I love DeMarcus Cousins. But watching him develop is an exercise in frustration.
Watching Cousins play basketball is like watching a puppy being trained. You know that he'll get it eventually, you just hope that everything in your home hasn't been destroyed by the time he does.
In this analogy, my "home" would be the Sacramento Kings' franchise, which needs a savior as soon as possible. They need to get their puppies trained, and they need to do it fast. Their couch has been torn to shreds, their carpet has been ripped up, and their tennis shoes are unrecognizable.
Which would be fine—growing pains are normal—if the structure of the house weren't collapsing and the walls weren't closing in around the young ones. Simply, there is no time for growing pains. DeMarcus Cousins and Tyreke Evans need to evolve on the fly.
Last week I wrote about the steps that Evans can take to bring his game to the next level.
In a similar vein, here are five players whom Cousins can study, learn from, and generally emulate to bring his game to new heights.
For the last decade, the San Antonio Spurs have been a team built around two things:
Defense and Tim Duncan.
And really, these two are one and the same. For years, Duncan has been shutting down younger, more athletic players than himself. He has been able to do so because he's incredibly big, has an amazingly strong base, and, most importantly, he actually cares about defense.
Duncan and Cousins share many of the same physical gifts. They each have extremely strong lower bodies, expansive wingspans and good-enough mobility.
The main difference is focus and commitment to defense. Cousins is extremely raw on both ends of the floor. The offensive end will develop more naturally—it does for most players. Defense takes not only physical work but mental focus, the ability to remain overly aware at all times.
If Cousins wants to be a great player he needs to contribute on both ends of the floor. Showing a commitment to defense would be showing a commitment to basketball and to his team. And truthfully, these are the things that Sacramento needs to see from him, more so than even dramatic statistical improvements.
One of the most amazing things about Zach Randolph's 2010-11 season was how unstoppable he was without leaving his feet.
Last year, Randolph was the offensive version of Kevin Love. He dominated below the rim, and was so good that more athletic players couldn't stop him. DeMarcus Cousins is much like Z-Bo in that his athleticism isn't in the Dwight Howard, raise-up-and-dunk-on-your-whole-family mold.
Even though he is 6'11", DeMarcus is incredibly effective below the rim, where he can use his big body and great hands to get angles that would be useless to most players—yet are effective for Cousins.
Randolph's game often isn't pretty. Neither is Cousins'. But at the end of the day, Z-Bo is perhaps the best big man in the league, proving that Cousins can be great without changing his game too much.
Comparing DeMarcus Cousins to Rasheed Wallace isn't exactly groundbreaking.
Like Cousins, 'Sheed was a talented, yet volatile, player who struggled to find a balance between competitive fire and immaturity.
And then he found Detroit.
He found a coach he respected, a group of players he liked, and a system that allowed him to be himself instead of forcing him into a role he was never really comfortable with.
Obviously, Sacramento isn't Detroit. They don't have the talented base of players or the resumes on the bench.
But the key to Wallace's success in Detroit ultimately wasn't the coaches or system or even the players. The key was that 'Sheed grew up, put the drama aside, and focused on winning. Though they may be struggling, the Kings still provide the same opportunity for Cousins, should he choose to take it.
Chris Webber was forced to develop his patented elbow jumper after lower-body injuries robbed him of his explosiveness and first step.
DeMarcus Cousins is (hopefully) nowhere near a similar physical breakdown. But studying Webber's career would show him that a consistent jump shot can extend NBA careers and elongate a players effectiveness.
Part of the reason that Cousins' upside seems so limitless is his ability to score both inside and outside. He can play physically, but has great hands and has shown flashes of a shooter's touch. Developing a Webber-esque elbow jumper or a Duncan-like bank shot would open up the Kings offense, create lanes for Tyreke Evans, and make the Sacramento system, as a whole, far more effective.
Kevin Love makes his living off of basketball IQ and an innate knowledge of where balls will be and when they will be there.
DeMarcus Cousins makes his off of raw athleticism and physical ability.
If Cousins could harness some of Love's natural instincts for the game, he would be unstoppable on the boards. Currently, DeMarcus gets rebounds because he is bigger and stronger than his opponents. Imagine if he were smarter and more experienced as well.
Offensively, Cousins has shown the instincts that Kings fans would like to see translated in the rebounding column. He knows where the ball is, and knows how to put it in the hoop. But he doesn't carry this awareness to the glass.
Clearly, Cousins will never be the pure rebounder that Love is. But Love is the best rebounder since Dennis Rodman, and is certainly a player worth studying for a young big man trying to improve his game.