Kings vs. Suns: DeMarcus Cousins is earning his keep

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The Kings won Tuesday's game because Cousins is reaching the heights we've long expected.

We're 10 games into the season, and sample size issues are slowly falling by the wayside. You start to get a real sense of what players and teams are at the 10-game mark, at least statistically. Things will change, and players will rise or fall as more minutes rack up. But few scrubs shine for this long. Few great teams loiter in the cellar. Few bad teams continue their charades.

DeMarcus Cousins is playing superbly this season. He's one of two players in the NBA in the league's top 20 in points, rebounds, blocks and steals per game. (Anthony Davis is the other.) He's been the third or fourth best big man in the league on offense so far, behind Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge and maybe Blake Griffin. He has one official technical all season and no run-ins with teammates, coaches, broadcasters or refs. (He did scream at teammates about getting back in transition last night. It was well-deserved.) He's been a leader, as far as we can tell. He's been the Kings' best player. Even when he has an unfavorable matchup, he's finding a way on most nights. The Kings of 2012-13 would have lost Tuesday's game. Cousins rescued them in the fourth. With a separated shoulder.

This is the Cousins we've always wanted and expected. He plays with energy and focus. He owns the paint most times out. He gets mad not when the ball doesn't come his way, but when the team doesn't execute the gameplan. He's still not perfect, and never will be. He's unlikely to ever be a top-notch defender. But he's giving consistent effort, he makes the right play and he's leading on the court. He's the undisputed best player on the team, and not only because the team is derelict. (That said, the team is indeed derelict.)

This team isn't always fun to watch. But Cousins is making it a heckuva lot more palatable.

* Luc Richard Mbah a Moute does his job -- defense, don't be a drain on offense -- well. That basic contribution is a huge upgrade for the team.

* Jason Thompson is not good enough on offense to be lazy on defense. During Phoenix's 19-2 run, Thompson failed to rotate a few times and didn't get back consistently. He was notably on the bench the entire fourth quarter. When Cousins sat at the start of the fourth, Michael Malone put Hamady N'Diaye in instead of J.T. Marcus Morris got a lot of his points on Patrick Patterson, but J.T. did not help himself out there.

* Johnny Salmons might have played himself out of the rotation. Travis Outlaw was no great shakes (some atrocious turnovers) but Salmons had two of the worst passes of the young season and played just six minutes. The Kings were outscored by eight points in those six minutes.

* Jimmer Fredette got Marcus Thornton's minutes. He turned them into three points on 1-5 shooting with three assists and one turnover. It's also irresponsible not to note that the Kings' fourth quarter run began when Jimmer was replaced by Ben McLemore: the Suns didn't score again once the switch was made. I have a sense that Thornton will be back in there on Wednesday. In Jimmer's position, you have to make your case emphatically. It's not Jimmer's fault, necessarily, that he didn't have a great night. But he didn't.

* Isaiah Thomas had a few gnarly turnovers, and is still doing the whole playing harder in the second half than in the first half thing. But man, every night he hits his marks. Nineteen points in 24 minutes on 6-12 shooting this time. And he played the entire fourth over Greivis Vasquez.

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