Friday, April 1, 2011

Historical Comparables: DeMarcus Cousins

DeMarcus Cousins has had a tumultuous rookie season, to say the least. The player many considered to be the most talented of the 2010 draft class has put up some impressive numbers; 18 points, 11 rebounds, and 3 assists per 36 minutes, but also some less than stellar stats, including a .428 FG%, and over 4 turnovers and 5 fouls per 36 minutes. I was interested to see what happened to similar players. Did they cut down on their mistakes, or flameout despite some initial gaudy stats?

Cousins has a usage rate over 27% and a rebound rate over 17%, meaning he can create shots and rebound at a high level in the NBA. What other NBA rookies have shown similar abilities, say, a usage rate over 24% and a rebound rate over 15%? The result? Fourteen other players have accomplished this feat while playing significant minutes. If you don't want to click on the list, they are David Robinson, Tim Duncan, Larry Bird, Shaquille O'Neal, Blake Griffin, Terry Cummings, Arvydas Sabonis, Alonzo Mourning, Elton Brand, Clark Kellogg, Ralph Sampson, Christian Laettner, Cliff "not Clifford" Robinson, and Karl Malone. Before you become too optimistic, it should be noted that Karl Malone was the only one of these players to approach Cousins' inefficiency. Lest you become too pessimistic, Karl Malone was nearly as inefficient as Cousins in his rookie year.

But this list is hardly fair. Who would honestly compare the 31 year old international superstar Arvydas Sabonis to a kid coming out after his freshman year? It's not just Sabonis, either. Robinson was 24, and the list is filled with polished four year players like Laettner, Bird, and Sampson. What about a cut off by age? Cousins is 20 this year. What does the list look like if we change the qualification to 21 or younger? The list becomes 2 Shaq seasons, 2 Elton Brand seasons, 2 Cliff "not Clifford" Robinson seasons, Tim Duncan, Blake Griffin, Terry Cummings, Clark Kellogg, and Antoine Walker. Again, Cousins' 2010 was easily the least efficient season in the sample (yes, Virgina, less efficient than Antoine Walker).

That's the good. What about the bad? This time, I looked for players 21 or under that had a turnover percentage over 16 (Cousins is at 18.2%), a field goal percentage under 46%, more than 4.5 fouls per 36 minutes, and a rebounding rate above 12 to weed out the smaller players not really comparable to Cousins. This resulted in a surprisingly small list. The only other player to play more than 1100 minutes (Cousins has played over 2000 this year) while fitting that criteria is Danny Fortson. Other players who, in limited minutes, fit the criteria were Erick Dampier, DeSagana Diop, and Andray Blatche.

What have we learned? That in the past 30 years of the NBA, when all of the stats I have been sorting by have been tracked, DeMarcus Cousins is unique. There really aren't any players like him. His best comparables are probably Danny Fortson, Antoine Walker, Karl Malone, and Cliff Robinson. Players don't put up the kind of numbers Cousins had if they aren't any good. On the other hand, if they do certain things as badly as Cousins has, they don't stay on the court very long. He's already practically a 20-10-3 guy. If he cuts down on the mistakes*, he's an all-star. If he can't, he's a less valuable offensive player than Bruce Bowen ever was. Unfortunately, considering the organization he's with, that kind of improvement seems unlikely in the short term.**

*i.e., make fewer bad passes, show better awareness on defense, and take more shots closer to the basket.
**I think the only player in recent memory to improve after going to the Kings has been Beno Udrih, for some strange reason.

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