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.