The story of DeMarcus Cousins feels like it has many alternative endings.
Talented players with troubling personalities have gone on to longstanding successful NBA careers before. The list is extensive – Charles Barkley, Rasheed Wallace, John Starks, Dennis Rodman, Anthony Mason, Rajon Rondo and many others.
From a purely basketball standpoint the Kentucky product is heading in the right direction. The 24-year-old Sacramento Kings big man has improved his efficiency, rebound percentage, assist percentage, block percentage and lowered his turnover percentage plus fouls per game since his rookie season.
His defense, while rightly criticized, also has some positives. Cousins averaged over a block and a steal per game in 2013-2014 and placed first in charges taken with 36 through April 16th according to hoopsmanifesto.com.
Offensively, Cousins is one of the most well-rounded bigs in the game. He can score in a variety of ways including face ups, post ups, mid range jumpers, as the screener in the pick and roll, finish with his left and right hand, dribble with both hands and absolutely amazing coast to coast attacks. When you take all of that and group it together with his passing ability (17.8 AST%) and defensive rebounding (30.5 DRB% best in NBA) we’re talking about an absolute beast.
To put what he did last year in historical context – the only two other players in NBA history in the basketball-reference.com database (since 1946-1947) to have a PER over 26, AST% over 17 and DREB% over 30 were Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1975-76 and Kevin Garnett in 2004-05.
With the developments on Team USA’s roster as they prepare for the FIBA Basketball World Cup starting in late August Cousins will most likely be on the roster.
For a variety of reasons Blake Griffin, Kevin Love and LaMarcus Aldridge won’t be playing. That leaves Anthony Davis, Andre Drummond, Paul Milsap and Kenneth Faried as the only other options besides Cousins.
While much of the attention is going towards Davis using this as an opportunity to show he’s ready to take the next step, it’s just as an important of a showcase for his fellow Wildcat.
According to the schedule put out before last season, the Kings were on national TV five times, four of them on NBA TV and one on ESPN. Cousins typically gets more national attention for the non-basketball stories then he does for what goes on the court.
He was tied for first with two other players in the NBA with 16 technicals last season (shhhhhh the other two were Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin don’t tell anyone) and incidents like the Sean Elliot debacle from in the past.
The upcoming World Cup is a chance for Cousins to show off his skills not only in front of the United States, but the entire world. He won’t be able to completely change his behavioral perception during the tournament, but he can take a step towards shaping people’s opinions in a positive fashion.
This isn’t to say Cousins should become a choir boy on the court. Showing emotion and having personality is part of what makes sports fun. Finding the right balance between the good and berating teammates, referees and pouting is something Cousins can improve upon.
Using the Worlds as a jump off point for this maturation can help start the process of people concentrating on what a talented basketball player he is instead of the image he has generated.