All-Stars because their team (is successful)—that’s not an All-Star.”

A couple players whose reputations and teams’ success may vault them ahead of Cousins are Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowiztki. Cousins bests the two in most major statistical categories, but both of them play for winning teams and are currently ahead of Cousins in fan voting.

There are more important awards players and teams compete for throughout the year, but with the Kings at 13-22 on the season, last in their division and second-to-last in their conference, a selection to the All-Star team would be Sacramento’s biggest accolade since Tyreke Evans won Rookie of the Year four season ago.

With less than a week left to make an impression on voters, Cousins enters a significant stretch in his All-Star campaign, and fortunately for him, he’ll be taking his show on the road. The Kings embark on a six-game road trip today, giving Cousins the chance to make his case in various cities across the country, beginning with Indianapolis. There he’ll square-off against the Eastern Conference’s fourth-ranked frontcourt vote-getter, Roy Hibbert.

“You guys have known me long enough to know how I feel when I play these guys that are considered better,” Cousins said of the matchup.

A big game against the league’s best defensive center—how many votes is that worth?

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