Given his age, size, natural talent, infantile behavior and non-existent ceiling to produce, DeMarcus Cousins is without a doubt the NBA’s greatest enigma. This season alone (his third) he's had several on- and off-court incidents that have led to suspensions and fines from both his team and the league.
From the outside looking in, the Sacramento Kings are struggling with their cornerstone talent, and the unstable environment he's in may not be the best to foster any meaningful development. Logically, the organization can't give Cousins a max contract without any evidence that it is able to squeeze more good than bad throughout the prime of his career; it wouldn't be wise.
Thus, a trade, sooner than later, isn't out of the question. According to ESPN.com's Marc Stein, the struggling Boston Celtics are one of at least two teams interested in taking a risk on Cousins. And they should be. (Knowing that Cousins could one day soon be the best center in all of basketball, this isn't the first time Danny Ainge has reportedly inquired about his availability. The same thing happened a little less than one year ago.)
So why are the Celtics—one of the most mentally tough/veteran-led organizations in all of the league—willing to trade for a malcontent? As far as on-court ability goes, he's the absolute perfect piece to fill all their glaring holes.
Solving Boston's Problems
Judging from any statistical metric, and the eyes of their fans, coaches and decision makers in the front office, the Celtics need more size. It's why a 34-year-old Jason Collins has been inserted into the starting lineup, and why Milwaukee Bucks center Larry Sanders posted 55 points and 55 rebounds in four games against Boston this season.
They don't have rim protection, they don't have a consistent offensive post presence and they don't have anybody capable of making a positive impact on the glass for 30 minutes a night, especially from their own misses.
Whether it's due to strategic design or incapable personnel (tough to argue against it being a combination of both), the 2012-13 Celtics are one of the worst offensive rebounding teams in NBA history. According to Basketball-Reference.com, the Celtics are tied with one other team for the lowest offensive rebounding percentage in league history. (That other team? The 2011-12 Boston Celtics.)
Last season the Celtics notched a league worst 509 offensive rebounds. Twenty-one-year-old DeMarcus Cousins grabbed over half that number by himself. (The Kings were the second best offensive rebounding team in the league last year.)
He led the NBA in offensive rebounds, and finished third in offensive rebounding percentage, grabbing 14.2 percent of all Sacramento's (including his own) missed shots whenever he was on the floor.
His ability to move bodies (look what he does to David West in the second clip) and show touch around the rim makes him extremely valuable. Those are easy baskets the Celtics simply haven't been privy to these last few years. Cousins has the ability to change that.
After his extremely impressive sophomore season, Cousins is regressing this year. Nearly all his per game numbers (including PER) are either down or stagnant, and he's shooting a measly 41 percent from the floor.
Cousins has one of the highest usage percentages in the NBA, but he’s shooting less than 42 percent from the floor, including 30 percent from 16-23 feet (on a career-high 4.5 attempts per game) and 59.4 percent at the rim (with only 34.2 percent of those makes coming from an assist).
These numbers indicate a problem, but they also reveal the possibility that Sacramento might not be using its most talented player in ways that best suit his game—as opposed to simply letting him do what he wants to do or what he thinks he can do.
Look at his shot chart below. With all this incredible responsibility weighing on his shoulders, Cousins is taking too many shots from too many places, and the result is low percentages across the board. Not all the blame should be placed on his environment, but it can't be discounted as a clear factor.
If he's placed beside an All-Universe point guard in Rajon Rondo, and has Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Doc Rivers all instructing him whenever necessary and correcting correctable basketball mistakes, Cousins could reach his potential in Boston's more enlightened environment.
Looking At Defense
Intense and successful defensive execution has been Boston's key to success these last five seasons. But it definitely isn't what Cousins is known for. Defending the pick and roll, he’s slow to react, lacks fundamental skills and plays the role like an embarrassed 16-year-old who just ran into his friends at the mall while jeans shopping with his mom.
He tends to lollygag in recovery, arms at waist, clearly preferring the “wild downward ball slap” method over traditionally sound alternatives.
His action on spot up shooters is deliberately in slow motion, as if he doesn’t trust any teammates behind him to rotate for help if he’s beat off the dribble on a hard close out.
Some of these motions can either be attributed to distrust or the fact that he’s a young 22-year-old who’s yet to play for a proven head coach, but Cousin’s loafing and disinterest on the defensive end make him so difficult to evaluate.
This play is a perfect example. Does he honestly not know where to be? Or is it that he could not care less? Both? Once again, is this a correctable issue?
When the mental aspect of defense is diminished, Cousins is better. According to Synergy, he's an above average post defender, allowing opponents to score on just 35.4 percent of their possessions there.
When you look at all the promise and production Cousins is capable of bringing to a basketball team, it's no wonder the Celtics (or any other team in the league) would want him. But factoring in all the extracurricular activity/unnecessary distractions involved lessens his value.
The Celtics need size, youth, power and offensive ability. DeMarcus Cousins is all of those things rolled into one. If he's seriously interested in becoming a relevant basketball player for the rest of his career, Cousins will welcome a trade to Boston and soak in as much knowledge as he can from the slew of positive influences available.
Not only will both parties help each other, both parties need each other now more than ever. Time is running out for them both.
All statistics in this article are from Hoopdata.com, NBA.com/Stats and Basketball-Reference.com, and are accurate as of December 30th.
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