Season Preview Essays: DeMarcus Cousins

DeMarcus Cousins of Kentucky University gestures after being selected=

There is a very good reason for the now 3-month-long-boogie that has been in Kings fans hearts ever since draft night of 2010.

You’re damn right I started off with a nickname pun. Because when you’re dealing with 295 pounds made of nothing but pure talent, he can make everything – even nickname puns – work. The only problem is how. Because even though he has the ability, the body, the everything he ever needs, if you can’t put it together, it could end up as bad as my pun.

You’ve probably heard it by now, multiple times. You’ve been reading it non-stop since 2010 mock drafts started to surface. The attitude questions, the motor issues, the supposed lack of conditioning. The abundance of questions that all boil down to the same basic concept. Will he behave? Will he be able to use his massive frame and massive skill for the betterment of mankind, AKA Kings nation? Or does this road end in nothing more than a pat on the back from those burnt by Tyrus Thomas, Michael Beasley, and all other “draft by potential” headcases that never panned out? Will he be pre 2010, hold up the ball, kill your teammates’ will to live, airball iso 3s Zach Randolph? Or will he be 2010, dominant post scorer, rebounder extraordinaire Zach Randolph? All versions of the same question. Of THE question.

And the scary part – both for Kings fans and for fans of other teams with aspirations of winning – is that he could go either way. We know his per minute rebounding numbers at UK were off the charts. We know he has every physical tool there is. Chances are, he puts up stats with the kind of fury usually reserved for baby dinosaurs. But as we’ve seen time and time again, stats never tell the whole story. I’m looking at you, season where Jerry Stackhouse averaged 30 points per game. And the narrative behind the dominance that is sure to come will probably decide just how quickly Sacramento reclaims it’s basketball relevance.

As such, most of what you’ve heard about the Cousins pick probably included two sentences of conflicting tones separated by the word “but”. As in, “the Kings may have picked up the best pure talent in the draft, but he may not be productive until he’s on his 3rd team”. Or, “the Kings took a huge gamble with the volatile Cousins, but might just strike gold if he behaves”.

And this is the challenge that Paul Westphal will have to deal with. We all know what DeMarcus can do – overpower all opponents with sheer strength, board like a monster, score/pass out of/eat all present mammals in the post. It’s pretty much a given. Questions such as “how many points will he score” or “will he win Rookie of the Year?” are moot. THE question is one that won’t be answered for quite a long time.

Is this question deserved? Is the headcase reputation based on valid fact or is it just conjuncture? I don’t know. Though I hold many of the reporters and scouts who reported of these issues in very high regard, I also wasn’t walking around the Kentucky locker room. I readily admit that I watched very little non-tournament NCAA basketball last season, and frankly, in the few games where I watched Kentucky, my focus very seldomly left John Wall.

So you’ll have to forgive my naivety, but I’m holding on to the hope that DeMarcus is, as he phrased it, nothing but a harmless big kid. Sure, kids get into trouble sometimes. But then they grow into near 300 pound obliterators that make opposing centers cry. And if this is indeed the case, I see no reason why the transition to the NBA can’t help DeMarcus use those rare talents for the better. Unlike at Kentucky, a place where DeMarcus was only relevant for 8 months or so, and where the ultimate goal was to win a championship and not successfully develop individuals (and let’s not even talk about Calipari), the main goal in Sacramento is to help DeMarcus be the best DeMarcus possible. Committing to that goal above everything else is no small feat.

One has to wonder, though, if DeMarcus is indeed a headcase, whether this organization is equipped to deal with it. One only needs to avert one’s eyes to Philadelphia and watch Spencer Hawes not rebound to remember how the Kings have faired with not-sure-they’re-totally-motivated-and-right-in-the-head-project-big-men.

The good news is that the lessons from the Spencer precedent seem to have been learned. The Kings hired DMC’s fomer high school coach to be an assistant pretty much the second they drafted him, and seem to have established a sort of “Team Tyreke 2.0” for their newest prize rookie. If you have yet to read the fantastic Sam Amick piece over at NBA Fanhouse about the team effort to build DMC into this league’s next great big man, you would do well to move over there and get started. The whole piece is a must read for Kings fans and NBA guys in general, but the point that I found the most encouraging was how much support DeMarcus has around him, how well adjusted the plan behind his hopeful ascension to the NBA elite seems to be. My favorite part of the piece was this:

The two resounding themes of Cousins’ plan, according to all involved, are humility and patience. Being humble means avoiding opulence even if he’s due to earn approximately $3.3 million this season. Being patient means remembering that no one expects him to help save the franchise before his 21st birthday, even if a recent injury to expected starter Samuel Dalembert has already sped up his learning curve that they would like to take slow.

‘The whole thing, the whole process, with my agent, and my whole circle, was to stay in the gym and to stay humble,’ Cousins said. ‘Most of the players are out buying their cars, buying their jewelry or whatever. I was in the gym, driving my rental car, my Ford Explorer … The whole approach was to stay humble.’ ”

This may seem silly, but for a player who was derogatorily compared to the likes of Derrick Coleman, this went a long way towards reassuring to you. Coleman was the poster child of what Bill Simmons calls the “too much too soon” era in the NBA, when the lack of a rookie scale led to overblown rookie contracts, and 19 year old multi-millionaires who casually threw money out the window just because they thought they can. Hearing that Cousins has the right people around him who are committed to keeping his head straight is a huge relief.

Of course, answers are impossible to come by at this point and time, with DeMarcus still boasting 0 NBA games on his resume. And while putting the kid in the right environment and between the right people is all great, the bottom line is that DeMarcus will go as far as DeMarcus takes him. The conditioning concerns, the short fuse, those supposed tussles with Calipari – they are as much a part of DeMarcus as is the dominating paint presence, the soft shooting touch, and the suprisingly strong passing game. It is up to DeMarcus to filter both his personality and his game, keeping only the positive, leaving the negative to live on in 2010 mock draft archives and nothing more. I want him to do it. I know he can. Whether he will is all him.

And even if things look grim every now and then, I encourage you to remember that David Kahn called him fat and out of shape. Which means that at the very least, fate is on his side.


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