The birth of a superstar: DeMarcus Cousins
Five games into the 2014-15 season and DeMarcus Cousins has arrived.
No, we’re not jumping the gun. The development has come over time. With a slimmed down physique and another year of personal growth under his belt, the former Kentucky Wildcat center is finally ready to ascend to the upper echelon of the NBA.
This is four years in the making and yes, it’s only five games of an 82-game schedule, but the light bulb is shining brightly. At 24-years-old, Cousins is converting his enormous potential into shocking performances and the result is a 4-1 start for the Kings.
“He’s a very very special player, a talented player” point guard Darren Collison said following Wednesday’s blowout win over the Nuggets. “The one thing I’m looking at Cuz, is he’s really maturing. He’s becoming a really good leader right now.”
Cousins has talked about becoming a leader for a long time. There was a time when he and Tyreke Evans believed they were the leaders of the Sacramento Kings. And coming into last season, it was Cousins, Greivis Vasquez and Isaiah Thomas.
It didn’t matter which players you inserted into the leadership hierarchy of the team, it didn’t work. Be it selfishness, immaturity or teammates just not liking each other, the Kings were lost. The chemistry on the floor was bad and the culture of the franchise was horrible.
But now there is optimism. Sacramento is off to a fast start, despite a grueling schedule to start the season. With every victory, questions begins to seep in – just how good can this team be and what is the cause of the spike in play?
“I think the defensive part is helping the offense,” Cousins said. “Us playing the defense the way we are, communicating, playing together, being on one string, I think is helping on the offensive end as well. Playing defense that way, I believe, helps build chemistry. We’re trusting one another and it’s going over to the other side of the floor.”
Cousins hasn’t always been known for his defensive acumen. He will never be an elite shot-blocker, but he has always had an intriguing skillset to work with. He has nimble feet and lightning-quick hands. He has led the league in charges drawn multiple times, showing that he is more than willing to sacrifice his body in the lane.
On the offensive end, Cousins has developed into one of the toughest players to guard in the league. On Wednesday night, the Denver Nuggets threw the kitchen sink at the Kings star big man and he destroyed them. In 22 minutes of action, Cousins finished with 30 points on 10-of-14 shooting from the field and 10-for-11 from the stripe. He added 11 rebounds and notched his third double-double in the first five games of the season.
“I always feel like I have an advantage, honestly,” Cousins said. “I go in with a mindset every night that nobody can stop me. It doesn’t really matter what team it is, I just have that mindset as a person.”
Maybe more impressive than the points or field goal percentage is the way that Cousins has handled the abuse he is taking in the paint. On the season, Cousins is averaging nearly 10 free throws a game. Teams can’t stop him, so they are resorting to hard fouls.
Historically known for his short fuse, Cousins has taken the “hack-a-Shaq” abuse in stride and has yet to pick up his first technical foul, despite having his headband knocked sideways more than once.
“I’m older now, I’m wiser now, I understand a lot of things better than I did when I was young,” Cousins said. “I can be man enough to say it’s a lot easier to stay relaxed, stay calm, when things are going well. I think the real test is when we hit adversity and I’m getting slapped around. It would be easy for me to say, ‘yeah, I’ve grown up’, but I haven’t really hit a tough time yet, so that’s the real test.”
In the past, Cousins has dealt poorly with losing. While the Kings are on a roll right now, their early-season schedule is tough. Over the next four games, they travel to Phoenix, Oklahoma City, Dallas and Memphis before returning home to face the world champion San Antonio Spurs.
The fifth overall selection in the 2010 NBA Draft knows what’s in front of his team. But this is a different DeMarcus Cousins. He’s not willing to jump into the Isaiah Thomas hoopla or get caught up in his team’s fast start. He has taken a page from the Jason Thompson handbook and decided to control what he can control.
“Phoenix is a good team, (but) I’m not really concerned about the matchups,” Cousins said. “We’re really concerned about the way we go in and play basketball. I’m not really concerned about the individuals on the team. I’m worried about my team and how we’ll go in and perform.”
It’s been a wild first week for the Sacramento Kings. Cousins is showing the world what he can do and more importantly, he is winning games. The accolades will come, but Cousins is staying humble and preparing for the task at hand.
“We haven’t done anything yet,” Cousins added. “It’s a long season. This thing could flip tomorrow.”
Kings fans are riding a high and hope the fun continues. With their team sitting at 4-1, they know they are the talk of the NBA. They’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time. And they have been waiting for DeMarcus Cousins, the superstar, to arrive. The waiting might be over.