“It’s my second season of losing and I’m not trying to get used to this. I didn’t want to get use to it last year. It’s time to turn things around. I had enough of it. I had enough of it last season. It’s time to turn it around.”
Talent has never been an issue for DeMarcus Cousins. In his second NBA season, he quickly climbed the NBA’s big man ladder, finishing somewhere in the top 10 and maybe even in the top five.
What has been the issue is maturity; something that Cousins worked hard to improve throughout his sophomore season. After an early season spat cost Paul Westphal his job, the Kings starting center instantly bonded with Keith Smart. The results were impressive as Cousins began to turn potential into production.
There is no denying Cousins’ talent. He has size, length and lightning quick feet for a player that stands 6-foot-11 with a 7-foot-6 wingspan and a 9-foot-5 standing reach. He’s not going to blow you away with his leaping ability, but last summer’s training program and dietary improvements reduced his weight, added lean muscle and increased his explosiveness.
Where did this explosiveness show? In his rebounding numbers. Cousins took huge strides in year two, especially as an offensive rebounder, where he led the league in both raw rebounds (265) and finished with an incredible offensive rebound percentage of 14.2 percent.
Our friend Greg Wissinger of Sactown Royalty wrote an amazing piece earlier this month, breaking down every single offensive rebound Cousins grabbed this season. The results show that an estimated 97 of his 260 rebounds came off of his own misses – a la Moses Malone. That doesn’t really change the fact that he outworked his opponent under the glass in dominant fashion.
As a defender, Cousins improved greatly, but he is still a major work in progress. What he does well is take charges and steal the ball. Cousins ranked first in the NBA in charges taken with 49 and tied for first amongst centers with Dwight Howard at 1.5 steals per game. So while the Kings would like to see an improvement on his 1.2 blocks per contest (good enough for 17th among NBA centers), steals and charges guarantee change of possession while blocks do not.
As a scorer Cousins improved, but not by leaps and bounds. Below is a side-by-side comparison of his rookie and sophomore seasons.
You can see that his field goal percentage increased slightly from 43 to 44.8 percent, but that isn’t going to cut it for a player of his skill level. He needs to take a major jump in season three and the charts map out how. In year two, Cousins attempted 18 or more shots from nine different zones on the floor and the same can be said for his rookie season.
There is no doubt that Cousins favors the left side of the floor, finding the area from the top of the key and the left elbow as two of his hottest zones. At the rim, he hit 58.3 percent from the field, but that percentage drops to just 31.6 percent from 3-to-9 feet out. It doesn’t improve much in the 10-to-15 foot range either, where he hits just 35.2 percent. So Cousins needs to improve greatly from 3-to-15 feet out, where he combined to shoot only 32.3 percent on more than 350 shots.
Cousins improved his turnover numbers greatly from year one to year two. As a rookie, he turned the ball over 4.2 times per 36 minutes, many times by beginning his offensive move before putting the ball on the floor. He was able to knock that number down to just 3.1 in season two, fixing many of the smaller flaws in his game. That number is sure to decline as he gets a better grasp of coach Smart’s offense in year three.
In year two, Cousins put up an impressive line of 18.1 points and 11 rebounds, with 36 double-doubles and a Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of 21.7. He is one of the best up-and-coming big men in the league and surely will improve. Spending the summer with the USA Select Team should do wonders for his development as well.
While the team sided with Cousins over Westphal early in the season, he still had his issues from time to time under coach Smart. There was a locker room flare up with a cameraman, an alleged “sexting” incident and 12 technical fouls that showed he isn’t quite ready to be the face of the franchise.
It should be noted that off the court, Cousins had no legal issues and in fact, he was known to spend plenty of time visiting children in hospitals and doing other charitable acts in the community.
On the court, Cousins still has some major room for growth, which is both exciting and frustrating in the same breath.
On the offensive end, Cousins shot 475 jump shots, but hit only157 of them for a shooting percentage of 33.1 percent. Shot selection is a major issue that he needs to work long and hard at. The shot charts are all over the place, much like a lot of the other young Kings. In year three, Cousins needs to stick to two or three moves in the post, improve his jump shooting and make better decisions.
Defensively, he needs to move his feet instead of reaching in and reduce his fouls greatly. Per 36 minutes, Cousins averaged 21.4 points and 13 rebounds per game. Those are All-Star caliber numbers, but Cousins didn’t and couldn’t play 36 minutes a night because for the second season in a row, he led the league in personal fouls. While he reduced his fouls per 36 minutes from 5.2 to 4.7, this number has a long way to go.
Improved conditioning led to exciting results in year two, but there is still more he can improve Cousins could easily play 15 pounds lighter than his current weight, which would lead to even more opportunities around the basket on both ends of the floor. Although his weight and conditioning was a major concern in year one, I expect Cousins to continue improvement in this area as he matures. He isn’t afraid of the work – he just needs guidance in this area.
The Kings could really use Cousins to take another leap as a shot blocker. While he has improved as a man defender, he needs to work on keeping his arms up in ready position to swat incoming balls.
One major concern in my book is that Cousins regressed as a passer from year one to year two. After averaging 3.2 assists per game as a rookie with an assist percentage of 14.7 percent, those numbers fell to 1.9 and 9.5 percent respectively. Cousins dominated the offensive glass, but again, according to Wissinger’s work, he rarely reset the offense, instead opting to go back up with a shot on 222 of his 260 offensive rebounds. While he passed out of the post, it was often across court and not to the easiest target. Cousins has the potential to be an elite passer from either the high or low post, but he has to be willing to share the spotlight and make his teammates better.
The Kings have found a gold mine in Cousins. While he can be surly and difficult at times, he is on his way to becoming an elite big man in the league for the next decade-plus. He is a cornerstone player that the Kings can build around and they have just scratched the surface of his potential.
Year two he took a step back before making an incredible leap forward. Unfortunately, this is how things work with Cousins. He likes to make and learn from his own mistakes and we should expect that trend to continue.
What intrigues me most about Cousins’ future is that his flaws are blemishes most players come into the league with. He will foul less, turn the ball over fewer times and his shot selection will improve. For now, the only thing holding back the development of Cousins is himself.
Cousins is the new barometer for the Kings. As he improves, so does this team. I expect changes to be made in the roster to maximize his abilities. The Kings need to add shooters and players that flourish in pick-and-pop and pick-and-roll offensive sets. The isolation plays need to go by the wayside.
Lastly, Cousins is being put in a position to succeed. Playing on the USA Select Team, playing for a Kings team waiting for a leader and playing for coaches like Smart and Clifford Ray – those are opportunities that are rarely handed to 21-year-old kids. It’s time for Cousins to make the most of his talents and stop making the mistakes.