Culture of Hoops

Sonny’s Top 50 NBA Players: #13 DeMarcus Cousins

Resume: 24.1 points (5th in league, career best), 12.7 rebounds (3rd in league, career best), 3.6 assists (career best), 1.5 steals, 1.7 blocks (career best), 423 free throws made (3rd in league), 541 free throw attempts (3rd in league), 47 double-doubles (3rd in league), 34.1 minutes (career best), 47% FG, 78% FT (careeer best) …  Team Record in Games Played: 23-36 (6-17 without) … 2nd Team All-NBA, All-Star

Player comparisons fascinate me. Most of the time it’s a relatively pointless exercise that allows fans to lazily discuss a given player when they don’t totally understand or appreciate what they are. I’m guilty of it for sure; all of us are. We’re all guilty of making the textbook “Larry Bird” comparison whenever a great white college player comes along. Shit, even our lord and savior Gus Johnson fell into that trap:

Most of the time we’re making these sort of outlandish comparisons when a player is heading into the NBA from college, and that is typically why they don’t materialize. We have no idea of what they really are or what they might turn into once they have a few NBA seasons under their belt. My theory is this is part of the reason why the whole concept of a “bust” is so compelling. We’re quick to anoint guys the next Bill Russell (Greg Oden), Dikembe Mutombo (Hasheem Thabeet) or Pau Gasol (Yi Jianlian) before they were play an NBA game, and when they don’t establish themselves as an All-Star or all-timer it makes it easy for us to shit all over them.

Then there are the guys who meet or exceed the expectations we set for them, but their development goes largely unnoticed because they are simply doing what they’re supposed to do. Do you remember how Kawhi Leonard was being compared to guys like Bruce Bowen or Gerald Wallace when he came into the league? Or how about the league’s reigning MVP, who put some of his pre-draft critics on blast during the offseason:

Stephen Curry lived up to the hype of being a great shooter, but I never saw anyone calling for him to be the next transcendent offensive player. These kind of guys, the guys who continue to defy the odds and exceed the comparisons and expectations are spread all around the league. Some are late draft steals that made it when they weren’t projected to and others, like DeMarcus Cousins, blow their draft comparisons out of the water.

Doesn’t it seem kind of foolish now that there were concerns that DeMarcus Cousins would turn out to be the next Eddy Curry? Now this comparison seems miles off the mark, with the exception of the fact that they are both large human beings. Curry’s motor was either never installed or non-functional … Cousins is usually the hardest working dude on the court, one of the guys anyone who watches a ton of NBA would point out as a guy who gives a shit each and every night.

My theory is if Cousins played for a winning team (and yes, it is slightly unsatisfying that Boogie has been in the league for five years and the Kings have never even gotten a whiff of the postseason) he’d be revered by fans for his dominance and fire. Instead, the Sacramento Kings have been one of the worst and most poorly ran franchises in in the league for half of a decade and some fans and analysts have been quick to point the finger of blame at the teams best player. Cousins bitches at referees, dishes out nasty glares at teammates and coaches, and occasionally plays noticeably lazy defense. Until last season it seemed like nobody noticed, or rather, appreciated what Cousins excelled at; they just focused on the stuff that made him rough around the edges.

Cousins is a goddamn force in the post; he possesses an unfair combination of size, speed and skill that make him nearly impossible to defend with just one defender. Opposing teams absolutely need to send a double team every time Cousins gets a touch in the post, unless for whatever reason they felt comfortable allowing the most skilled big man in the league to attack one on one coverage all night, get easy buckets and get to the line time and again.

As I mentioned before, Cousins has his shortcomings. The body language he displays at times is troublesome and the bad habit of not getting back on defense needs to be broken. Cousins turned the ball over a ton and fouls even more (he ranked 6th and 7th in those categories respectively, and he only played in 59 games). Still, you can stomach some of those bad qualities if that same guy is near the top of the league in two key statistical categories (scoring and rebounding), plays hard every night and is underrated as a half court defender.

Cousins made some news in the offseason when he said of the MVP Award, “It’s mine to grab.” That’s not to say that he’s not skilled enough to take home the hardware or that he doesn’t have the statistical resume to contend. Per Basketball-Reference, Cousins averaged 25 points, 14 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocks per game on a per 36 minute basis, and he capped that off with a 25.2 PER, a top ten mark last season.

Cousins’ MVP candidacy depends on the success of the Sacramento Kings just as much as it does his own play. The Kings haven’t won 30 games in a season since 2008, two seasons before Cousins was even in the NBA. If anyone is going to take Cousins seriously as an MVP candidate then he’ll have to show that his play leads to wins.

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