The amount of praise heaped on the young men in this year’s NBA draft was almost the same as the amount of talent present. They loved the all around game of Evan Turner, they loved the athleticism of Larry Sanders, they loved the passing skills of Greg Monroe, and they even loved the adversity that Luke Harangody overcame.
There was, however, someone that nobody seemed to love. Everyone found something wrong with his game. The #1 recruit at one point during his senior year of high school, over John Wall, was even left off of Jay Bilas’ top five.
“He’s a thug.” “He’s a troublemaker.” “He’s too immature.”
While the major media might not like him, I’m here to tell you that DeMarcus Cousins will be the best player from the NBA draft class of 2010.
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In case you didn’t know, here are the stats from Cousins last year: 23.5 minutes, 15.1 points, 9.8 rebounds, 1.8 blocks, 1.0 assists, 1.0 steals, 55.8% field goal percentage.
Now, while numbers from a college player don’t translate entirely to the NBA, there are a couple of things that I take from this.
Per-40-minutes, Cousins averages 25.8 points a game, and is one of only two guys over 6-10 (Charles Garcia from Seattle, being the other) to be in the top twenty, while only three players ahead of him played in major conferences (James Anderson in the Big 12, Harangody in the Big East and Devan Downey, also in the SEC). So while lots of players had dynamic scoring production, Cousins was one of only four to do so on a big stage.
But to really get a sense of how good a scorer Cousins was, you need to look at the offense he was playing in. In case you forgot, Kentucky had five first round draft picks, four of which went in the top 18.
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If Cousins wasn’t playing with a PG who went first overall, or a PF who scored over 1,500 points at Kentucky, or a SG who was a fantastic scorer in high school, or a backcourt of guys who both went in the first round, how much higher do you think his scoring could have been? Without Patrick Patterson, could he have averaged 25? Without Wall and Patterson, could he have averaged 35?
Cousins also was eleventh in the country in offensive rebounds, ahead of Brian Zoubek, considered to be “the best offensive rebounder in the country” (Duke bias, anyone?) and way ahead of Ekpe Udoh, the only other post player drafted in the first round that was close to him, statistics-wise. Keeping possessions alive is, in my opinion, the most underrated quality of successful teams; if you want to have a good offense, someone needs to be able to do this, and Cousins is phenomenal at it.
As for total rebounds, despite playing just over 23 minutes a game, Cousins was 23rd in the country, ahead of guys such as Cole Aldrich, Monroe, Udoh, or any other big man drafted in the first round other than Damion James. As good a scorer as he was, he might have been an even better rebounder.
But again, one needs to look at who he was playing with. Not only did he have another lottery pick playing opposite him down low, but Cousins had TWO first round picks who also played in the post at Kentucky. Kentucky, as a team, averaged just over 40 rebounds a night, so Cousins was equivalent to nearly a quarter of the #1 seed’s rebounds. Patterson was one of six big men taken in the lottery, so he obviously is a solid rebounder; yet, Cousins out-rebounded him by almost 20% in around 25% less minutes.
What were his numbers when he played as much as Wall or Turner did, you ask? Cousins played 30 or more minutes in five games last year and averaged 18.6 points and 12.2 rebounds.
So yeah, I’d say that Cousins was a pretty effective player when he got the minutes that he should be getting in the NBA. Wall might have been the most NBA-ready player on the Kentucky team filled with NBA talent, but Cousins was easily the most dominant.
Yet looking beyond just the statistics that he put up, what separates Cousins, at least for me, is his athleticism. I have never seen a big man do some of the things that Cousins does. He splits defenders in the post. He has incredibly soft hands. He stays with point guards on pick-and-rolls. He can effectively pass out of double-teams. He moves his feet on defense. Yes, Cousins might be a little lazy at times (who isn’t?), but his athleticism at 6-10/6-11 is off the charts.
The big knock against Cousins seems to be that he is a jerk. There seems to be three main incidents that people form this conclusion on: he got kicked out of a state championship game in high school, he elbowed Jared Swopshire in the Kentucky-Louisville game, and he punched a fan after the Kentucky-South Carolina game.
Getting kicked out of a high school game is clearly not a good thing. Cousins made a mistake, and I think he learned from that, seeing as how he didn’t get kicked out of any games while at Kentucky. Next up, the elbow. This one is inexcusable. Cousins was a complete coward for this move, and he should have been kicked out of the game and probably suspended, too. However, the third instance, the post game event, is entirely up in the air. Cousins “allegedly threw two punches.” The video proved inconclusive, many people denied it, and the only ones who claimed to have seen it were South Carolina fans. So to have a reputation as a thug for it? That seems a bit over the top to me.
But at the end of the day, who cares if he might be a jerk? Basketball players are drafted to help a team win games, not bring a positive reputation to their name. One guy pops up immediately: he plays shooting guard for the Lakers. Yet, this can get overlooked to a point; why? Because Kobe Bryant is the best player in the NBA. Another guy I think of being synonymous with a jerk is Kevin Garnett. KG also has an MVP, a Defensive Player of the Year award and an NBA title, among other things, to his name. And even if he is as big of a jerk as people make him out to be, DeMarcus Cousins is just 19 years old. There is plenty of time for him to mature.
Currently, who are the best big men in the NBA? Dwight Howard, Dirk Nowitzki, Tim Duncan, Bosh, Amar’e Stoudemire, Pau Gasol, Carlos Boozer, and Garnett, to name a few. While all of these guys are excellent players, none of them resemble Cousins.
Howard doesn’t have the offensive dependability that Cousins does; Dirk doesn’t have the post game that he does; Duncan isn’t as athletic as he is; Bosh isn’t the physical presence like he is; Amar’e can’t rebound like he does; Gasol doesn’t have the strength that he has; Boozer doesn’t have the ability to dominate like he does; and KG simply wasn’t the force under the basket that he can be.
Of course, there are certainly some question marks with Cousins. But at the end of the day, I really think that Cousins’ talent and potential outweigh everyone else in this draft class, and yes- that includes Wall.
After all, John Wall didn’t even win SEC Freshman of the Year.
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