DeMarcus Cousins had been a dark-horse MVP candidate from the moment Vlade Divac surrounded him with capable veterans this summer, but that idea is starting to gain some national traction over the last 24-48 hours, so I thought I’d weigh in.
DeMarcus Cousins, via Kevin Ding, Bleacher Report, on how reachable being named MVP is for him this season.
"Reachable, man? It's mine to grab." - DeMarcus Cousins
I agree with Cousins’ sentiment, but I respectfully disagree with how he plans on getting there. His numbers from last season already prove his MVP candidacy. There is little left for him to ‘grab’ in that regard, or in other words, there is a limited amount of ‘more’ we can reasonably expect. His potential isn't fully realized, but it's getting there.
I’ve compared Cousins’ stats from 2014-15 with the top-5 MVP candidates from that season. He fits nicely in that group, statistically speaking. He ranked among the league leaders in points, rebounds and blocks and also became the only player in NBA history aside from Kevin Garnett to average 20 points and have a TRB% and AST% of over 20%.
Are there aspects of his game that can improve? Certainly. I’d like to see his turnovers go down, I’d like to see his field goal percentage go up (it actually dipped by roughly 3% last season from 2013-14), but for the most part, he had an MVP caliber season last year without having any realistic shot at receiving that honor.
He won’t like hearing this, but it’s largely out of his control. The Sacramento Kings have to win basketball games. If they do, he’ll be in that conversation. It’s that simple, and that is no different than it would have been in 2013-14. If the Kings hadn’t imploded, and if he had stayed healthy, he could have been in the MVP conversation last season.
I know DeMarcus Cousins will do his part on the court, but he can’t control how Rajon Rondo performs in Sacramento this season. He can’t control Ben McLemore’s development, etc. The rest of this team needs to perform, and this is the first roster DeMarcus Cousins has been on that has the talent to compete in the brutal Western Conference.
I’d put ‘stay reasonably healthy’ and ‘pray a better candidate doesn’t emerge’ right behind ‘winning’ on my list of things mostly out of Cousins’ control that will have a greater effect than any statistical improvement on his MVP bid.
Don’t get me wrong, DeMarcus Cousins has to have another MVP caliber season, my real point here is that I’m very confident that he’ll do that. It’s the other stuff that could get in his way.
He can promote a less-combustible team environment, and that is probably the single biggest contribution he could make this season over seasons prior, but that is such a subtle, behind-the-scenes change that you simply cannot predict how that would effect MVP voting.
This leads us down another, somewhat tricky path regarding DeMarcus Cousins and leadership. Can Cousins do more in that regard? I want to say probably, but that would involve me speaking somewhat out of turn, as the only access we have to the inner workings of the Kings off the court is what the organization allows us to see. It’s really hard to have a strong opinion on something when any news regarding the issue is covered in agenda.
What I do know is that folks will knock Cousins for his leadership if this season doesn’t go the way we hope it does, just like they’ve blamed Cousins for how bad this team has been under his prime. Players who perform well on bad teams do not get the recognition they probably deserve for how talented they actually are, and are generally blamed for that teams’ poor performance, because who wants to write about John Salmons? For better or worse, it’s just the way it is.
We don’t know what this team is yet, but it looks competent. If the team is good, DeMarcus Cousins is going to be the biggest reason why, and MVP candidacy will go hand in hand with this teams’ success.