Over the first three preseason performances, DeMarcus Cousins has done exactly what he has done over the first three years of his career. With great stat lines and stretches of brilliant play he has shown us the high ceiling of his potential, while his effort and execution remind us that he is unlikely to ever reach that ceiling. Earlier this week I pointed out that new Sacramento Kings coach Mike Malone is splitting Cousins’ touches between high post area and the mid-post area while he spends most of his off ball time around the rim.
The time around the rim is helping Cousins rediscover his offensive rebounding prowess — Cousins has grabbed three offensive rebounds per game this preseason — but the fact that most of his touches are coming 10 to 20 feet out caters to some of last year’s worst tendencies. Cousins is still settling for mid-range jump shots that are simply inefficient at the clip Cousins shoots them. Also, his mid-post touches actually expose Cousins’ hampering tendency of not being patient or willing to work hard for efficient shots out the post. So Cousins mid-post touches typically end in difficult fall away jumpers or ill though out moves to the basket that lead to a just as difficult, contested paint shot. Cousins needs to be a more efficient scorer to prove worthy of his new contract. So far in the preseason, he has not shown signs of future improvements.
The touches from 15 feet away are accentuating Cousins’ ability as a passer. In the locally untelevised match up against the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday, Cousins managed three assists, a couple of which were highlight worthy. I have harped in this point in the past but one of the biggest benefits of playing Cousins away from the rim is that setups ability to use advantageous cuts from Sacramento wings. Specifically, Sacramento’s forwards will struggle to create space via their jump shots all season, but can still add value to the team’s offense by finding themselves on the receiving end of a Cousins lead pass to the basket. So far this preseason, Cousins has proven capable of finding these guys and a few of them — Travis Outlaw, particularly — are proving they are capable basket cutters.
Look, in the preseason it will be hard for Cousins to do anything ruin the good graces he is in with management. However, it is hard to not point out that so far Cousins — at least defensively — looks lazy, ineffective and simply uninterested. As a whole, it is easy to see how Sacramento is attempting to improve defensively under the tutelage of Mike Malone. They are communicating better; they are keeping the ball up sidelines; they are rotating on a string in their pick-and-roll defense; and in general it is obvious there is a plan at work and mostly everybody is on the same page on how to execute it. Everybody except Cousins that is. Over the first couple of games Cousins was frequently caught out of place, was slow to his rotation and at time refused to get to his intended spot on the court.
This is a hard thing to describe without visuals (League Pass, I need you now!!!), but when a big man is defending the pick-and-roll he has the utmost important job of corralling the ball handler, keeping him in front of the defender and away from the basket. The best defensive big men do this by using their lateral quickness and expanding their body to make use of their size advantage. Watch any top defensive big man — Larry Sanders, Tyson Chandler, Dwight Howard — and it is obvious the effort they are putting out to keep the ball handler in check. You can also watch Kings’ preseason footage and see Jason Thompson working his hardest to execute this as well. But for DeMarcus Cousins this is not the case. Instead of getting in stance, spread out and alert on defense, Cousins elects to stand straight up with his hands at his side not showing any urgency to cut off opposing ball handlers. This may seem like nitpicking, but if you allow opposing guards to get into the teeth of the defense via the pick-and-roll, your entire defense is compromised and it all falls apart rather quickly. Instead of Cousins addressing the situation with the type of urgency this scenario demands, he is content to swipe at the ball handler as his only real form of resistance.
Again, it is early and the coaching staff had just barely started implement their defensive principles going into game two against the Los Angeles Lakers. There is the rest of training camp and an entire season for Mike Malone to get the most out of Cousins defensively. Any improvement is welcome and will help the Kings defensively. One thing is for certain, what we have seen so far will not get the job done.