When DeMarcus Cousins becomes a very good NBA player, some people are going to have to apologize for writing him off prematurely as a hot-headed malcontent incapable of behaving like an adult within a team context. But for now, Cousins is just making it too easy.
While we were all barbecuing and playing beach volleyball and otherwise celebrating America’s independence, Cousins was busy earning a technical foul during a streetball game in Washington, D.C.’s legendary Goodman league, according to the Afro. Again: He earned a technical during a streetball game in a league that, according to every description I’ve read this morning, is part serious (there is lots of talent every summer) and informal, with some running trash-talk play-by-play from the commissioner and lots of the highlight showboating you normally see in streetball action.
Cousins got called for traveling and threw the ball out of the gym. In a streetball game.
I reached out this morning to league officials, via Twitter and their website, and a couple of folks who have covered the league regularly, to see how common technicals are at Goodman. I’ve never attended a game personally, so far all I know, players throw tantrums all the time and earn a pile of technicals. I haven’t yet heard back from those folks. Several NBA players, including Kevin Durant and John Wall, pop in and out of the league each summer, and I can’t find any reports of them getting T’d up.
This comes after a season in which Cousins finished fifth in the league in technicals, got punished several times for yelling at Sacramento’s coaches; flashed the “choke” sign at Golden State’s Reggie Williams (a move that looked quite silly when the Warriors rallied for an improbable win), and got into a violent altercation with Donte Greene after Greene had the gall to pass to Tyreke Evans instead of Cousins on a potential game-tying possession against the Thunder.
And these are just the incidents have been made public.
On the court, Cousins was one of the most inefficient offensive players in the league, and that should concern Sacramento just as much as his alleged character issues. He ranked 405th among all NBA players in points per possession on offensive plays he finished via a shot (turnover or drawn foul), according to Synergy Sports. Elementary math tells you that is really, really bad, especially for a big guy. He turned the ball over on nearly 19 percent of those possessions, one of only five players 6-foot-10 or taller to have a turnover rate so high. He took too many long jumpers and shot them very poorly, as Tom Ziller illustrates here in comparing Cousins’ shot selection to those of other heavy-usage centers.
This is all problematic, and Cousins should be embarrassed for getting so riled up during what is essentially a summertime exhibition game. He should know by now that each bit of conduct like this contributes to the perception that he is out of control, and that the Kings, a franchise struggling for local sustainability, made a fatal mistake in taking him with the 5th pick of last year’s draft.
And yet, the raw material is so good here, and material this good tends to eventually get molded into the real thing. It’s easy to say Cousins shot too many jumpers and just lambaste him for his greed. But not many 6-11 guys have the touch to shoot 37 percent — very near the league average of 39 percent — on long two-point jumpers, especially when they are hoisting too many. That touch, once harnessed properly, is going to come in very handy. It’s easy to laugh at Cousins’ ridiculous turnover rate, especially when so many of those turnovers come when he tries to force a too-fancy pass or bulls his way into the lane without a coherent plan or an understanding of what is going on around the floor. (It’s fitting that Cousins’ streetball outburst came after a traveling violation; he is a serial taker of extra steps.) But the fact that he can even try such complicated moves and needle-threading passes is testament to the brain, feet and touch that are here. He was one of the 15 or 20 best rebounders in the league last season, and there isn’t a “but” coming after that sentence.
Not every 20-year-old rookie makes so many selfish, bone-headed plays, but this is what happens sometimes when really good 20-year-olds land on bad teams. The Kings won’t be bad forever (right?), and Cousins won’t be 20 forever. He has issues, obviously, and the Goodman League incident is a reminder that he has serious work to do on his temper.
But mock him now, because chances are pretty good that by 2013 or so, this will be one of the best big men in the league.