Hamed Qashmar takes a deep analytical look into whether or not DeMarcus Cousins is the best center in the NBA, or if another player should receive this title. A few contend for this title, but who really is the best center in the NBA.
The NBA has been shifting towards a guard-oriented league. Throughout league history, big men have been key to successful teams. It was essential to have a guy who can rebounds, post-up, and protect the rim. Obviously, those are still necessitates, but the emphasis has shifted over to athletic wing players. The bread that was once so dominant and crucial is dying out. However, former Kentucky Wildcat star DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins is reviving the Big Man. Boogie is one of the most controversial players in the NBA. He is known for his antics and childish behavior, but it has become overblown. Furthermore, Cousins is the NBA’s best and most dominant center, and he is making the once highly coveted center position prominent again.
Just looking at his jaw-dropping statistics does not do justice to him. In last campaign, he put up 24.1 point per game, 12.7 rebounds per game, 3.6 assists per game, 1.8 blocks per game, and 1.5 steals per game. Whoa there, Boogie. Those are video game type numbers. Some may argue that these stats are inflated because he play for the lowly Kings; however, I would argue that his numbers are more impressive because he played for the Kings. Outside of Rudy Gay, who missed 14 games due to a concussion, and Darren Collison, who missed nearly half of the season due to a core muscle injury, the Kings do not have consistent offensive threat. Due to that fact, Boogie Cousins was the focal point of opposing defenses night-in-night-out. They weren’t worried about being torched by Nik Stauskas the rollercoaster that Ben McLemore is. Despite being the focal point, he managed to dominate offensively and rebound at an elite rate. He is reminiscent of Shaq in the post; don’t get me wrong, he is not as dominant, talented, or good as the NBA’s sixth all-time leading scorer. Nonetheless, his interior presence is second to none and causes opposing head coaches to focus solely on him.
His offensive versatility is one of his biggest strengths. Despite being known as a low-post guy, he burned teams with the pick-n-roll as well. He ranked in the top-20 among roll men; he scored one point per possession off the pick-n-roll while only being the roll-man 13.11% of the time. To put that in perspective, Anthony Davis, who ranks first in the league as the roll-man, scored 1.16 points per possession while being the roll-man 24.5% of the time. He isn’t far off from the best, but his strength isn’t in the pick-n-roll, yet he dominates it. As far as post-ups go, he ranked 6th in the league. Once again, his usage percent was much lower than those who rank ahead of them. He posts-up 30.0% of the time and scores 44.4% of time. Most impressively, he leads the league in and ones off post-ups and it’s not even close. He gets and ones on 4.7% of his post-up possessions. He is an unstoppable force on the offensive end, and he is not limited to scoring. He ranked 4th among big men in assists; he is one of a handful of bigs who can grab a rebound and get out on the break as the playmaker.
Being an elite player requires high performance on both ends of the floor. When fans think of Boogie, they usually think of his offensive talents and not his defense. When he was drafted in 2010, there were concerns over two things: his attitude and defense. Since day one, Cousins has consistently improved in 8 stastical categories since he has been in the NBA. That is just statistically speaking, but if you watch him play you can see the vast improvement in his defensive instinct. He used to give up on defense a lot in his first few years, the main concern with him was effort. However, as stated earlier, his defensive instinct wasn’t the sharpest. He would get caught ball watching and his defensive assignment would have an open lane and get the ball on a cut. But Boogie is improving and shown his willingness to commit on that end of the court. But, his biggest knock is his perceived inability to protect the paint. Sure, he’ll get dunked on once in a while, but I see that as effort. His 1.8 blocks per game attest to his ability to protect the rim. He might not be very athletic, but he can move on his feet and is 6”11’ and 270 pounds. His body alone gives him the ability to contest shots and make opposing guards think twice before driving to the rim. Looking at this from a numbers point of view, he has drastically improved at rim protection. In 2013-2014, he contested a modest 41.1% of opponent’s shots and allowed them to shoot 51.1% from the field, which is around league average. This isn’t very impressive, considering that this led to him saving -0.78 points per game in the paint. He was an obvious liability there. However, in 2014-2015, he contested 45.3% of opponent’s shots and held them to 47% at the rim. A big improvement. He also saved 0.45 points per game, a 1.23 point per game improvement over the prior season. These numbers aren’t quiet elite yet, but he is only and if he keeps improving each year as he has. It would not surprise me to see him reach an elite status in a few years. Not to mention, he has lightening quick hands for a player his size, which resulted to him being top-five in steals among big men.
In this past offseason, there were rumors that Kings head Coach George Karl wanted to trade Cousins. There was drama no Twitter about it, but it died down with time. The Kings have been one of the most dysfunctional franchises in recent memory. They have cycled through 5 head coaches since 2009. There is no stability; in fact, they fired Mike Malone early on in the season without Boogie’s consent. Cousins has had a hard time bonding with the previous three coaches, but he grew a relationship with Malone. Malone has a good reputation around the league as a player’s coach; it didn’t take long for him to get another job, as the Nuggets hired him as their head coach this offseason. Cousins needs stability and the support of his coaching staff and front office; he is a franchise-type player and needs to be treated like one by his own organization. Furthermore, he has been able to dominate in an unfavorable basketball environment, and he has managed to stay out of any serious trouble. He has had a few moments on the court, but nothing serious and has steered clear of any off court issues.
All in all, Boogie Cousins is the NBA’s best center. He is the most dominant big man on the offensive side, and his defense vastly improved and overlooked. In addition, he is extremely versatile offensively. He can knockdown mid-range jumper, post-up, and he’s is a great roll-man when used in the pick-n-roll. He isn’t limited to just scoring. He is among the best playmaking-bigs in the league. He is also among the elite, racking up nearly 13 rebounds per game, which ranks third in the league. There is little that Boogie cannot do on the court; he is the most well-rounded big men in the game. The center position has been dying over the years, but Boogie is slowly bringing it back.
By: Hamed Qashmar, @HamedQashmar
Statistics provided via: NBA.com; Basketball-reference.com; Vorped.com; Nyloncalculus.com/