Finding the ideal front court partner for DeMarcus Cousins

Kyle Terada-US PRESSWIRE

There's been a lot of talk about the type of player who would be ideal next to Cousins, but what players actually fit that mold? We go exploring.

There's been a lot of discussion about DeMarcus Cousins lately. And while I'm sure there are a few folks who are growing tired of the endless discussion of Cousins, I love it. I love that he's our lightning rod. And while I still have reservations, I've joined the rapidly growing hoard of people who have convinced themselves that a max extension for Cousins makes a lot of sense.

With the discussion of Cousins' worth, there's also been a lot of discussion about who to pair with Cousins in the front court. If Cousins is your franchise player, you'd better work to surround him with the right talent. James Ham of Cowbell Kingdom got a great quote during the Team USA camp in Las Vegas:

"I love playing with Jason Thompson, don’t get me wrong, but I believe I would play better if I had a shot-blocking big. I’m not the greatest shot blocker and I can move to the four and play my natural position."

First off, kudos to Cousins for having the presence of mind to diffuse controversy before it happened and mention Jason Thompson. But with that controversy gone, that one quote raises two other questions. Is Cousins' natural position actually power forward? And should the Kings acquire a shot blocker to pair with Cousins?

The first question isn't really that big a deal. It's less about what you call the role than what you ask the player to do. But I think Cousins is a center. I'm sure he prefers playing against smaller guys, but I think he's more of a center. Regardless, the second question is a little more interesting.

While I've written that the Kings don't necessarily need another big on the roster, I've come around to the idea that they could use a shot blocking presence in the middle. I don't think it's the end-all, be-all solution to the team's defensive woes, but it's not a bad idea. And I think Cousins could do well when paired with a shot blocker, despite his rookie-year where he didn't exactly look amazing next to Dalembert.

But the conversation has evolved since then, with the general consensus being that Cousins needs a shot blocker, but one who can also stretch the floor on offense. Ideally, anyway. Despite Cousins' love for his elbow jumper, he's hardly efficient. The Kings could use an efficient big man to spread the floor. The Kings have Patrick Patterson, but he'd hardly be confused for being a shot blocker.

The combination of a shot blocker and a mid range shooter seemed like a rare combo. So rare, in fact, that I struggled to think of any off the top of my head. A few guys who might fit the mold, but none that I was certain about. So let's go to the numbers.

I turned to NBA.com/Stats, and began by locating the top 50 players in blocks per 48 minutes. If a guy couldn't crack the top 50, I wasn't prepared to dub him a shot blocker. I then used NBA.com/Stats' shot location information to find shooting percentages for 8-16 feet.

From the original selection of 50 shot blockers, I narrowed the list down to the top 20 mid-range shooters. Bear in mind, you could choose to prioritize mid-range shooters first, and then sort by blocks and you'd get very different results. I believe the shot blocking is the prioritized characteristic we're looking for, but you may disagree. But here are the results:

Player Team BLK FG% 8-16ft Attempts Made
Serge Ibaka OKC 4.7 55.60% 69 124
Omer Asik HOU 1.7 50.00% 10 20
Kevin Garnett BOS 1.5 48.10% 114 237
Kevin Durant OKC 1.6 47.60% 171 359
Greg Stiemsma MIN 3.6 47.40% 18 38
Marc Gasol MEM 2.4 45.40% 137 302
LaMarcus Aldridge POR 1.6 44.60% 150 336
Joakim Noah CHI 2.8 44.40% 24 54
Al Jefferson UTA 1.6 43.60% 130 298
Nikola Vucevic ORL 1.5 43.60% 68 156
Brook Lopez BKN 3.3 42.90% 93 217
Ed Davis MEM 2.5 42.90% 54 126
Elton Brand DAL 2.9 42.50% 91 214
Spencer Hawes PHI 2.5 42.30% 66 156
Tyson Chandler NYK 1.7 40.00% 4 10
Tyler Zeller CLE 1.7 39.80% 35 88
Kendrick Perkins OKC 2 39.40% 26 66
Tim Duncan SAS 4.2 39.20% 91 232
Amir Johnson TOR 2.3 39.20% 20 51
Robin Lopez NOH 2.9 39.10% 59 151

While I often fail to remember how good Serge Ibaka is offensively, he immediately leaps out as the ideal front court partner for Cousins. He isn't quite the defender that his reputation makes him out to be, but he is excellent at swooping in for the weakside block, and is by far the best mid-range shooter of the sample. And yes, he doesn't take nearly as many mid-range shots as Kevin Durant (who, by the way, is in the top 50 players in the league at blocks per minute, unreal) or Kevin Garnett, but the efficiency is still impressive.

Omer Asik jumps out as being high on the list and as being a player who Houston might be willing to trade, but he's also the primary reason I updated the chart to include attempts and makes. He rarely shoots outside 8 feet. When he does, it isn't bad, but he would hardly be a guy who would stretch a defense.

Obviously there are players we'd love to pair with Cousins who may not be easily available. Ibaka would be wonderful, but I doubt the Thunder are eager to send him our way (unless, perhaps, they were getting Cousins back, but that would render this argument moot. And even then, I'm not convinced they do that trade). Similarly, Marc Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Brook Lopez are unlikely to be traded to Sacramento for much short of Cousins, and even then it might be unlikely. So who on this list might be acquirable?

Spencer Hawes would be available for a song, but I don't think any of us are jumping at that idea. Al Jefferson was probably available as a free agent, but despite his numbers on this list I don't think he'd fit next to Cousins.

Ed Davis might be a possibility. Memphis acquired him at the deadline last season, and then failed to play him regular minutes. That might change with Lionel Hollins out of the picture, but if not he could be a nice trade target. Cousins would still be playing center, but would have a player with a more complimentary skill set.

Tyler Zeller could be a nice fit (and Cody Zeller would have been as well, in my opinion), but I imagine the Cavaliers will find other ways to clear their logjam in the front court.

Which brings us to number 20 on our list. Oh. Erm. Yeah. About that. Well, this is awkward.

As we can see, the skill set we're looking for isn't necessarily abundant in the NBA, and the combination of shooting and shot blocking generally results in a very desirable and successful big man. Until the Kings can acquire a player with both skills, we'll likely see attempt to acquire the various skill sets from multiple players. The Kings have Patterson for a stretch 4, but currently lack a shot blocker.

It will be interesting to see how the Kings address the need for a shot-blocker. In the meantime I imagine Pete is waiting for OKC to call and express their unconditional desire to acquire Chuck Hayes.

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