Why did teams pass on DeMarcus Cousins?

To my mind, DeMarcus Cousins of Kentucky comes out of college as a better NBA prospect than Greg Oden was when he came out.  And teams have acknowledged “not trying their best to win” (tanking) in order to improve their chances of drafting Oden.  So how did four teams blithely pass on DeMarcus Cousins in last month’s draft.

As my last post suggested, Cousins is a very effective scorer who doesn’t need to rely on dunks to score at over a 50% clip.  I think his package of moves is much more polished than Oden and certainly more polished than Dwight Howard when he came out of school.  And Cousins has the second best college rebound profile I could find among the NBA’s rebounding elite.

Cousins 16.8 rebounds per 40 minutes last season is a better college mark than some really tremendous NBA rebounders:  Greg Oden, Kevin Love, Joakhim Noah, David Lee, Andrew Bogut, Al Horford, Carlos Boozer, Joel Pryzbilla, and the list could go on and on.  In fact the only player whom I could find with a better per minute college rebounding average was DeJuan Blair, and that was as a sophomore.  He was lower than Cousins if you compare only freshman numbers.

What’s really scary is that like Blair, Cousins rebound profile shows no “fat” on its bones, meaning it does not appear that he padded his stats with uncontested defensive rebounds. An inordinate amount of Cousins collegiate rebounds were offensive rebounds, and he barely got his fair share on the defensive end.

Generally a player whose rebound numbers are padded will have grabbed a  % of his teams defensive rebounds that is higher than the same % on the offensive end, usually substantially so.  In that case you would predict that the player’s NBA rebounding average would be less (the rule of thumb I use is I assume NBA defensive boards will regress closer to college offensive boards).  Cousins, like Blair, was the opposite.  Cousins grabbed 27.9% of Kentucky’s offensive rebounds but grabbed only 21.2% of Kentucky’s defensive rebounds. If his offensive rebounding is that aggressive, it appears he was deferring on the defensive end.  What does this mean?  It means his rebound numbers could actually be understated.

When it comes to scoring, his best work is done on the inside.  He is not a terrific 2 point shooter.  He has incredible size (292 lbs) and length (9’5”), even for a center, so he ought to be able to get inside scoring opportunities on anyone.  He should therefore take a page out of Andrew Bogut’s book and scrap the jumpers.

Cousins has only one really glaring weakness.  Personal fouls.  I predict he will be plagued by fouls as a rookie at the same rate Greg Oden was (7.6 per 48).  That could seriously hamper him.

Outside of that all his other numbers are excellent.  His turnovers appear high, but not when you take into account his at-risk possessions.  When that is counted, his .133% turnover rate is only slightly worse than the NBA average (.127%).

I project Cousins to have an outstanding rookie Win Score of 13.73.  However, I think his defense could be a bit iffy.  That’s based on reputation, on the fact that he’s a rookie, and the fact that he will be playing for a traditionally weak defensive team in Sacramento.  After some thought, I decided to use Andrew Bynum’s counterpart opponent numbers, but with Pau Gasol’s ability to attract fouls on his opponent.  (Cousins had a FTA/FGA of 71% in college whereas Bynum’s is just 37%.  So I used Pau Gasol’s CO foul numbers because when Gasol plays center he gets to the line on 53% of his FGAs).  That would make for a Counterpart Win Score of 12.48, and a modest Marginal Win Score of +0.63 (and a player winning percentage of .611%).  There’s is every reason to believe he could outplay this number, but it depends on his shot selection.

Here’s how I estimate his offensive numbers per 48 minutes:

Per 48        FG-FGA      %       FT-FTA   %       Rebs Ass  Stls  Blks  TOs  PFs   Pts
Cousins      8.7-17.1    51%   5.7-10.3   56%   16.9    1.7   1.5    2.2    3.7   7.6    23.1

I’m going to go lowball on his win production, however, because I am going to project his playing time as low.  I do that for three reasons.  One, he only played 22 minutes a game at Kentucky.  Two, I expect him to be in constant foul difficulty.  Three, the Kings have about sixteen centers on their roster.

Thus my model for Cousins’ playing time as a rookie is the same one I used for his foul difficulties — Portland’s Greg Oden.  Oden also had capable backup in Portland.  But, I’m only using Oden for minutes per game, not entire playing minutes, because  Oden only played in 61 games as he was coming off a knee injury.  I think Cousins will play in more games.   He’ll play like 1780 minutes, which translates to about 7.4 game responsibilities and, given my projected MWS48, that would mean about 4.5 wins produced and about 3.9 losses.

Two things.  One, my gut tells me that’s too modest, but it all depends on foul difficulty.  If he can tame that number and get it within reason, he could put up huge numbers because not only would his WS rise, so would his minutes.  The other two variables are shot selection and, maybe, free throw shooting, although I don’t think he can do anything about that.  He will probably always  be a poor free throw shooter, which will hold him back some because I expect he will get to the line a lot.

And keep in mind, I expect Cousins numbers to do nothing but rise from here out.  Remember, Andrew Bogut, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and a host of other players started off modestly because of one issue or another.  Now they’re big win producers. (I’m not implying Bogut is anywhere near the latter two, obviously).  The same should happen for Cousins once he gets through his first couple of campaigns.  He could eventually be unstoppable.

One Response to “Why did teams pass on DeMarcus Cousins?”

  1. So far, wrong on DeMarcus Cousins « Courtside Analyst Says:

    […] summer I made a big deal about chastising the teams who passed on DeMarcus Cousins.  Maybe I was wrong.  The only team who — so far — looks bad for passing on Cousins […]

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