Can Cousins’ Passing Repair His Image?
The highly emotional DeMarcus Cousins has earned a reputation for being unwilling or unable to control his actions and after his most recent team suspension, there has been a justifiable buzz surrounding the possibility of his days in Sacramento being numbered.
It has never been a talent issue with the 22-year-old Cousins, but after being linked to the firing of former Kings head coach Paul Westphal last season and getting into an altercation with current head coach Keith Smart in December, most analysts were left wondering if the Kings could keep their fiery young center long-term. However, Smart has been quick to explain why we shouldn’t be jumping to conclusions.
“For us coaches our daily job is to refocus our players and get him ready to play that game, get him ready to practice that day,” Smart said. “That’s what we do. I don’t hold anything personally. You have to move on. Holding something personally eats away at you, so I quickly move on and get things behind me as fast as I can. I try to share that with my team because that is how the game is played. You have to forget about a foul, a bad shot, a turnover and get to the next play.
“We had our issues with some things on the floor this year and some suspensions happened that way, but we put it behind us and I try to get [Cousins] to understand that you put a game behind you as quick as you can and you put a moment or event behind you as quick as you can. Myself and the staff will continue to do our job once again to try and get the young man to understand how to grow and be a pro, not just for this year, but for the rest of his basketball career because that will also help him with his normal civilian life when he can’t run up and down the floor anymore.”
There are a lot of good reasons to go the extra mile when your team has a young talent like Cousins. The fifth pick of the 2010 NBA Draft is a legit 6’11 with a freakish wingspan, excellent hands and impressive footwork. Cousins is a true throwback center in a league nearly devoid of such players. The issue with Cousins has been to help him put his team and his teammates ahead of himself and to play more under control. Smart may have found a method to achieve those goals.
“The hardest thing for [Cousins] has been he wants to win and he wants to be the one to win the game by scoring the ball and trying to make the play,” Smart said. “Any big guy, if he can grow into a passer and a mover in late game [situations], then you are going to have a chance to make plays. That is the next phase when you understand that you can’t do it by yourself and he is doing a good job at that.”
Passing the ball to his teammates isn’t something totally new for Cousins – he averaged 2.5 assists per game as a rookie – but what Smart is preaching is more than just being a willing passer. Smart wants Cousins to make his teammates better.
“[Passing] is something that I have always had,” Cousins said. “I kind of went away from it in my second year in the league, but as a rookie, I passed the ball a lot. We have been preaching making the next person better and that is what I am doing. I am just trying to make the next person better. I know I have been seeing a lot of double-teams lately, so I am just trying to find my open teammates and be encouraging at all moments of the game, even when times are bad.”
Cousins has led the Kings in assists seven times this season and is currently fourth in assists per game, but the change in Cousins’ game didn’t really show itself until after his most recent suspension. Since his return, he has played a team oriented game that has his head coach genuinely excited. After the road win in Toronto, Smart could scarcely contain his excitement about Cousin’s recent efforts.
“When you finally get down to a guy who makes it all work for us and that is DeMarcus Cousins,” Smart said. “I thought he had the right energy to start the game. He had the right mindset of not trying to score 50, but trying to let his teammates play and obviously trying to move the ball out of double-teams because we know over the last couple of games teams having been trying to double him and he has done a great job of moving the basketball.
“We have a big guy who is now at a stage in his career where he is willing to move the ball and let his teammates play. [Cousins] allowed John Salmons to have a good game. He allowed Jason Thompson to have a mismatch game and then we came back to him. That’s how you do it. I think whatever happened with what happened [Cousins] is in a good spot as a basketball player right now and he is only going to get better.”
Since Cousin’s return from his recent team suspension, the young center has put up a significant double-double in every game and handed out about double his usual number of assists, an effort that gained him the first triple-double of his career in a home win over the Celtics.
Smart has successfully re-established his previous good relationship with Cousins and the young center has responded positively to his situation. Unless there is a next time, Kings president of basketball operations and general manager Geoff Petrie’s emphatic denials about Cousins being on the trade block are justified and Cousins is in the process of repairing his image in Sacramento.