DeMarcus Cousins is one of the more talented players in the NBA. We are talking two-way talent here, one of the very few big men who can impact the game at both ends of the floor and do it while in cruise control.
The fifth overall pick in the 2010 draft, Cousins has shown glimpses of being a franchise player at the Sacramento Kings and earned All-NBA second team honours last season.
The man they call ‘Boogie’ has career averages of 18.9 points and 10.6 rebounds, as well as more than a steal and a block a game. Last season he raised his numbers to career-high levels across the board despite missing 23 games through viral meningitis and other injuries.
Those numbers were impressive – 24.1 points, 12.7 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.8 blocks. While Sacramento struggled to 29-53, it seemed on the surface that Cousins could hardly have done any more to help the team.
Fast forward to 2015-16 and changes were afoot as veteran head coach George Karl was appointed by the Kings. Cousins and Karl clashed early and have clashed often.
The NBA is an ego-driven sport and the coach and star players sometimes don’t see eye to eye, but this unhappy marriage has been headline news that Sacramento could do without. As a leader, Cousins should know better than putting himself in a situation such as the one reported here.
It is commonly believed that the old-school methods of Karl do not complement today’s NBA, and that may have some basis as a theory. But to blame the coach is tiring and some responsibility for the soap opera that is the Sacramento Kings must sit with the players, and the best player in this team is Cousins.
Most would agree things could have been handled better by all involved from the coaching staff to players and ownership, but perhaps Cousins is simply not a leader, nor will he ever be. Hold that thought.
Fans love statistics and use them as a staple of their sports diet, but they can often be taken out of context. Cousins is a case in point – a quick glance at his output shows a career-high scoring average of 25.1 points per game to go with 10.7 rebounds and 24 successful three-pointers, another string to an impressive bow.
Look closer, however, and you see a career-low shooting percentage of 40.8 per cent and an average of just 20.4 points per game on 36.1 per cent shooting in Sacramento losses.
Cousins’ usage rate, which refers to the percentage of a team’s offensive possessions that a player uses while on court is 35.1, which leads the league among regular players. This is not surprising as Cousins is the focal point of one of the higher scoring offences in the league.
But take a look at the efficiency ratings and they paint a different picture – Cousins ranks just 24th among regular players in player impact efficiency (PIE) and 89th of 151 players who have played more than 25 minutes a game in Net Rating, which is the difference between a player’s offensive and defensive rating when on court.
For comparison, the leaders in both Net Rating and PIE include Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, Kawhi Leonard, Tim Duncan and Anthony Davis. Put simply, both statistics are a very good measure of the effectiveness and excellence of an NBA player.
These player rating statistics do not befit an All-Star, far less one in a situation like Sacramento. Cousins is anchoring a team scoring 104.8 points per game but doing so at a mid-range shooting and offensive efficiency.
At the other end of the floor Sacramento are putrid, conceding 108.8 points per game (second worst in the league) and allowing opponents to lead the league in shooting percentage and rank third in offensive efficiency. As the best defensive player and a supposed leader on this team, much of the blame for the defensive deficiencies rests with Cousins. Defence is effort, hustle and system and those first two are not on show in Sacramento at the moment.
Now in his sixth season and the undisputed face of the franchise, Cousins should have matured into a leader by now. Listen to him talk and there is no doubt he is making an attempt to say the right things as he did just yesterday.
But talk is cheap and Cousins should be focusing on his actions. This is a roster built around him and arguably as devoid of leadership as any team this side of Philadelphia. The veterans on the roster are Caron Butler, Darren Collison and Rajon Rondo, which is a mix of solid citizens and well-documented problem children, and the onus is squarely on Cousins that he can be the former after a half decade of being the latter.
The Sacramento Kings are a toxic franchise, mired in a history of on-court failures and off-court drama. In some ways Cousins may be the perfect match.
For all his skill and all the team’s potential, both player and team remain the Ying to the Yang of San Antonio and Tim Duncan. It may be a little unfair to compare the precocious Cousins to an all-time legend and arguably the most successful franchise in the modern NBA, but the skill sets of this troubled young star compare very favourably to those of the veteran Duncan.
With even a scrap of Duncan’s humility and leadership, Cousins would improve exponentially as a player.
The statistics are good and Cousins will likely leverage those numbers to sign a maximum deal when he comes out of contract in 2018 and in today’s NBA he will deserve getting paid.
The choice of whether he goes down as being a generational leader in numbers only remains his and his alone, injuries pending. Nothing the NBA world has seen in his actions tells us he wants to be a leader or a winner, and maybe he needs to leave Sacramento to be one (or both).
Or perhaps he is just not cut out to be either.