The Sacramento Kings have been searching for help for DeMarcus Cousins in the frontcourt from the moment he was drafted. Management probably still wants more to complement him at this point, but Kosta Koufos, who signed a reported four-year, $33 million deal with the Kings this offseason, is a step in the right direction.
How much can he really help Cousins, though?
Let's start with defense, because that is Koufos' calling card. His defensive rating backing up Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph in Memphis last season was 94.8, which is the number of points per 100 possessions that the team allows while said player is on the floor. Cousins' former frontcourt partner Jason Thompson had a defensive rating of 106.8 (granted Thompson was a starter and played more minutes than Koufos).
Like Cousins, Koufos is willing to take a charge and while he may not be the most elite shot blocker (his career average is .8 blocks per game), he makes up for it by being a great defender of the paint, using his size and positioning. His new coach George Karl, who also coached him in Denver, once called Koufos one of the "top-five paint protectors in the NBA."
This should bode well for Cousins, who became a much better defender last season - but he felt it. He was dealing with several lingering injuries by the end of the year. And while Cousins' efforts on defense were impressive, it likely took away from how much energy he could put forth on the offensive end. Koufos and rookie Willie Cauley-Stein should free Cousins from some of those responsibilities and allow him to feast on the offensive side of the ball.
Koufos isn't known as the quickest guy on the floor on either side of the ball, but he is a capable defender in the pick-and-roll and can pull down offensive rebounds next to Cousins.
How he comes into play on the offensive side of the ball is the real question. Dribbling, outside shooting and dimes aren't exactly the 7-footers' forte. His career averages are 5.4 points, 4.7 rebounds and .4 assists. The Kings have always hinted a stretch-four would be an ideal fit next to Cousins and Vlade Divac even recently expressed interest in this, but Koufos is certainly not going to fill that void (at this point, Rudy Gay is the best and only option for that). Koufos' shooting percentage is 52 percent for his career, but the majority of his damage is done around the basket off put-backs and dump passes so planting him next to Cousins, who will continue to pound the rock inside, may become an issue in terms of spacing. Cousins is a decent passer and could probably work out on the elbows because Koufos is a good cutter on pick-and-rolls, but you can't keep Cousins away from the basket for long and give opposing defenses exactly what they want.
The offensive complements to Cousins in the frontcourt going into the season will be an issue considering Cauley-Stein, Quincy Acy and Eric Moreland are the other bigs in the rotation. Cauley-Stein showed flashes of offensive potential in the NBA Summer League, but that isn't what he is known for. A lot of how valuable Koufos is will be determined by Cauley-Stein's readiness and who starts and who comes off the bench.
With his limitations, it will be interesting to see if Karl will/can trust Koufos with 30 minutes a night.
The fast-paced offensive style Karl wants to play with Darren Collison and Rajon Rondo should help mask some of the offensive limitations of the big guys not named DeMarcus. Koufos excelled in Karl's system in Denver, crediting the guards there for pushing the ball and dishing to the bigs as a reason the offensive schemes worked for him. Guys like Koufos, and especially the speedy Cauley-Stein, will benefit from that. In half-court sets, however, you have to wonder how the spacing is going to play itself out and how much that will force Karl to use Gay next to Cousins.
For what it's worth, Koufos knows and willingly accepts his role. He doesn't force his offense and picks up what slack he can by being in the right place at the right time, throwing down an occasional power jam.
Koufos has proven to be a reliable starter and is finally going to get his shot at extended minutes in Sacramento. At 26, he also is entering his prime, so barring an injury, the Kings are going to get the best basketball of his career out of him. Similar to Jason Thompson, he never takes a play off. But unlike Thompson, Koufos has something he can always hang his hat on: defense. Thompson, while a serviceable big man, never established one thing he was good at on a night-to-night basis.
Koufos has the potential still to average a double-double given big minutes (he's never averaged more than 22 minutes a game in a season - which was the season he started 81 games under Karl) and has enough of a basketball IQ to take some pressure off Cousins in many of the little areas of the game. Whether it is playing next to him or backing him up, the ways in which Koufos helps Cousins will be subtle and worth keeping an eye on.