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.

in conversations
  • Rocket Fan in Santa Barbara

    A puzzling interview–at the beginning it made Cousins sound like a complete superstar, but the conclusion is that “Cousins will be starter talent in the next couple of years” and was being compared to Kendrick Perkins! Still, it is good to know that Cousins is a defensive stud in addition to having great offensive talent. With Yao to act as a mentor, Houston is a good place for Cousins. Yao will give him the positive feedback he needs and will keep the temper in check. And if Cousins does really have an excellent face-to-the-basket game–the reports on his shooting have been quite positive–he'd be a great complement to Yao in that regard as well.

  • rahat_huq

    Yeah, I was a bit surprised by that, but I think that stemmed mainly from Glenn not being too familiar with the NBA and not wanting to give in to hyperbole.

    My own thoughts:

    What mainly stood out was the part about not biting on pump fakes – that along with his known ability to draw fouls is something you just can't teach. It's an easier bet that a 19 year old boy matures into an adult, than for someone who doesn't have basketball instincts to pick them up.

    I don't know if Cousins is the guy. But I would say one thing – I think we are all a bit frightened from the experience with Eddie Griffin and that is warranted. But what may have been one isolated case, with a different regime, should not make the rule.

  • Stephen

    First,I'd like to say how much I appreciate these Q&As. Thanks for the hard work and the time spent Rahat.

    I was just gobsmacked by the interview. If I read it correctly we have a 19 yr old who gets tired playing less than 24 minutes a game in college? Who has little in the way of hops,but knows how to throw his body around.
    From Glenn's description there's an NBA player who does come to mind-Al Jefferson if he played defense.
    Just me or does anyone else get the impression Cousins will have problems guarding mobile PFs away from lane? And will provide little in way of weak-side help shotblocking?

    While the current management may not remember Eddie Griffin,they went thru the Artest yr and I question how much Adelman wants to invest babysitting a rookie.

  • Stb2334

    Boggie will be a steal for which ever team gets him. He has a desire like Chuck Hayes but skills like none other. I mean watch some games from last year. He has great hands and great moves. He shoots the ball soft and is an outstanding offensive rebounder. I for one will be pumped if the Rockets get him. He averaged around 17 and 9 I think and only played about 25 minutes a game. This was also on a team that will have 5 first round draft picks. So this tells you not everything went through Big Cuz. He had a lot of plays, don’t get me wrong, but he got a ton of point on put backs. I think he can keep his head on straight and I guarantee he will be a fan favorite wherever he goes. He has a great personality.

  • RFWC

    You want to see where Morey has changed the game is this espn post:
    http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/draft2010/news/st
    Source: Blazers pay $2M for draft pick

    last year rockets got 3 2nd round picks for $2M each. This year just to move up 10 spots in 2nd round is worth $2M.

    Gotta have talent to make money and trades.

  • RFWC

    I saw that Washington wants to trade down and 'build the team through the draft.' This may be a worthwhile philosophy for baseball and football. In basketball there is no 'building through the draft.' Trailblazers, Warriors have been getting top 10 picks year after year and look where they are. Best way is to grow a GM, send it to another team so they will trade you their best player for a bunch of nobodies. McHale, West -> still building Celtics and Lakers while working for Wolves, Grizzlies.

  • Viper

    Does anyone remember the difference between Charles Barkley at Auburn and then in the NBA. Imagine that kind of difference in a man six inches taller carrying 285 pounds or so. Then add in better hands, better range and MUCH better footwork and positional instincts. That pretty much is what you can expect from Cousins in a couple of years. He will likely start as a rookie on most teams he would be drafted by. Also, the temper rap is WAAAYYY overblown by the media!

  • Viper

    Does anyone remember the difference between Charles Barkley at Auburn and then in the NBA. Imagine that kind of difference in a man six inches taller carrying 285 pounds or so. Then add in better hands, better range and MUCH better footwork and positional instincts. That pretty much is what you can expect from Cousins in a couple of years. He will likely start as a rookie on most teams he would be drafted by. Also, the temper rap is WAAAYYY overblown by the media!

  • Anthony

    I like Cousins a lot. One of the things that people don’t know about him is that he’s an outstanding passer. He didn’t show it much early on, when it appeared that he was too focused on scoring and impressing scouts (this led him to be jerked from games minutes in because nobody else was getting involved) but the coaching staff must have talked to him because from mid-season he displayed the passing skills written about in his high school scouting reports. I think he’s as talented a passer as Monroe. What really hit it for me was the diagonal passes out of double teams to spot up three point shooters. I think the ability to make this pass separates the good passing big men from the incapable of passing big men.

    Another thing is that he’s a very capable shotblocker. He swatted 1.8 shots in 23.5 minutes, which, on a per minute basis, equaled the rate of Favor’s. I don’t why people talk up Favors’ shotblocking like it could be Dwight Howardesque while acting like Cousins is the next Eddy Curry. Actually I know why, it’s because Favor’s athleticism is supposed to translate very well and it also fits the narrative of him as strong defensively, raw offensively but Cousin’s length and timing should work well. If Cousins is singled up against a small driving to the rim, he is more than capable of blocking the shot.

    Even without the maturity concerns, he’s not a knockout prospect. He has poor lift off a standstill position and one of his favorite shots in college, spinning and then trying to softly nestle the ball into the hoop, isn’t going to work in the nba (though fixable by just using the glass more) but he has a lot of ability.

  • Anthony

    I like Cousins a lot. One of the things that people don’t know about him is that he’s an outstanding passer. He didn’t show it much early on, when it appeared that he was too focused on scoring and impressing scouts (this led him to be jerked from games minutes in because nobody else was getting involved) but the coaching staff must have talked to him because from mid-season he displayed the passing skills written about in his high school scouting reports. I think he’s as talented a passer as Monroe. What really hit it for me was the diagonal passes out of double teams to spot up three point shooters. I think the ability to make this pass separates the good passing big men from the incapable of passing big men.

    Another thing is that he’s a very capable shotblocker. He swatted 1.8 shots in 23.5 minutes, which, on a per minute basis, equaled the rate of Favor’s. I don’t why people talk up Favors’ shotblocking like it could be Dwight Howardesque while acting like Cousins is the next Eddy Curry. Actually I know why, it’s because Favor’s athleticism is supposed to translate very well and it also fits the narrative of him as strong defensively, raw offensively but Cousin’s length and timing should work well. If Cousins is singled up against a small driving to the rim, he is more than capable of blocking the shot.

    Even without the maturity concerns, he’s not a knockout prospect. He has poor lift off a standstill position and one of his favorite shots in college, spinning and then trying to softly nestle the ball into the hoop, isn’t going to work in the nba (though fixable by just using the glass more) but he has a lot of ability.

  • rahat huq

    I like Cousins a lot.One of the things that people don’t know about him is that he’s an outstanding passer.He didn’t show it much early on, when it appeared that he was too focused on scoring and impressing scouts (this led him to be jerked from games minutes in because nobody else was getting involved) but the coaching staff must have talked to him because from mid-season he displayed the passing skills written about in his high school scouting reports.I think he’s as talented a passer as Monroe.What really hit it for me was the diagonal passes out of double teams to spot up three point shooters.I think the ability to make this pass separates the good passing big men from the incapable of passing big men.

    It should be noted that Yao is an extremely poor passer, one reason why I have contended that he should be used as the end-result of plays rather than as a facilitator. You can’t really have an inside-out offense without a capable passing big man.

  • rahat huq

    I like Cousins a lot.One of the things that people don’t know about him is that he’s an outstanding passer.He didn’t show it much early on, when it appeared that he was too focused on scoring and impressing scouts (this led him to be jerked from games minutes in because nobody else was getting involved) but the coaching staff must have talked to him because from mid-season he displayed the passing skills written about in his high school scouting reports.I think he’s as talented a passer as Monroe.What really hit it for me was the diagonal passes out of double teams to spot up three point shooters.I think the ability to make this pass separates the good passing big men from the incapable of passing big men.

    It should be noted that Yao is an extremely poor passer, one reason why I have contended that he should be used as the end-result of plays rather than as a facilitator. You can’t really have an inside-out offense without a capable passing big man.

  • Becks

    I watched every single Kentucky game. I watched about 65 Rockets games this season and the best comparison I can actually think of is, believe it or not a stronger version of Louis Scola!

    Like Louise he can run the floor, pass, hit the 17-19 footer consistently. He’ll take charges cuz of his basketball IQ not cuz of his lateral quickness.

    Louise is a great offensive rebounder because he’s more sneaky and works hard, where as Cousins get his offensive rebounds because of his positioning and strength.

    Like Louise he’s a great team mate. He was extremely liked by all his team mates and coaches. Calipari still calls him his big son! He’ll do whatever it takes to win, he’ll dive for looseballs, make the extra pass, take a charge etc. He’s happy to win, he won’t care about numbers, he cares only about winning, just like Louise.

    Unlike Louise, he’s very immature. He reminds me a lot of Charles Barkley in terms of his personality, he’ll say what he thinks, even if it’s not the politically correct thing to say or do. Just like Charles, I strongly believe that he’ll be able to mature and be a impact player in the NBA for 12+ season.

  • Becks

    I watched every single Kentucky game. I watched about 65 Rockets games this season and the best comparison I can actually think of is, believe it or not a stronger version of Louis Scola!

    Like Louise he can run the floor, pass, hit the 17-19 footer consistently. He’ll take charges cuz of his basketball IQ not cuz of his lateral quickness.

    Louise is a great offensive rebounder because he’s more sneaky and works hard, where as Cousins get his offensive rebounds because of his positioning and strength.

    Like Louise he’s a great team mate. He was extremely liked by all his team mates and coaches. Calipari still calls him his big son! He’ll do whatever it takes to win, he’ll dive for looseballs, make the extra pass, take a charge etc. He’s happy to win, he won’t care about numbers, he cares only about winning, just like Louise.

    Unlike Louise, he’s very immature. He reminds me a lot of Charles Barkley in terms of his personality, he’ll say what he thinks, even if it’s not the politically correct thing to say or do. Just like Charles, I strongly believe that he’ll be able to mature and be a impact player in the NBA for 12+ season.

  • Rockett6

    In Calipari’s system it was 110% at all times, when you get tired take yourself out. Try running with Wall and Bledsoe and give 110%. I think its a positive he was mature enough to take him self out when winded and falling below the required 110%. Especially when you have a competent back up center (Orton – Also top 20 in the draft). A great addition to any team, The Media played up his attitude and passed it to the referees who consistently when to the monitor to see if fouls were flagrant. He played hack-a-cuz (shaq), hit below the belt, lost a tooth and kicked in the head, all in one year. Would you rather have your big man get mad or invite his foe out for ice cream after the game. To many sissies out their today, bring back the Detroit badboys, Mahorn, Laimbeer, Rodman, Duuuuumaaaars.

  • Rockett6

    In Calipari’s system it was 110% at all times, when you get tired take yourself out. Try running with Wall and Bledsoe and give 110%. I think its a positive he was mature enough to take him self out when winded and falling below the required 110%. Especially when you have a competent back up center (Orton – Also top 20 in the draft). A great addition to any team, The Media played up his attitude and passed it to the referees who consistently when to the monitor to see if fouls were flagrant. He played hack-a-cuz (shaq), hit below the belt, lost a tooth and kicked in the head, all in one year. Would you rather have your big man get mad or invite his foe out for ice cream after the game. To many sissies out their today, bring back the Detroit badboys, Mahorn, Laimbeer, Rodman, Duuuuumaaaars.

  • Rockett6

    In Calipari’s system it was 110% at all times, when you get tired take yourself out.Try running with Wall and Bledsoe and give 110%.I think its a positive he was mature enough to take him self out when winded and falling below the required 110%.Especially when you have a competent back up center (Orton – Also top 20 in the draft).A great addition to any team, The Media played up his attitude and passed it to the referees who consistently when to the monitor to see if fouls were flagrant.He played hack-a-cuz (shaq), hit below the belt, lost a tooth and kicked in the head,all in one year.Would you rather have your big man get mad or invite his foe out for ice cream after the game.To many sissies out their today, bring back the Detroit badboys, Mahorn, Laimbeer, Rodman, Duuuuumaaaars. Also, as for his leaping ability, how high does he have to jump? Top of the backboard, he’s 6’11” with over a 7’6″ wingspan.  

  • Rockett6

    In Calipari’s system it was 110% at all times, when you get tired take yourself out.Try running with Wall and Bledsoe and give 110%.I think its a positive he was mature enough to take him self out when winded and falling below the required 110%.Especially when you have a competent back up center (Orton – Also top 20 in the draft).A great addition to any team, The Media played up his attitude and passed it to the referees who consistently when to the monitor to see if fouls were flagrant.He played hack-a-cuz (shaq), hit below the belt, lost a tooth and kicked in the head,all in one year.Would you rather have your big man get mad or invite his foe out for ice cream after the game.To many sissies out their today, bring back the Detroit badboys, Mahorn, Laimbeer, Rodman, Duuuuumaaaars. Also, as for his leaping ability, how high does he have to jump? Top of the backboard, he’s 6’11” with over a 7’6″ wingspan.  

  • Rockett6

  • Rockett6

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