DeMarcus Cousin

67RIEFNS No. 2: DeMarcus Cousins continuing where he left off

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The NBA is full of talent, personality and suspense. During the doldrums of the offseason, It’s easy to forget how wonderful the league can be. So, I’ve assembled 67 Reasons I’m Excited For Next Season (67RIEFNS). They’ll be presented in no particular order over the coming weeks.

How many players in the top five in PER last season can you name?

I’ll put the answer – and the rest of this post – after a few line breaks. That way, you have a chance to answer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. Kevin Durant

2. LeBron James

3. Kevin Love

4. Anthony Davis

5. DeMarcus Cousins

Durant won MVP, and LeBron was the only other player reasonably in the race. No matter what you think of his actual contributions, everyone agrees Love rates extremely well statistically. Davis, for a stretch in the second half of the season, played like the NBA’s third-best player.

And then there’s Cousins.

The Kings center certainly isn’t recognized as a top-five player. That’s fine, because he isn’t a top-five player. But he’s probably better than the limited credit he’s received.

In his fourth season, Cousins ticked up his production across the board. It’s hard to find an area he didn’t improve. He scored more efficiently both in the post and on mid-range jumpers. He took a larger offensive role, but he protected the ball better while passing it more. He rebounded more and defended better, both on and off the ball.

For the year, he averaged 22.7 points on 49.6 percent shooting, 11.7 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.3 blocks.

All 35 times a player has matched those point-rebound marks since 1980 – done by only Kevin Love, Dwight Howard, Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, Shaquille O’Neal, David Robinson, Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone and Moses Malone – he’s received an MVP vote.

Of course, Cousins did not.

Cousins, very quietly, made “The Leap” last season, though his breakthrough season was mostly ignored. That’s partially a reflection of the Kings’ dismal record, but one player can do only so much. Cousins deserves credit.

Maybe he’ll receive it as he continues to progress. Just 24 and beginning a max contract, the ultra-talented big man can still get so much better. Primarily, he can improve his shot selection, foul less and control his attitude to avoid so many technicals. He’s far from a finished product.

The burden is on Cousins to take those major steps.

Again.

Aaron Gordon both legs over the mascot, ball-under-the-legs dunk (VIDEO)

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TORONTO — Zach LaVine won the NBA All-Star Saturday Dunk Contest, but in an epic night for my money this was the single best dunk.

Orlando’s Aaron Gordon broke ground with this one — guys have jumped over mascots and other players before (and a Kia hood), but by splitting their legs apart. Gordon just put both legs over Stuff (that’s the mascot’s name, Stuff the Magic Dragon, I don’t make this up) — and took the ball off the mascot’s head, went under his legs, and threw it down.

Insane.

Gordon deserved a trophy for his performance in this dunk contest.

Zach LaVine edges Aaron Gordon in epic, insane Dunk Contest

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TORONTO — That. Was. Amazing.

In a dunk contest that will go down with the all-time greats — Jordan vs. Dominique, Dr. J from the free throw line — Minnesota’s Zach LaVine defended his dunk contest title. Barely. Because Orlando’s Aaron Gordon was doing dunks nobody had ever seen before.

And LaVine was bringing it just as hard.

The two men advanced to the finals — dismissing Will Barton and Andre Drummond, each of whom had good dunks — and that was when it got wild.

There were four second-round dunks, and four perfect scores of 50. (That was in spite of Shaq, who wanted to give nines for second attempts.)

“I was prepared for four (second round dunks),” LaVine said. “To tell the truth, he came with something that no one else has done. He did two dunks that were just crazy with the mascots, jumping over them. We just kept pushing each other until the last dunk. I’ve got to give it up to my boy Will “The Thrill” Barton. It’s because of him I think I won. Because he said try to go from the free-throw line. I’d never done that before, and I just tried it. So I guess it was a great dunk. I think it was the best one ever.”

The Air Canada Centre crowd was exploding with every dunk. The two men went to a dunk-off — and got two more 50s.

“If I knew it was going to be like that, I would have prepared better and we would have been here dunking all night, going back 50 after 50 after 50 after 50,” Gordon said. “We would have been here all night. I didn’t know it was going to be like that. I was just hoping Zach was going to miss, and it wasn’t going to happen. You could see as my facial expressions when Zach dunks it, it’s like okay, that’s a 50. Like I know we’re going to have to dunk again.”

So they went to a second-round of overtime, where LaVine put up another 50 and won the contest.

Gordon was close to perfect.

Zach LaVine can flat-out fly.

Magic’s Aaron Gordon with the over-the-mascot mad dunk

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TORONTO — Aaron Gordon was giving Zach LaVine all he could handle in the Dunk Contest.

He blew the lid off the Air Canada Centre with this dunk in the first round — and it wasn’t even his best dunk of the night. Never seen this before.

This dunk contest was awesome, so much more video to come.

Zach LaVine opens Slam Dunk Contest title defense with spectacular behind-the-back slam (VIDEO)

during the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge 2016 at Air Canada Centre on February 12, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. 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.
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TORONTO — Zach LaVine clearly heard all the talk that Aaron Gordon or Will Barton had a chance to upset him in the Slam Dunk Contest. He came out ready to prove his superiority right off the bat. This behind-the-back slam was his first attempt of the night:

Even better was the reaction, both from Andre Drummond and from LaVine’s Minnesota teammates: