There are a lot of Sacramento Kings fans who would prefer the Kings do not soon extend DeMarcus Cousins before the 2013-14 season for a couple different reasons. There are those who remember vividly his attitude problems as recently as this season, when he undercut the coach who deferred to Cousins as often as possible. And there are those under the impression that Cousins just isn't worth a massive contract because -- attitude aside -- he's not that great a player.
I can't convince you he's not a problem child, because he is. The mood issues continue to exist, and when we pray they end, we're doing just that: praying. And if you'd be unhappy with an immediate resolution that continued to make Cousins Sacramento's problem, I understand. It's frustrating to be constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop, and then for it to actually drop with some regularity in ever more bizarre circumstances. (He got suspended for approaching a broadcaster in a menacing fashion, for goodness sake!)
But I do think the impetus to dismiss his talent and actual production is misdirected. He's not the best player. He's not as good as perhaps he thinks. He doesn't do everything well. He's not an All-Star right now. But he's really quite a good player. Most of the time.
He's one of the top scorers in the league. He finished No. 12 in per-minute scoring last season at 20.1 points per 36 minutes. Only two players ahead of him on that list -- Stephen Curry and Jamal Crawford -- missed the All-Star team. Curry ended up making the All-NBA team; Crawford finished second in Sixth Man of the Year voting. Scoring is an important thing for NBA players to do! Cousins does it better than most centers. There are, in fact, only two true big men ahead of him on the scoring list: Brook Lopez and LaMarcus Aldridge.
He's an elite rebounder. He finished No. 7 in total rebound rate last season among those who qualified for the rebounding title, behind Reggie Evans, Omer Asik, J.J. Hickson, Nicola Vuvevic, Zach Randolph and Dwight Howard. Rebound rate is the percentage of all available rebounds corralled by a player. Lopez and Aldridge are, respectively, No. 51 and 43 on that list. Blake Griffin, who scored just a hair less frequently than Cousins per minute, was No. 34 on the rebound rate list. Again, Cousins was No. 7, and the best scorer in the top 40. Notably, Cousins is a better rebounder than Joakim Noah, Roy Hibbert, David Lee, Al Jefferson, Al Horford, Greg Monroe and Marc Gasol.
He soaks up a tremendous share of possessions without getting set up. There's a lot of debate as to whether shot creation is a proper skill, or if it is how it should be rated appropriately. For instance, a guard could just Jordan Crawford it up and have a high usage rate. Is that useful? Probably not. But there are some things to derive from Cousins' high usage rate -- the 10th highest in the NBA, behind just 'Melo, Russ, Kobe, Kyrie, LeBron, Durant, Wade, Harden and Lopez. The biggest thing: he has moves and intent to score. He's aggressive, which isn't always good but is something. Something to rely on. You need buckets? Give the ball to Cousins, and he'll at least attack. Whether it goes in or not? Who knows? But there are a lot of big men in the NBA (including plenty in recent Kings history) who would be totally useless with the ball more than two feet from the basket. Cousins knows how to get a shot up.
Where seeing Cousins at a high usage really pays off? It begins to show how Cousins might be more efficient. He's below-average efficiency now at a very high usage. If guard help allows him to ratchet that down to, say, "high" usage, NBA history says he'll be more efficient at that level. I'm not sure that can be effectively communicated to Cousins, especially as he remains the obvious best weapon on the team. But it's there, on paper. And it's far more useful to have low efficiency at high usage than low efficiency at low usage. When you have the latter, you have a 4-on-5 offense.
The other piece: Cousins isn't set up much -- only 49 percent of his buckets last season were assisted. Lopez, for example, is at 62 percent. Assisted buckets are more likely to fall than unassisted ones; the difference is something like 10 percent in field goal percentage. Part of this is Cousins' own fault: he'd rather create off of the dribble or pull up than move the rock consistently or run a hard pick and roll. But the fact that Cousins has never (until now) had a pass-first point guard is also relevant to the discussion. In many ways, Cousins is like Aldridge, who was assisted on 54 percent of his buckets and features a similarly below-average shooting efficiency. (This doesn't mean that adding Greivis Vasquez will make Cousins a 56 percent shooter. Not even close.)
He has decent defensive instincts. Cousins is not a good defender. But I think we'd all agree that a good bit of that is effort, or the lack thereof. That's bad, obviously, but fixable. In theory. Keith Smart has a record of poor defenses in two different cities now. The defense under Paul Westphal actually wasn't horrid, though of course Cousins had Samuel Dalembert next to him that season. But Westphal also had a horrible relationship with Cousins. We'll see what difference Michael Malone makes in Cousins' defensive effort this season.
But in terms of instincts and agility, the latter of which is required to capitalize on the former, he has it. He's regularly at or near the top of the league in charges drawn. He gets a fair number of steals (1.7 per 36 last season); that's often a good marker of defensive potential among big men. He's a poor shotblocker, he gets stuck on screens (or more often sits back on them instead of showing), and he still fouls way too much. (Though he didn't lead the league in personal fouls for the first time in his career! He finished fourth.) But the instincts are there. The effort needs to be totally transformed. Of all things Cousins, I'm most skeptical he'll ever be a good defender. But it's not totally impossible, either. He has moments where I believe it could happen.
About that shooting percentage. It's not great. Hell, it's not good. But Cousins augments it by getting to the line a fair bit, and he shoots pretty well from the line. (At 73 percent from the stripe, every shooting foul drawn is equivalent to 1.4 points, or a 70 percent shooting percentage from the floor. Those fouls he draws matter.) His True Shooting percentage was a below average .524 last season. That's comparable to Aldridge at .530, Russell Westbrook at .532, Al Jefferson at .522, and Greg Monroe at .527. (Yes, that's right: Cousins scores more and rebounds far better than Monroe at a similar efficiency. And Monroe's not proven to be a great defender by any means. So ... why is the perception that Monroe is better than Cousins out there?)
As noted above, if Cousins' usage rate were to crank down significantly, his efficiency would go up toward and likely past league-average (the .550 range); experience also tends to improve efficiency. Kevin Durant, for example, was horribly inefficient as a high-usage rookie. He figured it out in his first few years and is now something like a legend in terms of combining efficiency and high usage. It took Carmelo Anthony years -- like, almost a decade -- to get his efficiency up to league average despite a crazy-high usage rate. It can be done.
One more thing: after the All-Star break last season, Cousins shot 49 percent from the floor. His post-All-Star TS% was .542. Progress, maybe.
You can be nervous about a contract locking Cousins into a high salary. You can be skeptical he's worth whatever dollar figure he ends up with, or asks for. But I'm not sure there's an argument that he's not a good basketball player, that he's not productive. His numbers disagree.
More from Sactown Royalty:
- DeMarcus Cousins contract negotiations with Kings set to begin
- Thursday Mail Sac: Expansion, your 2013-14 Sacramento Kings, & pick your situation
- Summer League 2013: Kings' Ray McCallum ranked highly, Ben McLemore not so much
- The Sactown Royalty Show Ep. 7: Seth Rosenthal
- Wednesday Mail Sac: The next Kings all-star, the immediate future of DeMarcus Cousins, fashion preferences and StR staff likenesses