DeMarcus Cousins of the Sacramento Kings, regarded by many as the best center in the NBA, is on the cusp of transforming his star status into that of superstardom amongst the league’s elite.
Shaquille O’Neal, NBA Hall of Famer and one of the best players ever to play at center, has expressed the belief that the position is dying in the modern NBA.
However, Cousins could be the first of a new breed changing the way the center spot is played in the modern game, where ‘small ball’ and ‘pace and space’ philosophies are altering the way in which basketball is played.
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Although reports have suggested that the relationship between Cousins and Kings coach George Karl has been up and down since the start of the season, it has had little impact on the big man’s on-court performances.
Cousins is fourth in points-per-game in the NBA so far in 2015/16 with 26.8 - a full three points better than last season and behind only Steph Curry, James Harden and Kevin Durant. He is also grabbing 11.1 rebounds-per-game, giving him 30 double-doubles through his first 43 games of the season.
He recently scored 104 points in a two-game stretch, including a career-high 56 against the Charlotte Hornets, illustrating just how dominant he can be in the current NBA era.
The athleticism Cousins possesses is key to him being adaptable in the modern game, as his height and power is matched with great pace for someone his size, with the speed helping him defensively.
Good shooting a positive
In an era where almost every player on an NBA roster must be able to shoot the basketball well, with teams constantly searching for power forwards and centers who can stretch the floor with their shooting, Sacramento has been attempting to adapt their star to the current era.
Karl has encouraged Cousins, who was already an above average shooter for a center, to expand his range beyond the three-point line, something he has shown great promise with so far this season.
Through the 43 games he has played so far this year, Cousins is shooting 35.4% from three-point range, an extremely respectable number, and higher than more well-known shooters such as James Harden (34.8%) and Carmelo Anthony (32.1%).
If Cousins can continue to shoot from distance at this rate it will be a huge asset for the Kings to open up space going forward, as opposition teams on defense will be wary about his ability to punish them from distance.
The Golden State Warriors have had great success by going to their small line-up with power forward Draymond Green playing center, and there is no reason Cousins could not have the same impact offensively, with his team.
But it’s not just the shooting that helps Cousins in the modern day game, as he also possesses high-quality dribbling ability, which he can use to his benefit to create his own shot and beat less agile centers on opposition teams easily.
His handles are so good that he was even nicknamed ‘Boogie’ by Rod Strickland, one of Cousins coaches at the University of Kentucky, as he could dribble like the guards, a nickname that has stuck with him to this day.
In basketball nowadays you cannot be a one-trick pony, being versatile is key to success and Cousins certainly has that on the offensive end, where he can beat you inside and out.
Room to improve
On the defensive end, however, there is room for improvement as Cousins’ numbers have dropped slightly in rebounding, steals and blocked shots in comparison to the numbers he put up last season.
To truly take the leap to superstar status he must learn to control his emotions, something he has been much better at during this season, and avoid getting into foul trouble.
Boogie leads the league in personal fouls at 3.7 per game, and it regularly costs him time on the court and puts his side in a difficult position when they are left to fend without their star player.
But one thing is for certain, Cousins is the template for a new breed of center in the modern NBA, and if he is able to get a grip on these issues there is no doubt he will be one of the faces of the league for years to come.