It has been quite the start to the Sacramento Kings’ 2015-16 season. After an eventful offseason that included cryptic tweets from their franchise player following rumours that head coach, George Karl, wanted DeMarcus Cousins traded during the off-season. Following that off-season, which eventuated in the free-agency signing of Rajon Rondo, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the regular season would bring less drama right? Wrong.
In an era of slightly built stretch bigs, Cousins is a throwback to the days where dominant big men ruled the landscape of the NBA.
Following a players-only meeting after a 1-7 start to the season, with the solitary win coming against the lowly Lakers, it was rumoured that Cousins launched a “profanity-laced outburst” at Karl after a 88-106 home defeat to the San Antonio Spurs. In reaction to the outburst, Karl reportedly wanted to suspend Cousins for two games, a move which was vetoed by GM Vlade Divac.
It seems like a Cousins-Karl divorce is imminent, but it’s just a question of who the Kings part ways with first. Do they side with the veteran coach, who has a proven track record of winning, albeit with no titles to show for it. Or does Divac put his utmost faith in his temperamental, but brilliant star player?
For a franchise that has been devoid of a perennial all-star since the days of Chris Webber in the early 2000’s, it can ill afford to get rid of another, just as he is beginning to scratch the surface of his greatness.
Make no mistake about it, Cousins is arguably the best center in the NBA right now. Sure, Cousins isn’t the defensive lynchpin that Marc Gasol or DeAndre Jordan is. He is not known primarily as a good defender, yet averages over one block per game over his career. In an era where rim-protectors are worth their weight in gold, Cousins’ career average of 1.1 blocks per game is perfectly acceptable when you factor in what he brings on the other end of the floor.
It is on the offensive side of the ball where Cousins has become a behemoth. At 6’11” and 270 lbs, there are only a handful of centers in the league that can match up pound for pound with the Kings big man in the low post. In an era of slightly built stretch bigs, Cousins is a throwback to the days where dominant big men ruled the landscape of the NBA. Since averaging 14.1 points per game in his rookie campaign in 2010-11, Cousins has upped his scoring average every season except for one (his average dropped from 18.1 to 17.1 between 2011-12 and 2012-13). Currently, Cousins is averaging 27.5 points per game, while playing just 32.3 minutes per game. Per the NBA average 36 minutes, this average extrapolates to 30.7 points per game, a truly elite number.
However, Cousins is not simply a back to the basket player. Throughout his time in the NBA, Cousins has shown the ability to take and make a midrange shot. In his rookie season, 65 percent of Cousins’ attempted field goals were within 10 feet of the basket. Comparatively, this season that same figure is down to 61 percent. Furthermore, Cousins has added an extremely lethal offensive tool to his arsenal this season. Prior to this season, Cousins had never shot better than 25 percent from three-point range, and averaged under 0.5 three-point field goal attempts per game. This season? Try 41.2 percent on 4.3 attempts per game.
Cousins is also a remarkably efficient player for a big man, as evidenced by his Player Efficiency Rating (PER). Currently, Cousins’ PER sits at 26.0, and has not dipped below 25 for the previous three seasons, with the league average PER rating being 15.0. His true shooting percentage has also risen from 48.4 percent in 2010-11 to 55.2 percent this season. Cousins’ win shares per 48 minutes have also steadily increased since his rookie season mark of .022 to .183.
While Cousins is not the rebounder that Andre Drummond is or peak Dwight Howard was, he is still an excellent rebounder. Drummond averages 10.7 rebounds per game throughout his career, and averaged a career best 12.7 boards in 2014-15. Add this to his offensive prowess, and the man is literally a walking double-double on any given night.
The Sacramento Kings have been mired in mediocracy for the best part of a decade, with arguably the most thrilling drama being saved for front-office decisions and a mayor lobbying to keep the team from being relocated. In DeMarcus Cousins, they have a bona-fide superstar. In a league driven by stars, Sacramento must ensure that they do whatever it takes to build their franchise around their cornerstone.
All stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.