Now three seasons into his NBA career, Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins is unquestionably one of the most talented big men the league has to offer. Yet there is still plenty of room for him to turn that talent into better results on the court, both for him as an individual player and for his team.
For Cousins, it’s kind of a mixed bag. Some of it is ramping up his aggressiveness in certain aspects while toning it down in other areas. But the good thing is he has all of the tools to get it done. Now it just comes down to the process of maximizing that skill.
Here are a few things Cousins needs to address this offseason to maximize his potential in 2013-14.
Increase His Offensive Efficiency
If you look at most productive centers in the NBA, one commonality you’ll find is efficiency on the offensive end. Most of these guys don’t possess the agility or range that is present with most perimeter players, but they’re able to affect a game on offense with their efficiency.
Cousins, on the other hand, has excellent agility and range for a player of his size, but he’s lacking the same efficiency of many of the league’s top centers.
One area where this is apparent is his field-goal percentage. Last season, Cousins set a career high with a field-goal percentage of .465. It’s a positive that it’s improving, but it needs to continue to get better.
Just look at other centers like DeAndre Jordan (.643), Dwight Howard (.578), JaVale McGee (.575), Tiago Splitter (.559) and Robin Lopez (.534), and you see a big disparity between their field-goal percentage and Cousins’.
The same goes for his PER of 20.6. In player efficiency rating, 15.0 is considered average. By this benchmark, Cousins is clearly above average. Yet Brook Lopez (24.7), rookie Anthony Davis (21.7) and Al Jefferson (20.9) all rank ahead of him.
On the one hand, this is nitpicking. On the other hand, DeMarcus Cousins should be held to a higher standard because of the immense talent he possesses, especially on the offensive end.
Find a Way to Integrate His Game Better Within the Confines of the Team
Cousins is positively the most talented player the Kings have. Yet despite this, Sacramento actually performed better, both on offense and defense, when he wasn’t on the court.
According to NBA.com's statistical database, the Kings posted an offensive rating of 104.0 and a defensive rating of 107.4 when Cousins was on the sideline. Conversely, Sacramento had an offensive rating of 102.2 and a defensive rating of 109.5 when he was on the court.
It’s fair to point out the Kings were negative in net rating whether Cousins was on the court or on the bench. But the disparity between them and their opponents only increased when Cousins was in the game.
It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what leads to this trend. We know one thing—it isn’t Cousins’ talent. Therefore, it must be related to the way he plays.
On offense, it could be due to the team’s willingness to revolve its offense around Cousins when he’s in the game. His usage percentage of 28.1 percent is substantially higher than anyone else on the Kings, showing that he’s clearly the focal point of the offense.
On the one hand, that’s rightfully so—as the Kings’ best player, he should be the go-to guy. On the other hand, sometimes it becomes detrimental to the concept of team offense. And more often than not, it depends on Cousins’ willingness to take what’s given to him, rather than force the issue.
Cousins is a very talented passer for a player of his size, and at times he’s also a very willing passer. But oftentimes he gets away from that and forces the issue himself, rather than finding his open teammates.
Consider that over his career, according to basketball-reference.com, Cousins has averaged 13.7 field-goal attempts and 3.0 assists in games the Kings have won and 13.9 field-goal attempts and 2.0 assists in games they’ve lost. So it could just be that all he needs to do is stay patient, take what’s given to him and find his teammates when his own opportunities aren't there.
Become a Better Defender
DeMarcus Cousins will never be a bona fide rim protector like some of the NBA’s other centers. But what he’s lacking in length and leaping ability he can make up for with his athleticism and agility. In short, he has all of the tools to be a very good defender.
For one, his 1.4 steals per game is quite an accomplishment for a center. He’s also an excellent rebounder, bringing down 9.8 rebounds per game over his career. But there’s clearly something preventing him from being even better on the defensive end.
In fact, according to 82games.com, opposing centers posted a PER of 19.4 against Cousins last season. In one respect, the opponent PER is lower than Cousins’ PER. At the same time, the PER of 19.4 shows that centers are having above-average production against Cousins when compared to the PER average of 15.0.
Furthermore, his 2012-13 defensive rating of 106 was the worst he’s posted at any point in his career. It’s not the worst on the Kings, but it clearly shows there’s room for improvement.
That’s not even mentioning the team’s defensive performance, which as previously noted gets worse when he’s on the court. There’s no statistical trend to point to that gives a definitive reason for why that happens.
However, one thing that comes to mind from watching games is the numerous possessions where the Kings have to defend short-handed because Cousins is slow getting up the court as he’s busy arguing with the officials.
Whether or not that’s a contributing factor is difficult to say, but it happens often enough to at least make it worthy of consideration. It also points to another area that Cousins needs to work on this offseason.
Address His Temper
This is probably the biggest no-brainer of all. At the same time, it’s solely in the hands of Cousins. Short of suspending him for a lengthy period of time, which the Kings refused to do while the Maloofs still owned the team, there’s really no recourse they can take.
As noted by Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated, the Kings have recommended anger management and counseling for Cousins in the past, but he’s refused to participate so far. And in the larger scheme of life, his temper hasn’t been much of a detriment—he hasn’t faced any legal ramifications because of it and it hasn’t prevented him from ascending to the game’s elite level—so it’s well within his rights to not seek help.
The problem is that Cousins' temper is a detriment both to himself and the team. It holds Cousins back by jeopardizing his playing time—he was ejected four times last season, second to only Larry Sanders' five. He was also suspended by either the Kings or the NBA on three separate occasions during the 2012-13 campaign.
His temper also hurts the Kings by giving opponents extra opportunities. Case in point being his league-high 17 technical fouls, which undoubtedly give the opposition extra free-throw attempts and possessions.
In fact, it was such a problem that Cousins came within one technical of receiving a mandatory one-game suspension from the NBA. In actuality, he was called for the suspension-causing technical and lucked out when it was rescinded the next day.
It’s good to note that Cousins has decreased his personal fouls per 36 minutes every season he’s been in the league. He’s making progress there. But he still loses his cool entirely too often, and it’s the most important thing he needs to address.
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