DeMarcus Cousins is the best scoring center in the NBA, but he hasn’t had the luxury of working with a spaced floor.
2017 was a wild year for DeMarcus Cousins. He got traded on the night of the All-Star Game to the New Orleans Pelicans because the Sacramento Kings wanted to start over. It was a bizarre move. Despite that, Boogie continued to produce and made the case to be the NBA’s best center. It was the fourth-straight season where he finished as one of the league’s 10 best scorers, and his 27.0 points a night marked a new career-high.
With the Kings, Cousins’ scoring average was 27.8. Teaming up with Anthony Davis dropped it 24.4, but he shot the same clip overall while becoming more accurate from three. In 17 games with New Orleans, Boogie made 36 threes at 37.5 percent, far eclipsing the 33.3 he shot in 2016 while also topping the 35.6 percent he stroked in 55 games with Sacramento.
Over the last couple of campaigns, Cousins has shown that he’s more than just a bully. He quickly became one of the NBA’s most talented centers. Cousins plays with a jaw-dropping smoothness given the robust 6-11, 270-pound frame that allows him to double as a human wrecking ball. As Boogie’s matured, he’s become less-reliant on brute-strength, and there’s a reason the last two Skills Challenges at All-Star Weekend have featured him. If we’re looking at a total scoring package, the only thing keeping Cousins from being the perfect new-school center is his lack of explosiveness. He can dribble and shoot and play with his back to the basket and also has a faceup game, and that’s why he’s one of six players to average more than 25 points a night since 2014.
Still, the biggest shock is his decision to become more comfortable from the outside. Looking the part is still a thing, and we haven’t seen bruisers take a liking to the perimeter. The game is already perimeter-oriented, and back-to-the-basket centers aren’t standard anymore. Cousins’ decision to expand his game is indicative of the times, but also because of his situations.
The Kings were the laughing stock of the NBA until Phil Jackson took hold of the Knicks. Anything that could go wrong went wrong; anything someone wasn’t supposed to do, someone did. It got to a point where you felt bad for Cousins because they were wasting his talents, and, more often than not, he got billed as the villain because he was demonstrative and bombastic. Did he have some flare ups that were unnecessary? Yes and he’s acknowledged that. He was also a kid in the worst possible situation, without veterans to lead him properly and teach him how to handle himself in certain circumstances.
From 2011 to 2016, Cousins’ six full seasons, Sacramento won more than 30 games once, and that came in 2016 when they won 33. Their lowest was 22 in 2012. New Orleans went 7-10 in the games Boogie appeared in. The Pelicans, much like the Kings, don’t have the brightest group of people in the front office when it comes to pairing the right players with their stars. This offseason, they signed Rajon Rondo and Tony Allen, two guys who will be productive but not in the area New Orleans needs it — perimeter shooting. Sacramento had this same problem.
It got to the point where Cousins was like, “Fine. You don’t want to get me floor spacers? I’ll space the floor myself.” And it worked — kind of. Guys weren’t able to guard him on the block, and now they had to worry about him launching triples. When they sent multiple defenders his way, Cousins would just make the right play, often dishing it to slashers or — seldom — kicking it out to the perimeter for an open three. That skill set made Boogie the best floor spacer for Anthony Davis. Not only can he knock down shots, but he also does so in a variety of ways, and Davis’ production saw a marginal rise post-All-Star Break.
During Cousins’ tenure, the Kings only had one year where they shot a high volume of threes and made an above-average percentage of them — 2012-13. The other years were just terrible:
It was almost a given that the Kings wouldn’t be able to throw the ball in the ocean. When they did post a respectable clip from outside in 2013, a 22-year-old DeMarcus Cousins hadn’t peaked offensively. He was still their best player and leading scorer (17.1 a night), but he wasn’t the All-NBA guy who was in the conversation as the league’s best center. His most reliable snipers were Marcus Thornton (37.2 percent) and John Salmons (37.1 percent), with guys like Patrick Patterson (44.4 percent) and Jimmer Fredette (41.7 percent) also making cameos throughout the season. Sacramento won just 28 games that year. That’s relevant because atrocious outside shooting and horrid defense plagued Cousins’ Kings.
Things almost changed two years ago. Sacramento made a lot of threes, yet they were reluctant to take them. I’m not sure why this is. Part of it is how they were defended, and the Kings were sixth in free throw attempts and eighth in two-point attempts. It seemed like opponents were comfortable chasing them off the line, and that goes back to basic math. Going 6-of-15 from three is worse for the defense than going 6-of-10 from two. I failed calculus as a college sophomore, but I don’t need to find the derivative of anything to know that 18 is greater than 12. Plus, the Kings porous defense didn’t help.
Those same teams giving Cousins and his cohorts the points knew that they’d have an even easier time slicing up the defense.
Once Boogie left the Kings, I’m sure he was excited to start fresh. Maybe the front office would compliment him and Davis with the right pieces, but the irony is that that Buddy Hield and Langston Galloway — two of the players sent to Sacramento — finished the season at 39.1 and 39.0 percent from three, respectively. The Pelicans needed perimeter shooting, and they traded two of their best shooters away in a transaction that was supposed to be a terrible move by the Kings. We’re now looking at the 2017-18 season, and New Orleans still needs shooters.
I don’t know how much Cousins can improve. He needs space to operate on the block, and having Anthony Davis alongside him doesn’t help. If Alvin Gentry decides to run with Rondo and Allen in the backcourt, which I’m sure he will, their spacing will look like a seventh-grade church league game.
The Kings traded DeMarcus Cousins because they felt a dark cloud hovered above their franchise. Whether it’s true or not, one thing is sure — that cloud produced no rain.
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