November 16, 2015

SHATZMAN | Figuring Out DeMarcus Cousins

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There is a 100 percent chance that DeMarcus Cousins is arrested for something in the next five years. 100 percent. Write it in stone.” Fox Sports analyst Clay Travis wrote these words in early 2010 when Cousins was a 19-year-old freshman at the University of Kentucky. Travis’ prediction was gratuitous — Cousins had no history of legal trouble — but even so, many agreed.

People said Cousins was immature. One writer said Cousins needed psychiatric help. This became a pattern in Cousins’ life; the baseless characterization of DeMarcus Cousins the person — not the basketball player — ultimately molded Cousins’ reputation among the basketball sphere. The truth is, though, that the people making those judgments didn’t know DeMarcus Cousins at all.

On the court, “Boogie” Cousins is arguably the best center in the league. Now 25, in his sixth season in the NBA, Cousins has taken his game to another level. Cousins has always used his 6-foot-11, 270 pound frame to dominate the paint, but now he has added an outside element to his repertoire.

During the Sacramento Kings’ current three-game winning streak, Cousins has averaged 36 points and 11 rebounds per game, shooting 60 percent from beyond the arc. As of today, Cousins has a higher 3-point percentage than Atlanta Hawks marksman Kyle Korver with a similar sample sizes. No center dominates down low like Cousins shoots three-pointers at a similar clip — much less at a successful rate. If he continues to shoot the deep ball with success, his inside-outside combination has the potential to be like Shaq meets Dirk Nowitzki.

Cousins is also a willing and underrated passer. Last season, he ranked among the top in assists by big men. His ability to pass out of the post makes for a nightmare matchup; he can embarrass any defender one-on-one and if he’s double teamed, he will find an open teammate. Through five seasons, Cousins has recorded 10 or more assists in three games. Tim Duncan, one of the greatest passing big men to play the game, has done that only four times in 18 seasons. Cousins’ skillset is unlike any other in the league today.

Boogie is an admittedly emotional player. He gets a lot of technical fouls. He’s been ejected from games and has been suspended. Of course, these factors contribute to his reputation. In an interview with ESPN last April, talking about Kevin Garnett, Cousins said, “… But when he does something, he’s passionate.”

He isn’t the only star who gets his fair share of technical fouls. Cousins is an emotional, passionate player who turned 25 years old in August. On-court emotion does not mean a person needs counseling. And in no way does it convey the likelihood of a person’s arrest.

My intention is not to defend Cousins as if he is a friend of mine. I’m merely a fan of his. But off-the-court actions speak volumes about a person far more than do a few technical fouls. When he signed a contract extension with the Kings in 2013, Cousins, then just 23 years old, donated $1 million to Sacramento charities to help families in the community. He also helped provide free eye care and eyewear to hundreds of kids in both Sacramento and his hometown of Mobile, Alabama. Cousins purchased high-tech scoreboards for a Sacramento high school and he donated 700 pounds of dog food to a local animal shelter.

Just days ago, a Sacramento city council member announced that Cousins would be paying for the funeral of Jaulon Clavo, a local high-school student who was shot and killed on the way to a football team meeting. Cousins wanted this deed to be anonymous. It takes a special type of person to want to do something like this in the first place, but to want to do it anonymously reveals Cousins’ true character.

On Jan. 30, 2015, Cousins posted a picture on social media. It was a screenshot of Clay Travis’ prophecy, exactly five years later, to the day. The caption read, “Today’s the day!! Let’s all show him some love!!”, What information did Clay Travis have that suggested Cousins — a teenager with no record —would be arrested within five years? None. Clay Travis didn’t know DeMarcus Cousins. All Travis knew about Cousins was that he played basketball with passion.

Emotion is a part of DeMarcus Cousins both on and off the court — in Cousins the ball-player and in Cousins the human being. One is an MVP candidate. The other is a good human being.