Will DeMarcus Cousins ever be a franchise centerpiece?
For some, this is a question that can be answered with a simple and resounding "yes." For others, Cousins' long history as a player with character issues offers a clear and unquestioned "no."
In order to truly uncover this answer, however, we must weigh all factors involved.
Cousins is currently 22 years old and in the midst of his third season in the NBA. To date, he's one of the most productive centers in the league.
That is a statement with no regard to age or experience.
With that being said, Cousins is also one of the most mercurial players in the league. This comes as a result of a series of high-profile actions of a questionable nature.
In 2011, Cousins was labeled as a coach-killer for his clash with the eventually fired Paul Westphal (via Fox Sports). He's also been labeled immature by USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo (via USA Today).
What the world forgot to report is that 'Melo said it with a smile and claimed "we like that [about him]."
In order to get down to the bottom of this issue, we will acknowledge all of the previously alluded to facts. Most importantly, it will be noted that Cousins is young and inexperienced.
Cousins may not be there just yet, but he's showing all the signs of one day reaching that plateau.
Talent and Production
During the 2011-12 NBA regular season, Cousins averaged 18.1 points, 11.0 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.2 blocks per game. He posted a Player Efficiency Rating of 21.72 and pulled down 4.1 offensive rebounds per game.
These are numbers that should have placed him in the category of "elite."
Cousins ranked fourth amongst centers in scoring, third in rebounds and first in steals. Cousins also led the league in offensive rebounds.
One year later, he's beginning to reprise that form.
For the season, Cousins is averaging 17.4 points, 10.1 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.4 steals per game. He's also grabbing 3.5 offensive rebounds and is down from 4.0 fouls in 2012 to 3.3 in 2013.
The month of January has seen Cousins take his game to an entirely new level.
DMC is presently averaging 21.1 points, 12.3 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.4 steals per game in January. He's also shooting 50.9 percent from the floor.
In other words, Cousins has the talent and production to lead an NBA franchise. Oh, and there's one more important factor.
DMC is only 22 years old.
Is He a Leader?
The talent and production are clearly there. When you're ranking in the top five in most major categories, what other evaluation could be offered?
The question is, can Cousins actually lead a franchise? Or is his personality unfit for such a role?
The past two years suggest he is not.
One month later, the league suspended Cousins for striking O.J. Mayo in the groin (via Yahoo! Sports).
Less than one week after he returned to the rotation, the Kings suspended Cousins for "conduct detrimental to the team" (via USA Today). Hopefully this is the end of an otherwise hectic season.
These aren't exactly the type of actions that scream "leader." Instead, they're a sign of an immature player with character issues.
With that being said, we can't stress enough one simple fact: Cousins is only 22.
Patience and a Mentor
Although he's displayed his immaturity on numerous occasions, there have been moments in which DeMarcus Cousins has displayed progression. For instance, Cousins was the first player in to break up a potential fight between Isaiah Thomas and Charlie Villanueva (see above).
In order to truly help Cousins come along as a leader, however, a franchise must display patience and provide him with a mentor.
Cousins would be a perfect fit in a previous generation. His physicality and intensity fits the bill of the era of and prior to the Bad Boy Detroit Pistons.
Unfortunately, Cousins can't play that style in today's NBA. Whether you believe the league to be watered down or safer, that's the way it is.
In order to teach Cousins how to adjust his playing style to balance intensity and what is acceptable, a mentor must be brought in.
A player such as Kevin Garnett is the ideal fit. Even if they are not as decorated, there are countless veterans that approach the game with no regard for anything but playing in an all-out style.
With that being said, those veterans have come to understand what is acceptable by league standards. Teaching Cousins such information is the next step to his progression to the best big in the game.
Upon doing so, Cousins will, in fact, become a franchise centerpiece. His production is already on par, or better than, other franchise centers, while his reputation is far worse than his true being.
Given the proper amount of time and guidance, Cousins will be the leader the Sacramento Kings dreamed him to be.