Let's talk more about Demarcus!
Breaking down 'Boogie'.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Almost every NBA GM and scout had the same phrase written down in his scouting report of DeMarcus Cousins as he entered the 2010 NBA draft. All I heard was various endings to this phrase: "If he ever figures it out …"
"He'll lead his team in points and rebounds."
"He'll be an All-Star."
"He could be the best player on a contending team."
"He might win some MVP trophies."
During his rookie season, I broke down his game, compared him to Dwight Howard and wrote: "By 2013, seeing [Howard and Cousins] in the circle as starting centers in the All-Star Game would not surprise me at all."
Indeed, the question of whether Cousins will figure out his game has largely been answered. The Cousins we see today is the guy who would have gone No. 1 overall, perhaps No. 2 at worst, had he played more like he is now -- from the neck up. The man we see today is special and one of the most devastating players in the world. It is a stark contrast from the petulant, underperforming player from the last two seasons.
What changed between last season and this season? How is he doing it?
Fully using his physical attributes
To begin with, it's important to look at how Cousins uses his body and size to pulverize defenders inside.
It should be pointed out that this is where I see the first change from Cousins -- a mentality change. Before this season, the young, immature Cousins was the biggest guy in the room most nights, but he loved to show off his shooting stroke and dribble game out on the perimeter. He spent far too much time away from the basket and was only too happy to take perimeter shots possession after possession while not even coming close to the rim.
As a rookie, 60 percent of his shots came from the perimeter. That is an alarmingly high number because he was not even the top player on his team, so he drew far less attention from defensive coordinators and defenders in general.
This season, he gets 47 percent of his shots near the rim despite being his team's best offensive player, meaning defenses are working hard to push him away from the paint and to give him as few good looks as possible in the paint. Defenders are struggling with this method, though, as Cousins is making 94 percent of his dunks and 65.6 percent of all other shots close to the rim.
His willingness to bang inside and move people out of his way, as well as his ability to finish shots, has placed him into an elite level of post scorer. Take a look at the few other NBA bigs who have made 200 or more shots near the rim this season:
Bigger and Badder
Player Team Thorpe's comment
Dwight Howard Houston Rockets Game's best big man combining height, strength and athletic ability
Andre Drummond Detroit Pistons Closest thing to Howard in the league
Nikola Pekovic Minnesota Timberwolves Easily the NBA's most powerful big man
David Lee Golden State Warriors Completely ambidextrous and nimble-footed scorer
Those players have made between 212 and 248 paint shots and are the most dominant paint scorers in the league. Cousins is right in the mix, with 220 paint shots made heading into this week's action. He is a hybrid of all the players mentioned above -- agile like Howard and Drummond, powerful like Pekovic and gifted as a scorer like Lee. Like all of them, Cousins spends much of his time on offense hanging around the rim, which is exactly what he should be doing.
Boogie can shoot too
But unlike them, Cousins does have solid range as a shooter. Cousins, Lee and Pekovic are the only players in that group who make 70 percent or better of their free throws. If you study their shot charts, the story gets even more impressive.
If we look at the shot charts of Howard, Pekovic and Drummond, we see none of them have made more than 10 shots from any "spot" outside the paint this season while also shooting at least 45 percent from that spot. Certainly Pekovic has improved as a shooter this season, but Howard and Drummond still are strictly rim guys.
Likewise, Lee, often considered a fine outside shooter, has made 10 or more at 46 percent from only one spot on the court outside the paint. But Cousins has done so at three spots this season. In fact, he is a respectable 37-for-81 from the midrange area in the center of the court. Dirk Nowitzki is 49-of-119 from that area, showing you how impressive Cousins' numbers have become. (However, Nowitzki remains a far better shooter than Cousins from the wing area).
Kelley L Cox/USA TODAY Sports
Cousins has grown up, no longer pointing the finger at others for his mistakes.
Cousins has grown immensely as a player; he's now a dominant scorer and rebounder. Of the top 10 double-double players (scoring and rebounding doubles), just Kevin Love and Blake Griffin have averaged more assists per game than Cousins, so he is influencing the game with his passing as well.
But all this was expected of him only if he showed growth as a person. And he has grown. He was once the guy most players hated to watch. His reactions to bad calls were terrible, and his overall body language in games was worse, maybe the worst in the league.
Perhaps it's new coach Mike Malone who has helped Cousins focus on basketball and cease being a distraction. Or maybe the new ownership and management have gotten through to him. The team is showing some life, which can only help.
Most likely though, Cousins simply has grown up, as most young adults eventually do. He is far more of a basketball player now than he is a "personality." But he is just 23, which means his future is incredibly bright.
The question is no longer "will he figure it out?" We know that answer. All the Sacramento Kings have to do now is find the best fits next to Cousins -- their most talented and best overall player and a certain All-Star for years to come.
• As I mentioned, Pekovic has made huge strides and improvement this season. Pek had a slow start but has become one of the best big men in the league. He has added some range to his shot and has a nice turnaround jumper now as well. He also has improved upon the craft of scoring creatively, routinely scooping shots under opponents arms when they "tall up" to defend his hook shot. And Pek is better at "walling up" in post defense, taking away scoring angles in one-on-one post play.
• Another player who has made huge strides is Memphis Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley. His production and play jumped last season when Rudy Gay was traded to the Toronto Raptors, and in the wake of Marc Gasol's knee injury, Conley made another leap. He is looking for his shot more than ever, and that shot has never looked cleaner. If he can continue this assertiveness when Gasol returns, Memphis can be one of the league's top teams going forward. That's provided Gasol returns to form, of course.