Does DeMarcus Cousins Deserve to Be an All-Star?

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Does DeMarcus Cousins Deserve to Be an All-Star?
Rocky Widner/Getty Images

If we were living in an actual monarchy, LeBron James' decree that DeMarcus Cousins deserves an All-Star nod would have been enough to get the Sacramento Kings big man into the NBA's annual February exhibition.

But we don't, and King James' royal proclamation—while a nice compliment—won't earn Cousins an automatic bid.

James praised Cousins' efforts following the Miami Heat's 108-103 loss to the Kings on Dec. 27, a game in which DMC piled up 27 points, 17 rebounds and five assists in 41 minutes. It'd be easy to argue that LBJ was simply caught up in the moment and made a reactionary statement after seeing Cousins play so well.

The Kings center, though, has been highly productive all season.

Cousins is putting together his best year to date by a wide margin. He's averaging career highs in points, rebounds, assists and steals per game. Most importantly, he's shooting a respectable 49 percent from the field—a vast improvement from his career accuracy rate of 45 percent.

James can't get Cousins into the All-Star Game himself, but the fact that DMC's peers—influential ones, at that—are speaking so highly of him means it's time to reopen the discussion of his actual value. In the process, we'll wind up with a clearer view of his All-Star worthiness.

 

A Strong Candidate?

If we only looked at Cousins' superficial statistics, he'd be a lock for a trip to New Orleans in February.

DeMarcus Cousins' Breakout 2013-14 Season
NBA Rank
Points Per Game 22.7 9
Rebound Per Game 11.1 5
Steals Per Game 1.8 9
PER 26.5 6
Usage Rate 33.9 1

Basketball-Reference.com

Given the massive role his usage rate indicates, it's not all that surprising Cousins is piling up the numbers. But he deserves credit for proving himself effective enough to shoulder such a load. More importantly, he's been incredibly efficient on offense, despite being responsible for so many possessions.

To contextualize Cousins' overall statistics, consider the following: On the year, he's averaging more points per game than surefire All-Stars Kyrie Irving and Blake Griffin, more rebounds per game than LaMarcus Aldridge and more steals per game than any big man in the NBA.

2013-14 NBA Steals Leaders
Player Steals Per Game NBA Rank
Michael Carter-Williams 3.1 1
Ricky Rubio 2.8 2
Chris Paul 2.5 3
John Wall 2.1 4
Paul George 2.1 5
Tony Allen 2.0 6
Mario Chalmers 1.9 7
Stephen Curry 1.9 8
DeMarcus Cousins 1.8 9
Josh Smith 1.5 19

Basketball Reference.com

By most conventional definitions, Cousins profiles as an All-Star. Doesn't he?

 

Looking Deeper

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Not so fast.

For all of his statistical improvements this year, Cousins is still a player whose overall impact on his team might actually be negative.

The Kings' 9-19 record going into their game against the San Antonio Spurs on Dec. 29 would be an easy way to cut the legs out from under Cousins' All-Star candidacy. After all, players who can't help their teams win must not be as valuable as their individual statistics indicate, right?

Maybe that's true, but thinking in those terms is an intellectually lazy shortcut. And frankly, it's one we don't need to take because there are a number of more informative individual metrics that show Cousins to be largely overrated.

Put simply, the problem with Cousins is that he's a pretty effective offensive player who gives it all back on the defensive end.

Per NBA.com, the Kings' offensive rating improves by 2.6 points per 100 possessions when Cousins is on the floor.

That's good.

But their defensive rating is 2.4 points per 100 possessions worse when he plays. In addition, the Kings actually collect a larger percentage of available rebounds without Cousins on the court.

That's bad.

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Cousins' negative impact on defense is devastating to Sacramento's attempt to build a winning team. As the Kings' defensive anchor by default, Cousins is absolutely central to head coach Mike Malone's defensive scheming—scheming which, by the way, has been successful in his other NBA stops.

But Cousins is a sieve, a massive impediment to Sacramento reaching defensive respectability. Per NBA.com, the Kings boast the league's third-worst defensive rating.

Suddenly, it becomes clear that Cousins' high steal total isn't a praiseworthy stat at all. Instead, it's evidence of his penchant for gambling, the same penchant that so routinely takes him out of sound defensive position.

He's a handsy, grabby defender who exhibits remarkably poor fundamentals on an individual basis and as a team defender. Knowing that, it's hardly surprising that he has committed the second-most personal fouls in the league, per Basketball-Reference.

Defense has been a "problem area" throughout Cousins' career, and nothing has changed this year. After a 1-3 start to the season that was marked by poor effort on the defensive end, Malone said of Cousins, via Ailene Voisin of the Sacramento Bee, "He has to do a better job with his low-post defense."

Recently, Malone was more vociferous.

You'll note he doesn't pin his team's defensive shortcomings on any one player. But as the Kings' most important defensive piece, Cousins has to bear the brunt of that criticism.

At present, there's no way Cousins will be an All-Star starter. Per NBA.com, he ranks 12th among Western Conference frontcourt players in the most recent polls. What's more problematic for his chances is the fact that the league's coaches decide the reserves.

Though his demeanor has improved this season, Cousins' well-chronicled history of immaturity, complaining and locker room discontent is going to make it almost impossible for coaches around the NBA to view his numbers objectively.

 

Don't Hold Your Breath

Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

Ultimately, whether or not Cousins deserves an All-Star nod depends on what qualities the voter values.

If superficial numbers (impressive ones, admittedly) and undeniable physical talents matter, he should be in.

But if contributing to a winning culture is a concern, he probably shouldn't. If body language and real leadership matter, he probably shouldn't.

And if overall team performance matters, he probably shouldn't.

James' praise for Cousins was well-deserved. The Kings' big man has made real strides this season, and he played very well in an impressive win over the Heat.

As an overall package, though, Cousins doesn't warrant an All-Star berth, royal decree from James or no.

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