Find out how DeMarcus Cousins improved all areas of his game in 2011-12, plus see where he ranks among the League’s best big men.
“Small guys and tall guys always get along.”
Kings guard Isaiah Thomas is speaking of his contrasting alliance with Kings center DeMarcus Cousins.
“We’re just cool. (We’re) like Rob and Big,” says Thomas referencing the former hit MTV show. “We just click.”
The friendship that blossomed between Cousins and Sacramento’s starting point guard wasn’t the only thing clicking this year for the University of Kentucky product who emerged as a not-so-friendly force for opposing big men around the League.
The production of Cousins during the 2011-12 season put him ahead of his 2010 NBA Draft peers – among whom he ranked first this year in scoring and rebounding and second in steals – and into the class of the League’s elite centers, especially in relation to dominating the glass. The 6-foot-11 big man led the League in total offensive rebounds and offensive-rebound percentage and tied for fourth in the NBA with 11.0 rebounds per outing.
According to team captain Chuck Hayes, the talented 21-year-old’s output should only continue to rise.
“He’s starting to get a motor to him, and he wants to get the best of his opponent every time down,” says Hayes. “Whoever is matched against him has their work cut out for them.”
The fellow Kentucky Wildcat says he also saw Cousins outplay more opponents this season with his increased strength and endurance.
“He wants to get the best of his opponent every time,” says Hayes. “As a defensive player, that can take a toll on you if your guy is always pressing on the gas pedal and never letting up.”
As the schedule intensity picked up, the second-year center only increased his scoring production. After playing in his second-straight Rookie Challenge at All-Star Weekend, Cousins averaged 19.8 points per game, up from the 16.4 he averaged before the midseason break. His strong second half was highlighted by a career-high 41-point performance against Phoenix on April 3.
In year two of his NBA career, Cousins improved in almost every basketball metric from his All-Rookie First Team season, most notably in scoring (14.1 to 18.1), rebounding (8.6 to 11.0) and steals (1.0 to 1.5).
Cousins’ teammates say he increased his production this season in part because he settled into a groove and started to learn what works against certain opponents.
“He knows where he’s successful,” says Thomas. “In certain games, some (centers) are kind of bigger than him … So he kind of takes them outside and uses his midrange jumper a lot. When he knows the bigs (he’s matched up against) aren’t shot blockers, he kind of takes them down in the post and uses his post game.”
Along with his rise in production, the center is also increasingly gaining the trust of his teammates, who refer to him as the funniest player on the team. The comical Cousins, though, makes sure that come crunchtime, Sacramento opponents aren’t laughing.
“He wants the ball, (and) we’re going to feed him and keep giving him the ball because he gives us the best chance to score,” says Hayes. “You have to want the ball more to put the pressure on the defense, and when he does that, he makes it easier for everybody else.”
Part of the reason Cousins has become more reliable in go-to situations is because he is also doing a better job of taking care of the basketball. In his rookie season, No. 15 averaged 18.5 turnovers per 100 possessions. This season, he lowered that number to 12.8 per 100 possessions.
Along with cutting down his offensive mistakes, Cousins forced more turnovers on defense. The Kings big man led all centers in the NBA in steals and was also first among all players in the League in charges-taken (50) – eight more than the next best total – according to Hoopdata.com.
Kings Coach Keith Smart said Cousins’ continuing development of his situational-awareness and on-court demeanor is critical in order for him to improve his game as opposing teams are becoming more aware of his varied skill set.
Kings Consultant Clifford Ray, meanwhile, says Cousins has room to grow to continue to be able to handle the mental and physical battles he faces routinely on the hardwood.
“You can’t be thin-skinned if you’re going to play as a big in the NBA, because it’s always going to be your fault,” says Ray. “You’re always going to get ridiculed, you’re always going to be given a hard time when things don’t go right.”
Smart says the team’s starting center can also improve his ability to finish strong at the rim.
“He’s still not finishing tight around the basket, and that’s a lot of summer work that he has to get in.”
Despite opportunity for growth, the Kings coach praises the improvement Cousins showcased in his second go-round.
“(He’s improved) how he adjusts to playing on the floor when teams are physical against him, when teams are going to gameplan him, (and) being able to pass out of the double team,” says Smart. “He’s growing all around, and we’ll keep moving from there. Hopefully, in year three, he’ll make another big jump.”
If Cousins continues his rapid progression, there’s no question he’ll be the first big man to represent Sacramento at the All-Star Game since Brad Miller in 2004, and perhaps the first center in franchise history to be named to an All-NBA First Team.
“The guy is getting better,” says Hayes. “He’s just an animal.”