RTC NBA Draft Profiles: DeMarcus CousinsPosted by jstevrtc on June 20th, 2010
Over the course of the next month until the NBA Draft on June 24, RTC will be rolling out comprehensive profiles of the 30-35 collegians we feel have the best chance to hear their names called by David Stern in the first round that night. There won’t be any particular order to the list, but you can scroll back through all the finished profiles by clicking here.
Player Name: DeMarcus Cousins
NBA Position: Power Forward
Projected Draft Range: Early to Mid Lottery
Overview: DeMarcus Cousins showed up at Kentucky as part of the Calipari Revolution of 2009 as the man who was supposed to do for the Wildcat frontcourt what John Wall was projected to do for the back. High expectations, indeed, but the man they call “Boogie” actually lived up to them. At various points in the year Cousins was statistically the most efficient player in the country, and was a tenth of a rebound away from averaging a double-double (15.1 PPG and 9.9 RPG) for his only season in Wildcat blue. In the early part of Kentucky’s SEC campaign, Cousins put up 11 double-doubles in one 13-game sample, including a string of seven in a row, totalling an impressive 20 on the year. He may have developed a reputation as a “hothead” or “wildcard” — two terms long in vogue to describe him — but Cousins seemed to enjoy such descriptions and used that characterization to his advantage, especially when using his imposing frame to gobble up rebounds or punish rims with put-backs. Throughout the season, he showed he possessed the skill to finish on the inside with authority as well as the ability to drill a jumper out to about 15 feet. He may have only been in Lexington for one year, but his hard work, production, openness with the fans, and personality have endeared him to Wildcat supporters to the point where he’ll be an icon in Lexington for decades to come. His tip-in at the buzzer against Mississippi State that put the SEC Tournament Final into overtime (which Kentucky eventually won) may represent the pinnacle of one terrific year in the Bluegrass — one that earned him SEC Freshman of the Year honors.
Will Translate to the NBA: Cousins’ knack for vacuuming the ball off the glass is his greatest NBA-ready skill right now. It’ll especially serve him well on the offensive end, as he’s superb at snagging garbage buckets off missed shots by his teammates. Even though he only averaged an assist per game at UK, he’s a better passer than many people will remember, especially on the interior. And let’s face it, he wasn’t exactly asked to distribute the ball a lot (Kentucky had another guy doing that). The intensity and emotion that he brings to the court need no adjustment, and the right setting in terms of teammates and coaching staff could help him better focus that drive into improving the areas in which he needs to gain some ground. He won’t jump out of the gym, but he’s happy going body-to-body with the other team’s biggest player on defense and has surprisingly good timing in terms of shot-blocking, and led his Wildcat squad in that category (1.8 BPG). Finally, though Cousins is known primarily for his finishing ability close to the rim, he often showed a turn-around jumper and a fade-away of impressive accuracy, both of which he’ll need.
Needs Work: If DeMarcus can extend the reliable range on his jumper to 18 to 20 feet, he’ll extend both his time and effectiveness in the league. When he received the ball outside the paint in college, he was able to bull his way closer to the basket, so he never had to rely a lot on the jumper. He’ll have to prove himself there. He also needs to be a little more consistent from the free throw line, a place he’ll likely visit often. He was streaky in that aspect last year, having stretches where he’d shoot 75-80%, and then follow that with five games of around 40-50%. The so-called “hothead” issue comes from three things. First, early in his high school career, he was dismissed from a team for disciplinary reasons, part of that stemming from the fact that he and his family were frustrated with the meat-market aspect of the recruiting process, and that he was baited by an adult after a loss. Cousins has expressed his regret, and says he’s learned his lesson. Second, we have these occasional spirited conversations he had with John Calipari on the Kentucky sidelines, though Calipari himself will tell you that these were examples of DeMarcus showing frustration when he didn’t understand what he was asked to do, and that there wasn’t a problem after he went out and did it. Third, there’s the most publicized incident, the Louisville game where he elbowed the Cardinals’ Jared Swopshire in the neck during a scrum for a loose ball. While an elbow to the thyroid gland is never the right answer, even in a boiling rivalry game, it came after Swopshire had brought his knee up to Cousins’ head. When Mississippi State students got hold of his cell phone number and bombarded him with calls and texts ranging from make-out requests to racial slurs, Cousins handled it about as well as one could handle it (he had conversations with his callers). He fouled out of just two games all season, and none after his sixth college game. Make no mistake, Cousins will have to learn a little control to succeed immediately in the NBA, and he’ll have to learn that NBA coaches, for the most part, won’t be willing to have the sideline discussions or answer yelled questions during games. But otherwise, how much of the attitude really needs to change? In Andy Katz’ excellent Outside The Lines piece on ESPN about Cousins, former Georgetown coach John Thompson praised Cousins’ intensity, asserting that the NBA could use a few more tough guys like him. We’re not apologists for the guy, but given the evidence above — and his penchant for coonskin caps and big computer-geek glasses — has this whole thing just been not so much a case of a player with some kind of borderline personality, but rather a player with…a personality?
Comparison Players: With his physical toughness and those glasses, we first thought of Kurt Rambis. But in all seriousness, Cousins has a body similar to that of the Celtics’ Kendrick Perkins, and, like Perkins, could take on the enforcer role for the team that drafts him. That said, he also has the touch and finesse to create his own opportunities, and because he has these multiple ways to score — offensive glass, post moves, getting to the line — as well as his ability to block a shot or two, he reminds us a little of Utah’s Paul Millsap.
Best Case Scenario: Despite his achievements at Kentucky, DeMarcus Cousins still has tremendous potential for growth. He’s got all the tools, and he needs to find a environment in which he’ll still get good personalized instruction, a place where there’s someone willing to take the time to bring out the rest of his abilities. Whether it happens with his first NBA team or his third, if he finds an environment suitable for such growth, Cousins could easily make a very sweet career for himself, most likely by making rebounding his calling card. In such a guard-oriented league, he’ll never be an NBA team’s first option, but if he lands on a squad that needs major glass help that can also get him a few touches to keep him happy, and he can continue collecting those garbage and hustle points, because that body will only mature further and that 7’7 wingspan isn’t getting any shorter, he has the potential to become a fine double-double averaging player. In the right surroundings, there’s no telling how many years he could be in the league.
2013 Projection: Cousins is crafty and driven enough to figure out what he needs to do to succeed wherever he is. Whether he’s starting or coming off the bench as the first front-court reserve depends on who drafts him, but in three years we can see DeMarcus as a 14/10 type of player. But we can’t stress enough that, for that to happen, he’ll have to be in a place that will help him channel his energies into improving his raw talents, and away from falling victim to the elite, high-end lifestyle that beckons all NBA neophytes. It’s difficult to project him, because there’s so much molding left to do, despite how good he already is. If that same prediction didn’t come true until 2016, it wouldn’t surprise us.
Best NBA Fit: Cousins won’t go earlier than 3rd and won’t fall farther than 7th. He’d get immediate minutes with the Nets, whose first two options at power forward are Yi Jianlian and Kris Humphries — stop laughing — but a losing environment of this magnitude and a new robotic Russian owner are a terrible fit for him. The Kings are an interesting option, but the best realistic fit for Cousins is probably the very place to which he’s projected right now — Detroit. There are minutes to be earned at the PF spot, there’s another former Wildcat there in Tayshaun Prince, and four-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year Ben Wallace can help him further hone his defensive skills. It’s a franchise that has had relatively recent success, and has the pieces still in place to have even more, assuming the John Kuester days are numbered or the players start to buy into whatever system he’s trying to teach.