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Q&A on Houston Rockets’ potential trade-target, DeMarcus Cousins

It is widely acknowledged that the cheapest route to acquire superstar talent is through the draft.  In fact, the vast majority of current superstars were drafted by their current teams.  This is simply due to the rules regarding free agency and the fact that uncertainty drives a bargain not later there.

I have felt that if the Houston Rockets’ scouting department measures any particular prospect to wield superstar potential, and if the team can meet the asking price, they should make the move, almost regardless of the cost, to a reasonable extent.

For weeks now, the buzz from various sources, including the Chronicle’s own Jonathan Feigen, pertains to the Rockets allegedly having strong interest in Kentucky freshman DeMarcus Cousins.

To gain some greater insight into the man most rumored to be targeted in a trade-up, I got together with Glenn Logan of A Sea of Blue, SB Nation’s official Kentucky Wildcats blog.  What ensues is our conversation:

Rahat: Getting a chance to watch him up-close for a full year, what would you say are DeMarcus Cousins’ strengths and weaknesses, both on the court and between the ears?

Glenn:

Strengths:

  • DeMarcus Cousins is a fearless competitor with remarkable physical gifts.  He is not a great leaper, but that belies his natural grace and extraordinary footwork, which is by far the most advanced I have seen in any college freshman.
  • Offensively, Cousins can score in a variety of ways.  He doesn’t really play above the rim, but he is astonishingly quick for so massive a man, and he can get past or around almost anyone on the block.
  • He is underrated as a face-up player because Calipari explicitly told him to leave that part of his game for professional development, and to be exclusively a post player in college.
  • Cousins is the best college offensive rebounder to come around in a long while.  He is always a major threat on the glass, and is relentless in pursuit of the basketball.
  • Jay Bilas has knocked Cousins for not being coachable, but he is mistaken.  Calipari convinced Cousins to completely abandon the parts of his game that Cousins enjoyed the most, i.e. the face-up part, in favor of becoming a dominant, back-to-the basket player.  He also convinced Cousins to hold his temper and use the perception of him as a hothead to his own advantage.
  • Defensively, Cousins is one of the best post defenders I have seen in college, primarily due to the fact that he does not, ever, go for the shot fake.  He stays on the ground and raises those ridiculously long arms and forces you to make shots over them.  Most college players could not do that.
  • Handle.  You would not believe how well Cousins handles the ball, because you have never seen it.  Calipari made him focus on running the floor and getting in position to score or rebound.  Plus, UK had plenty of ballhandlers.

Weaknesses:

  • Motor.  Cousins tends to get tired and loaf up and down the court sometimes.
  • Temper.  Despite the good work he has done, Cousins still has a chip on his shoulder that will take some maturing to remove.
  • Attitude.  Cousins likes to argue with the officials.  This is not a good trait in a future NBA player, as the NBA officials have less patience with constant arguing than NCAA officials do.
  • Maturity.  Cousins is still a big kid from a tough background that has not quite grown out of it.  He can mope when things go badly for him.
  • Free throw shooting.  Cousins is flighty at the line.  He can make them all, but if he misses a couple, he tends to miss most of them.
  • Mechanics.  Cousins flips up way too many soft shots for a post man in the NBA.  In college, they were tough to defend.  In the NBA, they will wind up in the stands.

Rahat: What’s his upside in the NBA?  To whom do you think he would make a good comparison?

Glenn: Cousins is capable of playing the 4 or the 5 in the NBA, and his perimeter game can really improve his range all the way out to the NBA 3-point line.  In addition, Cousins is capable of taking players of similar size off the dribble to the basket, although it is unlikely you will see him using the dribble to get a shot like a small forward would.  But Cousins is likely to have more dimensions to his game in the NBA than he did in college.

From a defensive perspective, Cousins’ outstanding footwork can only get better.  He will be able to take charges and generally keep slower players at bay, because he’ll be able to stay in front of him.  A player like Andrew Bynum would find himself working very hard to get into scoring position against Cousins, because Cousins is thick and strong in the legs and can keep him out of the post.

I really don’t follow the NBA that closely, so I am not really able to come up with a good comparison.  Sorry.  Maybe Andrew Bynum with a better perimeter game?

Rahat: What kind of system, players, or coaching does he need around him, if any specifically, to feel comfortable and succeed?

Glenn: I think Cousins needs a system where he won’t need to produce huge numbers right away.  He needs to be managed more than other players early in his career to keep the physicality and tempo of the NBA from getting to his somewhat volatile temper.

Coaching-wise, Cousins thrives on positivity.  A coach like Doc Rivers would be the best possible thing that could happen to him.

Cousins has fantastic hands, like suction cups.  He can catch anything, so any point guard will do.  He is also a better passer than he showed in college, so a team that emphasizes ball movement would be ideal for his skill set.  As far as pace goes, I think the way the game is played in the NBA these days, it doesn’t really matter how fast or slow the team plays.  He needs to get in better condition to play a truly up-tempo style like Boston.

Cousins needs a coach who is able to handle give-and-take.  A strict coach would clash with him, I think.  He is one of those guys who needs to understand why he is doing something, and a simple, “Do it because I say so,” is the quickest way to alienate him, and stunt his development.

Rahat: John Calipari recently said that Cousins is “probably the most unfinished product in the draft.” John Thompson said, regarding Cousins, “you can calm down a fool better than you can resurrect a corpse.”  How far away is DeMarcus from really contributing and do you feel it would be wise of an NBA team to put all its eggs in his basket and trade a king’s ransom to land him?

Glenn: DeMarcus Cousins is starter talent in the NBA in a couple of years.  I don’t know if he is All-Star material, but he is definitely starter talent.  What is that worth to an NBA team?  Cousins can bring all the little things, all the intangibles that NBA coaches and GM’s claim to want.  He can bring fierce intensity that will motivate his teammates, he can bring a relentlessness that will make them wonder why they aren’t working that hard.  Cousins can lead a team, believe it or not, when he becomes more mature.  He has a powerful but quirky personality that makes him easy to like when you get to know him.

Cousins is the kind of player you can use as a foundation for a championship team, in the mold of a Kendrick Perkins or Andrew Bynum.  These are players who aren’t really the superstars on the team, but they are the bricks and mortar of which the team is made, the guys who hold up the walls to the house.  That is the kind of guy DeMarcus Cousins is built to be, in the right situation.

About the author: Rahat Huq is a lawyer in real life and the founder and editor-in-chief of Red94.net.

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