The Story Thus Far: Story? Trends? Nonsense. This is the first entry.
This Time Last Year: Cousins' statline for the first two games of last season looked like this:
I'll edit this into my post in the morning, when Basketball Reference has the stats updated :)
- Man Defense: Demarcus played fairly strong, one on one. He gave Pau some trouble early (both in the post and when Pau tried to face up on him), which speaks to his lighter frame. He had one lapse in particular against the Lakers that concerned me a little; with 3:16 left in the first, Murphy got the ball on the elbow and Cousins moved off him. Murphy buried it. He had three more plays like this against Portland, two against Kurt Thomas and one from Wes Matthews--lesson learned? I hope so, because not even contesting jumpers is very concerning.
- Help Defense: In my personal opinion, I think Demarcus has really improved in this area of his game. It seemed like every time Kobe or Felton penetrated the backcourt's defense, Cousins was there to get in his face and alter his shot. It's tough to describe what Cousins was doing out there in this regard, so I hope those of you that watched the game can see what I'm hoping to help you picture.
- PnR Defense: In the pick and roll he showed strong against the guards and moved back to his man quickly; not once did he let the ball go inside against him. He never fully switched onto a penetrating guard unless he was making his way to the paint, which is a distinct improvement over last season (how many times did he try to go one-on-one with an opposing Point Guard and let his own guy cover the opposing Big last year?).
- Steals: Against the Lakers, Cuz was only credited with one Steal, and I didn't actually see that steal in the game. That said, I DID notice something interesting about Cousins' game that might be relevant; he seems to be particularly adept at disrupting a guard's dribble in transition without fouling him. With those long arms and quick hands, he is able to swipe at the ball, forcing an adjustment by the guard that slows them down a bit and gives the Kings players time to get on defense, especially on the fast break.
- Taking Charges: He took two charges again against the Lakers. Sure, the refs called the first one (4:19 left in the 2nd) a blocking foul, but that was definitely a superstar call for Kobe Bryant as Cuz was set and outside the restricted area. He almost had another charge against Gasol with 2:45 left in the game, when Gasol tried to back him down at the free throw line. Cousins flopped backward a little, resulting in no call either way (progress!), but instead of falling all the way down, Big Cuz just regained his balance and got back up on Gasol. The second Charge came with 0:57 left in the game (again, against a slashing Kobe) and Cuz got the call.Against the Blazers, Cuz actually drew two Charges, one against Wallace and one against either Felton or Crawford. I like this trend. His insincts are great, and his feet are quick. Love it. If he starts getting the benefit of the doubt on these calls, he'll lead the league. Hell, he might lead the league anyway.
- Blocks: Another huge improvement in Cousins' game, in my opinion. He was credited with 1 Block against the Lakers (I actually counted two in the first quarter alone; one on Kobe, one on Fisher), but he altered at least 7 (yes, I counted) shots in the paint, causing misses on each. He seems to be taking more pride in his defense this year, and the block he was credited with was a huge from-behind block on a slashing Kobe Bryant (For those keeping track at home; that's three plays in 25 minutes where Cuz stopped Kobe in his tracks). Against the Blazers, who don't focus as much on guard penetration, he had a little more trouble. Not as many altered shots, but he still recorded two Blocks.
- Transition: I'm proud of Cousins for his effort here. He still isn't there in terms of running the floor for 36 minutes a game, but his effort is there and he's certainly moving better than last year. He runs back on defense (or at the very least, paces his man up-court), and always seemed to make an effort to not be the last guy up the floor. Late in the fourth quarter I noted three separate occasions where he looked especially winded, including one sequence where he was slow to get up and simply waited for his teammates to stop the Lakers and get back down the court. It resulted in a bucket for Cuz, but still.
- Defensive Rebounding: Solid. He recorded 5 and 7 defensive rebounds against the Lakers and Blazers, respectively. He boxed out on pretty much every shot, even when he was at the Free Throw Line when the shot was taken. He somehow managed to worm his way under the basket and use his strength to back down whoever happened to be there (Gasol or Camby, usually).
- Post Play: For the most part, Cousins did a decent job of working his way into the post. I noticed a few times where he settled for an outside jumper, but I also noticed that he never really tried to take his man off the dribble; a wise move, considering he was essentially facing a finesse Center in Gasol and a Stretch 4 (McBob/Murphy), neither of which he was quick enough to get past. His best post move came at 3:19 left in the third, with a spinning jump hook over Gasol (I think) that was both pretty and extremely effective. Unfortunately, he also had a move with 4:01 left in the first where he caught the ball too far from the basket and had to try to make something happen with his back to the basket. He tried to go glass with a hook and missed badly, but I'm glad to see him go for the easiest possible shot given how far away he was and how poor of a position he was in. His post play in Portland was quite good, when the team was set up properly. He had back to back spin moves against Kurt Thomas that really showcase his quickness and improved vertical leap, and a really, really pretty spin-move-up-and-under reverse layup in the first quarter.
- Jump Shots/Face Up: Cousins took a few jump shots against the Lakers and made one of them; in all, I thought he did an okay job of not settling for jump shots, though he did fall into that hole a couple times. It's like he feels obligated to take a jump shot if the opposing player gives him space. This was particularly evident when Aldridge played off him and dared him to shoot it. He did, and missed. Honestly, I don't blame him much; his shooting skill is often underestimated. As long as he shows some restraint and doesn't force jump shots, I'm okay with him taking them. His statline against Portland shows 7-18, but I would like to point out that he had four possessions in a row when the ball got to him late in the shotclock and he had to force shots--he actually took two shots in the same last-second possession. One was blocked, the other missed badly. If you take into account those four possessions where he was put into a very poor position by the team as a whole, he's closer to a manageable number of FGM to FGA (7-14). I hate to make excuses to for a young player like that, but if Jimmer had missed that last second, off balance long bomb (holy crap, that was amazing), would you have blamed him? Just because Cousins is closer to the hoop doesn't mean it's an easier shot.
- Drawing Fouls: In two games Cuz shot 11 free throws, making six of them. I was really excited to see that on the one mised free throw that resulted in a loose ball, he chased it down and almost managed to bounce it off Fisher before sliding out of bounds. Great hustle, even after making a mistake. It's that sort of play we want to see from Cousins; can the frustration and PLAY. He drew three fouls on offense against Portland, reslting in 5 free throw attempts. As for drawing non-shooting fouls, Cousins had a number of offensive rebounds that resulted in fouls simply because he BATTLED TWO YELLOW JERSEYS for it and they got frustrated.
- Free Throws: Six of 11. Basically his season average from last year. Obviously not an area of focus this off-season, and I can live with that. The team's overall Free Throw stats are extremely troubling.
- Offensive Rebounding: Cuz was an absolute monster on the Offensive glass against the Lakers, and solid against the Blazers. He had an epic, one handed putback on a Thorton miss with 1:42 left in the third. It was glorious. He tried to do it again 16 seconds into the fourth quarter, but missed it by a hair. I would bet that he would have nailed it had it come earlier in the game. He had another one of these put back dunks against Portland, which is really fun to watch. Also, it bears repeating that he consistently beat two yellow jerseys to offensive rebounds simply by being in better position and having better timing. He also had a particularly fancy rebound off a missed Hayes free throw, which he promptly bounced off Gasol's leg to retain possession. His coordination for his size is really, really impressive.
- PnR Offense: I'm fairly certain the Chuck Hayes must be teaching Cousins how to set a pick. I counted at least three separate plays where directly contributed to his Guard scoring. The first was with 2:55 left in the first, when screened he stopped Bryant dead in his tracks, opening Salmons up for an equally impressive layup against Gasol. He also set a devastating pick against Fisher--who flopped mightily to no avail--and rolled to the basket to draw the foul after a beautiful pass from Jimmer (he converted both free throws). He also had a beautiful dribble-drive spin move on a pick and roll early in the 3rd quarter. His crowning achievement in this area, though was a pick on Kobe that stopped him from contesting the ice-cold jumper Thornton drained with 1:10 remaining in the game. I'm still marveling at how agile he is for a guy his size. Have we ever seen a guy with his combination of coordination, size, and passing ability before?
- Passing: Nothing to see here :( No assists, no clever passes. He tried a fancy pass to Tyreke against Portland, but Felton picked it off. One thing I did notice is that Demarcus is passing out of dead plays better. Two separate occasions against Portland, he got the ball in the post, started his moves, and then got double-teamed. Rather than forcing a shot, he passed out to the perimeter to get a new play started. Progress, perhaps.
- Turnovers: Despite the six turnovers through two games, I'm really impressed with Cousins in this area. No traveling calls(!), two offensive fouls, the aforementioned tricky pass, once his pocket got picked by Felton, one 24 second violation, and one out of bounds that would have been a spectacular play if he had only been a little quicker. His offensive fouls were certainly his fault, but it easily could have gone the other way. He lowered his shoulder--something he'll need to stop doing--but it wasn't blatant or overly aggressive, as we've seen in the past.
- Moving Without the Ball: Get better, Cuz. He doesn't move when he isn't featured on offense, staying content with camping out the high post instead of cutting or setting off-ball screens. He especially needs to work on his cutting, as Evans' "pass to no one" at the end of the Portland game was intended for Cousins, who didn't move to the basket.
- Complaining: Despite having two rough games of foul trouble, Cousins did not complain to the refs at all. He was obviously frustrated--see below--but he never approached a ref and never yelled to them over his shoulder, which was the source of most of his Technicals last season.
- Body Language: Of all the things I noticed in these two games, the fact that Cousins didn't get a single Technical Foul due to his body language/complaining, nor even really come close, was awesome. Whenever he got a call he didn't like, he would do one of three things. He would either run up the court to get back on D, turn around and walk to a teammate, or stand and scowl for a few moments before pulling himself together. Even on the most frustrating of his fouls, the most demonstrative he got was to bend over at the waist and hang there for a few moments to gather himself before leaving the floor. Baby steps, but still. The most impressive part about all this was against the Lakers; when Matt Barnes, Josh McRoberts, and Metta World Peace were on the court, especially. All three of them would routinely tie him up at every opportunity, trying hard to get a reaction. There was even an instance in which Metta wrapped up one arm and Pau backed into his other armpit, essentially sandwiching Cousins and fouling him at least twice, and Cousins barely reacted. The refs called Double Technicals, but I saw no reason why Cuz deserved it. He almost seems to thrive on these situations where players try to intimidate him (remember Garnett/Rondo last season?). He smiles and plays on.
- Fouls: Cousins ended the game with 4 and 5 fouls, but I was encouraged nonetheless. His four fouls against the Lakers were as follows;
- Aforementioned offensive foul against two Lakers on a drive;
- Blocking foul trying to take a charge on Kobe;
- Swiped the ball as Troy Murphy went up for a layup. Now, some might call his a silly foul, but he stopped the easy, open layup and made Troy earn it from the line (he was 1/2). Now, I'm about to go on a tangent, so beware. Who determines if a Big Man is "foul prone" or "playing good defense?" It seems like Big Men get the label of Foul Prone way more than Perimeter players, because they are expected to bang in the post and block shots. However, if the players try to avoid getting those fouls, they get a "bad defender" label. I can't fault Cousins for trying, especially since one of the tenants of good defense is "No easy buckets."
- Cuz's last foul came really early in the third, and it really was a silly foul. He reached in against a driving Laker, and got the foul. I already mentioned his reaction to said foul earlier, but I'd like to mention it again; he didn't approach the refs, and he was very much contained despite being obviously frustrated with himself.
It was a slightly different story against the Blazers. His five fouls at Portland were as follows:
- Blocking foul as he was slow to rotate onto Camby 16 seconds into the game
- Cheap foul covering Camby with 10:50 left in the second;
- Over the back on Camby going for an Offensive Rebound;
- Offensive foul taking his man off the dribble for a last second buzzer beater;
- 'Nother over the back foul.
Overall Progress: Obviously, he's still a work in progress. He's playing well, but he's not creating wins on the Offensive end yet. He's definitely becoming a presence on defense, especially in the paint. He hasn't had much opportunity to showcase his passing yet, but he's made a lot of progress in terms of his complaining and body language.
Next Time, on Boogie Nights: Boogie takes on the Chicago Bulls. I expect him to perform well defensively, as Chicago relies on the penetration of their Guards (well--Derrick Rose, and nobody else) and their Bigs. However, I would be willing to bet that his biggest contribution is on the Offensive end; Noah can't stop him in the Post, Boozer isn't fast enough to keep up with him on the perimeter. Only Asik may give him serious trouble.
% of Donovan's Soul Reclaimed from the [REDACTED]: 6.8%
1/2 Court Prayers by Marcus Thornton this Season: 0
Charges Drawn by Boogie: 3