DeMarcus Cousins

Is DeMarcus Cousins the big man Team USA can lean on?


LAS VEGAS — Team USA is going to go small this summer.

In the final scrimmage on Monday they ran a lineup with Kevin Durant as the four and Anthony Davis as the center, and that likely will be your starters when the USA gets to Spain for the World Cup. On the other side of that same scrimmage Chandler Parsons played power forward with Paul Millsap getting a shot at center. Small ball.

But the USA needs some real size because Spain — the runner up to the USA the last two Olympics, and a team that starts Pau Gasol and Marc Gasol up front — is looming. The question is who will be that other big man?

In the limited action the media saw from Day 1 of Team USA training camp, DeMarcus Cousins looked like the next best big man.

The Sacramento center had a nice chemistry with Kyrie Irving on the pick-and-roll getting a couple buckets diving toward the rim. Cousins was making more plays on the defensive end where he blocked a Paul George jumper and shut down James Harden driving the lane. Team USA needs active bigs in their system and Cousins was that.

“I believe what (coach Mike Krzyzewski) wants from me is to be a physical specimen, be a defensive anchor, control the paint. Be a dominant force in there….” Cousins said, adding it’s an adjustment to jump into playing 5-on-5 at this level in the middle of summer. “Everything happened so fast out there I don’t know who made what pass, we’re just playing basketball.”

Of course, the question with Cousins has never been talent. It’s the mentality side — international basketball allows far more physicality than the NBA game and Cousins can pick up fouls and technicals out of frustration trying to deal with those calls (or lack of them). Team USA doesn’t have room for that.

While Cousins looked good Andre Drummond was making plays too and if he can keep his head about him while Cousins can’t the choice is easy.

Has Cousins matured enough to make the Team USA roster for Spain? If he has he’s the best man for the job. If not, Coach K will move on quickly.

As always with Cousins, it all comes back to his attitude and maturity. But so far he has looked like a guy Team USA can count on.

51Q: Does Ty Lawson vault the Rockets into the top tier of championship contenders?

DENVER, CO - MARCH 07:  James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets controls the ball against Ty Lawson #3 of the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center on March 7, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockets defeated the Nuggets 114-100. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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I see five clear upper-echelon championship contenders –  Warriors, Spurs, Clippers, Thunder and Cavaliers.

Do the Rockets belong in that group, or do they fill the next tier by themselves?

Ty Lawson – acquired for pennies on the dollar – could put Houston over the top.

But, really, this premise might not be fair to the Rockets. They earned the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference last season and reached the conference finals last season. James Harden finished second in MVP voting. Dwight Howard looked like a star during the playoffs. The supporting cast – Trevor Ariza, Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas, Patrick Beverley, Corey Brewer and even Jason Terry – played better than anyone expected. Young players like Clint Capela, K.J. McDaniels, Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell could make a leap at any moment.

There’s a case to be made we should have taken Houston more seriously even before trading for Lawson.

I didn’t, though, and I don’t think many others did either.

I suspect one of the biggest reasons is the Rockets’ balance. Houston – 12th in points scored per possession, sixth in points allowed per possession – was one of only two teams to win more than 51 games last season without ranking top five in either category. Of the seven teams with so many victories, the Hawks – sixth, seventh – were the only other. Atlanta was a darling team, winning 60 games after going 38-44 the season prior. The Rockets’ modest win increase, from 54 to 56, drew less attention.

But balance shouldn’t be punished. Houston’s surprisingly strong defense should be celebrated. Lawson might push its middling offense over the top.

There are reasons to question that, though.

The biggest is Lawson’s sobriety. If he’s not focused and engaged, this all goes out the window. His comments about going to rehab only because it was court-ordered raise doubts, though they hardly foretell anything.

Let’s say Lawson’s off-court problems are behind him. How big of an upgrade is he? The Rockets already had a pretty good point guard who fit well with Harden in Beverley. Lawson is a clear offensive upgrade, but in the biggest moments, the ball will still run through Harden. At that point, would you rather have Beverley or Lawson on the floor? Beverley is a far superior defender, and his off-ball offensive game isn’t far from Lawson’s. Beverley is is a fine spot-up shooter, and Lawson’s strengths involve having the ball and creating. Lawson’s biggest boost could come when Harden sits, but that was fewer than 12 minutes per game last season.

Sure, a secondary ball-handler could ease pressure on Harden throughout a long regular season. Lawson and Harden can take turns running the attack.

But we’re talking about title contention, and in those high-leverage situations, it’s Harden’s show. How much does Lawson matter then?

The Rockets have a chance to win a championship. As good a chance as the NBA’s five best teams? I’m not so sure.

UNLV following Kentucky’s lead with combine for NBA scouts

Goodluck Okonoboh, Patrick McCaw
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Kentucky held a two-day combine last season for NBA scouts.

Now, LSU and UNLV are following suit.

Rob Dauster of NBC Sports:

The Runnin’ Rebels will hold their event on October 23rd and 24th at the Mendenhall Center, UNLV’s practice facility, sources told The expectation is that all 30 NBA teams will be in attendance.

LSU has potential No. 1 pick Ben Simmons and another first-round prospect in Tim Quarterman.

UNLV features lottery prospect Stephen Zimmerman.

This won’t replace scouts attending games and watching practices, but the fact that all 30 teams plan to attend shows how seriously the pro league takes these. No college team wanted John Calipari to have that competitive advantage in recruiting, so the smart ones are leveling the field with their own combines. Soon, more college teams will follow.

As the calendar gets packed, NBA teams might have to pick and choose which they attend. At that point, we might get little clues about which prospects they’re scouting hardest.