DeMarcus Cousins‘ on-court tantrums can be worse than your six-year-old’s. Ejections, scuffles and whistles follow him. He was even sent home for a game on the road against New Orleans last season. In the words of Jerry Colangelo at July’s USA Select Team practice, Cousins “has a lot of growing up to do.”
But here’s what you haven’t heard: At 22 years old and entering just his third year in the league, Cousins is already performing better than Andrew Bynum did at this point in his career on both ends of the floor. And in a league where the traditional big man is disappearing faster than LeBron-can’t-win jokes, Cousins has more upside in Sacramento than Bynum does in Philly this year.
When you talk about either of the two young centers, you always hear the word “potential” before the long-winded sentence: “He could be great if…”
If he listened more than he talked. If he got more rebounds than fouls. If he cared more about Ws than his own double-doubles.
The “if” is what this season will test.
After seven years, the Lakers grew tired of waiting, even after Bynum’s best year yet where he averaged 18.7 points and 11.8 boards on 55 percent shooting from the field in the shortened regular season. The Lakers wanted another center who showed more consistent production, so they traded Bynum in the offseason, a move the Kings may pursue with Cousins.
There were times Cousins wanted out too.
Yet because the Kings traded for new people to build around Cousins – namely, firing head coach Paul Westphal (51-120 in two seasons), hiring Keith Smart, and bringing in point guard Aaron Brooks – suggests management is hoping (albeit by their last thread) Cousins can become their franchise player, seeing his development more as a priority than a problem.
Drafted No. 5 overall after one year at Kentucky, Cousins averaged 14.1 points and 8.7 boards in just 28 minutes a game as a rookie. Last season, playing just two more minutes per contest, Cousins had a breakout double-double line of 18 and 11.
People (rightfully so) talk about how he led the league in technical fouls (12) last year, but they overlook that he also led the league in number of charges taken (49). At 6-11, 270 pounds, Cousins is a much quicker defender and hustler than the 7-0, 285-pound Bynum.
As the No. 10 overall pick fresh out of high school in 2005, the 18-year-old Bynum was the youngest player to ever play in a regular season game. In his first two years with the Lakers, he averaged 4.7 points and 3.8 rebounds in 14.6 minutes per game. Critics questioned Bynum’s maturity as well, and that continued through last season, where he shot a three (if that’s what you want to call it) before Mike Brown benched him.
But the stats leave out a minor detail: Bynum played with someone named Kobe Bryant, and Cousins has played with…well…nobody.