In watching DeMarcus Cousins play consistently this year I have been able to affirm a theory I have had about him for a while. There are two versions of DeMarcus Cousins, versions that sit clearly on opposite extremes of Cousins’ ultimate potential as a player. Good Cousins is a terror on the block, an elite skilled scorer and a quick handed, charge taking machine on the defensive end. Bad Cousins is a mid-range chucker, not willing to earn the best the shot on offense and unable to defend the paint with any effectiveness. So far this year the Kings have good Cousins 80 percent of the time. But that 20 percent is still lurking is enough to still give us pause. Let’s take a closer look:
Good Cousins: The Offensive Powerhouse
Going into the season, I thought there were three ways for DeMarcus Cousins to take his offensive game to the next level — that elite tier of back to the basket efficiency that only Pau Gasol, Al Jefferson and Brook Lopez play in consistently. Specifically, I believed Cousins needed to be more patient in the post, taking his time to earn cleaner looks at the rim; be more effective in his shot selection; and either abandon his dismal mid-range jumpers or at least restrict himself to the two or three spots he is most efficient. Cousins shot selection has not necessarily improved — his percentage of shots from the mid-range, restricted area and paint non-restricted area are essentially the same — but he is at least restricting himself to the top of the key for most of his mid-range jumpers. Cousins has been a more patient offensive player in general, though, and that patience along with the sterner selection on mid-range jumpers has led to an elite tier DeMarcus Cousins on offense.
Cousins has bumped his shooting percentage up to just over 49 percent, thanks to his improved efficiency due to his patience on offense. In the restricted area Cousins is shooting 65.2 percent at the rim (up from 61.7 last year) and in general it is obvious Cousins is working harder and more patiently to earn his shots in the paint. His mid-range shooting has also jumped from 32.4 percent to 42.2 percent so far and if he is able to keep this up — a big if at this point — his offense should remain at this high level.
Good Cousins: The Inhaler
Cousins has also remained dominant in the one facet of his game where has been consistently great since the beginning. Cousins is currently grabbing 29.4 percent of available defensive rebounds per game — sixth among players that play at least 10 minutes per game — and is grabbing 18.6 percent of all available rebounds (14th). Maybe more impressive, Cousins is grabbing boards on 73.4 percent of his rebounding chances — rebounds taken within 3.5 feet of him — which is the second highest number among players that have at least 10 rebound chances per game. I was hoping he would recapture his offensive rebounding prowess of two seasons ago under Malone, but even with his offensive rebounding rate still remaining low, Cousins has still been dominant on the glass.
Bad Cousins: The Big Sieve
As great as Cousins’ offense and rebounding has been, his defense has not improved — not yet, anyway — like many thought it could under Mike Malone. Cousins is currently allowing teams to shoot 56.6 percent at the rim on shots he contests. That is the ninth-worst figure among players that contest at least five shots per game and it confirms that Cousins has yet to make that leap defensively. In watching Cousins so far this season it continues to look like he does not have the lateral quickness, size, or athleticism to play a top level of paint protecting defense. The effort has been there, though, and I think this is simply the best we will ever get out of Cousins as a defensive centerpiece.
Bad Cousins: The Coach Killer
Mike Malone does not agree with me, however, and believes Cousins can and should be giving the Kings more as a defender. A few days ago, Malone stated that he needs Cousins to be a better post defender. Malone also sat Cousins for the entire fourth quarter in last week’s matchup against the Hawks. That is all probably a non-issue and Malone acknowledged that the rest of the team has to do a better job helping on defense as well. But Cousins does not have the best history with coaches and it will be interesting to see how the Malone-Cousins relationship plays out if Cousins cannot be the defensive anchor Malone wants him to be and Malone continues to call him out on it.
Good Cousins: The Not So Horrible Defender
And I personally would argue that calling out Cousins for his defense is attacking the wrong issue at this point, anyway. Cousins is playing hard on defense. So far a lack of effort is not the reason for his and the teams struggles on the defensive end. Malone and the Kings organization in general want Cousins to be a defensive anchor in the Tyson Chandler/Roy Hibbert/Marc Gasol mold. Cousins does not have the skill set to be that player, but he is not totally useless on defense either. Cousins is currently getting 2.2 steals per game — 12th in the NBA and third among non-wing players — and is also blocking 1.2 shots per game. Cousins has also not regressed in his abilities to take charges like some of the top players in the league. Cousins quick hands and instinct for taking charges have been prevalent again this season, and can be assets with the right defense around DeMarcus going forward.
Bad Cousins: The Lone Ranger
Cousins biggest issue this year, though, actually has nothing to do with DeMarcus Cousins. Cousins’ supporting cast has been horrible so far this season and that, more than anything Cousins has done, is the reason this team is the worst defense (107.6 rating) and ninth-worst offense (98.4) in basketball. Only five other players have been competent on offense so far this season — Greivis Vasquez, Isaiah Thomas, Ben McLemore, Travis Outlaw (cue theme music) and Jason Thompson — and the latter three players have barely logged significant minutes. Also of those five players Cousins has not played with the latter three more than 10 minutes per game and has only played with Thomas — the Kings clear cut second best player right now — 12 minutes every game. The Thomas-Vasquez-Cousins three man lineup has only played together in three of Sacramento’s six games and only play 8.5 minutes in those games, despite those three guys being Sacramento’s three best players by far.
The result is Cousins spending most of his court time with inferior offensive talent and being forced to be the focal point of almost every possession while he is on the court. Cousins is responsible for 27.1 percent of Sacramento’s field goals, 32.6 percent of their free throw attempts and 25.4 percent of their points. Teams have quickly figured all of this out and Cousins is consistently seeing two, three and even four defenders when catching it on the block. Their has not been much release from this pressure either, as only three players are shooting above 30 percent from 3 on the team — Thomas, McLemore and Outlaw; three players who Cousins plays less than 13 minutes a game with.
Cousins and Thomas are responsible for 45 percent of the team’s scoring and Ben McLemore is the fourth highest scorer on the team — at only 8.8 points per game and despite looking like a train wreck when doing anything offensively but shooting 3s. If looking solely at DeMarcus Cousins, things are looking up and the future is getting brighter for the big man. But for the Kings as a whole, it is looking bleak for a franchise that wanted to at least be somewhat competitive this season. Their is a long way to go but things need to start changing soon.