For a young team in a small market, improvement largely comes from within. The Oklahoma City Thunder are the most widely used and most topical example of this. In 2008-09, the Thunder won just 23 games, but followed it up with a 50 win season despite having a very similar roster.
The Kings can't claim to have as much talent as the Thunder, but they are in a similar situation in that they need their young guys to improve before the team can become noticeably better. Three players stand out in particular: DeMarcus Cousins, Tyreke Evans, and Isaiah Thomas. Cousins is largely considered the franchise cornerstone, a big man of vast size and skill. Evans is an enigma, with a lot of talent and physical tools that haven't been properly harnessed. Thomas is the charismatic young Point Guard whose production and potential are continually questioned despite continually proving otherwise. A few other young players also deserve mention: Jimmer Fredette, Marcus Thornton and Thomas Robinson. Because Robinson hasn't yet played in the NBA, we can't really look too deeply at what he needs to improve, and as such will only be looking at the others in this series called "Home Improvement".
Today we begin with the oft-maligned nationally but locally revered DeMarcus Cousins.
As of right now, there is only one thing DeMarcus Cousins does at a truly elite level and that is rebound the ball. DeMarcus Cousins rebounds the crap out of the ball, especially on the offensive end. His 14.2% Offensive Rebound Rate was 3rd in the entire league last season and his Total Rebound Rate of 19.8% was also 3rd, behind just Dwight Howard (21.9%) and Marcus Camby (22.8%). Cousins has great rebounding instincts, a huge body, and suction cups for hands, so it will be no surprise to see him among the leader boards in rebounding for years to come.
However, there are several categories where DeMarcus could improve on, that if he did, would make him one of the most dominant big men in the league.
Last season, Cousins averaged 18.1 PPG, 8th among qualified NBA big men, remarkable considering his age. Only 13 big men (some twice) have averaged that many PPG by the age of 21. However, Cousins had the lowest FG% of any of those players aside from Antoine Walker. His True Shooting % of .499 ranked just 287th out of 478, and 62nd of 69 Forward/Centers who averaged at least 10 points a game. Yet Cousins was also 12th in the league in Field Goal Attempts a game. Now close watchers of Cousins do notice that Cousins often seems to miss on purpose in order to set himself up for an easier shot after grabbing the offensive rebound. Our own Exhibit G did a post analyzing this very tactic and found that nearly 38% of DeMarcus's offensive boards were off his own miss. Cousins led the entire league in Offensive Rebounds, but I'm not totally sold that this is an actual strategy on his part and not just him being able to get a lot of putback attempts.
Now there are a few ways DeMarcus can improve his efficiency:
Despite his huge size and skill level, DeMarcus Cousins is not the post beast that you would think he'd be. In fact, if you look at MySynergySports.com and take all big men who averaged at least 10 Points a Game and had at least 20% of their offensive possessions be Post-Ups, DeMarcus is near the bottom, both in FG% (Provided from HoopData.com) and Points Per Possession (PPP).
|Name||% of Plays||Post-Up PPP||FGA At Rim||FG% At Rim||FGA 3-9 Feet||FG% 3-9 Feet|
*These players either were injured in 2011-12 or did not have a high enough sample size and so their data is from the previous season.
Of particular concern to me is Cousins's relatively low FG% at the rim for a big man. Only Chris Kaman has a lower percentage on that list. Cousins isn't the most explosive athlete, but one of the reasons his FG% suffers in this area is due to the fact that he goes with the finesse play over the power play most of the time. A dunk is much more certain than a layup.
Cousins also needs to do a better job of establishing position in the deep post, and become more patient. The closer you begin your post-up, the less you have to work to get to the rim and score. Now some of this is by design, as the Kings prefer to operate DeMarcus in the mid-post where he can opt to face-up, drive, or pass. He has a lot of options in his arsenal, and while I think that right now he's more comfortable as a face-up player, with his size and skill, there's no reason he can't be a very, very good post-player as well.
Getting to the Line
Another way DeMarcus can improve his efficiency is by concentrating on getting to the line more. His Free Throw Rate of 0.37 (Free Throw Rate is Free Throw Attempts / Field Goal Attempts) is relatively pedestrian for a big man. Cousins, unlike a lot of big men, is a decent Free Throw shooter, and more attempts at the line will bolster his scoring while possibly taking away some of those missed FGAs. Some of this will require more patience around the rim, as well as more patience with officials. If Cousins keeps yelling at refs after every perceived miscall, he's not going to find himself in their good graces more often than not.
Speaking of Refs...
Cutting Down the Fouls
One simple way DeMarcus can really improve is by cutting down the amount he fouls. Cousins has led the league in personal fouls in both of his seasons in the NBA, and that's a problem when he's also your team's best player. A lot of the fouls DeMarcus gets are needless ticky-tack fouls or gambles as well. While DeMarcus is one of the best big men in the game as far as Steal Rate goes, he often tries too much to steal the ball and it results in a foul. By cutting needless fouls, DeMarcus can stay on the floor longer, and when DeMarcus stays on the floor longer, the Kings are a much better team.
Now these are hardly all the things DeMarcus needs to work on. Conditioning and playing under control are just a couple others. But the great thing with DeMarcus is that he's so good already even with so much room left to grow. I'm confident we'll see a big season from the big fella, and potentially a stellar one.
Next on Home Improvement: Tyreke Evans