Foul trouble still limiting DeMarcus Cousins in fourth NBA season

DeMarcus Cousins takes a breather against the Toronto Raptors. (Photo: Tobin Halsey)

He’s just 23, but DeMarcus Cousins already ranks as one of the NBA’s top centers. Naturally as he improves, the Kings increasingly rely upon his production, but the phenomenally talented young center’s propensity to get into early foul trouble in his fourth NBA season continues to both limit his playing time and the Kings’ success.

A month prior to the start of the season, Kings ownership signed the Kentucky product to a four-year, $62-million contract extension. Certainly, there were critics who believed the move wasn’t wise, but the Kings’ faith was quickly rewarded. This season, Cousins is averaging a career-high 22.3 points on 48.7 percent shooting along with 11.8 rebounds a night. He’s recorded 42 double-doubles in 58 games.

Though Cousins continues to progress rapidly, his three most glaring problems consist of leading the league in fouls committed per game (3.9), turning the ball over too often (4.0 turnovers per 36 minutes), and accumulating far too many technical fouls (15 to date, one away from an automatic suspension).

It’s no secret that the Kings are a better team with Cousins in their lineup. They’ve lost all 10 games in which he did not suit up either due to injury or suspension. Data from 82games.com also supports this common-sense assertion.

When Cousins is on the court, Sacramento boasts a 108.6 offensive efficiency rating and a 108.5 defensive rating. Without him, the offensive rating slightly dips to 107.5, but surprisngly the defensive rating suffers much more, ballooning all the way up to 112.5 points per 100 possessions.

Ideally, Kings head coach Michael Malone would like to play Cousins more than 32.2 minutes per night, but it becomes difficult when his best player fouls at the highest rate of anyone logging over 30 minutes a game. Even if we expand the pool to players playing at least 25 minutes per game, only Jared Sullinger fouls at a higher rate; no one else.

On Tuesday night, hampered by foul trouble, Cousins could only muster five points through the game’s first three quarters. He came alive in the fourth period and overtime, where he combined for 19 points as the Kings barely edged the Wizards in victory. Often times without Cousins, the Kings find themselves in a hole from which they are unable to emerge.

A week and a half earlier, the Kings fell to the Toronto Raptors in a game that featured 24 points from Cousins in just 27 minutes. The foul-prone big man not only committed two fouls in the opening 6:13 of the first quarter, but was also called for his third foul not even two and a half minutes after he was reinserted in the second quarter. Cousins’ plus/minus was +1, but the Kings lost by 12.

On Dec. 1, the Kings lost to the Warriors by two, 115-113. Cousins’ 24 points weren’t enough because of the five fouls that limited him to 21 minutes for the game. While he sat, Golden State outscored Sacramento by 21 points.

In the 16 games Cousins failed to record a double-double, the Kings went 4-12 and he averaged 5.3 fouls per 36 minutes. In contrast, the Kings are nearly a .500 team (20-22) when Cousins has recorded a double-double. In those games, he’s averaged a much more reasonable (but still high) 4.0 fouls per 36 minutes.

When Cousins keeps his fouling under control, he plays longer minutes and the Kings benefit as a whole. It’s been said before, but if and when the fourth-year center can resolve this problem, he will come that much closer to being the player the Kings’ franchise wants and needs him to be.

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About: Aaron Fischman

Fischman is an editor and contributing feature writer for Cowbell Kingdom. The Los Angeles native graduated in 2011 from UC Davis with his Bachelor's Degree in Political Science and Communication and received his Master's in Print and Digital Journalism from USC's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism in 2013. Besides CK, Fischman has covered the WNBA's Los Angeles Sparks for SLAM and the Clippers for Clipper Blog, an ESPN.com TrueHoop Network Affiliate.