I’ve stated before that the West’s All-Star roster is a complete mess with 20 players deserving of the nod and only 12 spots available. The starters are locked in because of the fan vote for the foreseeable future, leaving six spots to make the roster as reserves. Injuries to Russell Westbrook and Kobe Bryant (who is openly asking fans not vote for him this year and give other guys a shot) open up a few extra spots for the crowded field, and now Chris Paul’s six-week recovery time may keep him out the game as well.
But Boogie is deserving of a spot either way, whether it be the last spot available with a 100 percent healthy team, or one of the injury-aided spots that have possibly opened up. The newly minted Western Conference Player of the Week led the Kings to victory last week over the Portland Trail Blazers. “Big Cous” often went mano-a-mano with one of those locks for a reserve spot, LaMarcus Aldridge, scoring 35 points and grabbing 13 rebounds.
Cousins is on a tear that includes beating the Miami Heat, playing the Spurs close until the last minute, outplaying and beating Dwight Howard and the Rockets, and now beating another top-tier team in the Blazers. Last night, he went head to head with another big man star, Roy Hibbert, and dominated the odds-on favorite to win this year’s defensive player of the year, scoring 31 points and grabbing 13 rebounds. In fact, Cousins threw up 19 points and 10 rebounds in the third quarter, where he attempted to will his team back into the game, and that quarter alone was enough to outperform Hibbert’s ten-point, four-rebound night.
His efforts eventually fell short, but the Kings have shown signs of life in an otherwise lost season. Sacramento won three straight games before the Pacers loss, and while that doesn’t sound like a lot, it represents almost 25 percent of their victories so far this season. On Sunday, the Kings beat the lowly Cleveland Cavaliers by a whopping 44 points, the largest margin of victory in the league this season. In the end, however, Cousins’ team may be what eventually causes his All-Star hopes to go down the drain. And yeah, his team is pretty bad, but that isn’t because Cousins isn’t trying to make them better.
After signing a max extension before the season, he was given the keys to the kingdom and asked to be the centerpiece of his team on offense. He leads the league in usage percentage, a stat that measures how many of a team’s plays end with a specific player by field goal attempt, free throw attempt or turnover, and 33.3 percent of the Kings offensive plays end with Cousins, and he’s thriving.
He is fifth in the league in player efficiency rating, a rating that basically encompasses all measures of a player’s performance. Boogie ranks amongst the league’s elite behind only Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Kevin Love and Chris Paul. PER typically dips when a player’s usage rate is high, but Cousins’ has skyrocketed, and the uptick in usage has Cousins performing like an elite player despite his team.
To put Boogie’s current 27.19 PER rating in perspective, consider this: PER is designed so that 15 is league average. The all-time career leader is Michael Jordan with a career PER of 27.91 and the current active career leader is LeBron with a PER of 27.71. So yes, Cousins is jumping into the elite of the elite this season, and judging by his latest All Star voting tally (11th in Western Conference front court players, with less than 150,000 votes) people have barely noticed.
Even before throwing advanced statistics in there, Boogie’s statistical case is easy to make. He’s in the top-ten in scoring (seventh at 23.5 ppg) and top-five in rebounding (fifth at 11.6 rpg), joining only Kevin Love in that distinction. He is also eighth in steals per game–the only center in the top-20–and despite steals not always being indicative of great defense, it is a testament to how much he’s improved and dedicated himself on that side of the floor. Cousins has always had great instincts on defense, always sitting near the top of the league in charges taken (a category he led the league in 2012) and now he is using those instincts in more effective ways than just standing still in front of players before they jump.
Demarcus is by no means a flawless player. He still reaches too much on defense, constantly using his hands instead of his feet to guard ball handlers; fouls way too much; tries to bring the ball up more often than any center ever should (even if it sometimes ends like this); takes shots he has no business hoisting up; and turns the ball over at a career-high rate. But these are all flaws of discipline, not talent or effort, and can eventually be fixed or at least alleviated.
What outweighs these sometimes glaring flaws is that Cousins is as talented and versatile as any big man in the league. Against defenders he knows he can muscle around, he uses an array of post moves and hook shots near the rim to score at will, and when he gets his feet under him he can explode and finish above the rim as well. Against slower defenders he can face up and cross over. He is a gifted passer (though not as gifted as he thinks, hence the high turnover rate) capable of threading passes through crowds to cutters as well as open three-point shooters.
Plus, this year Boogie has just been…different. He’s playing with a tenacity (especially on offense, and especially against the league’s elite teams and players) that only few players match on a nightly basis. When Cousins gets on the court he hates everybody, even sometimes his teammates, but especially his opponents and especially the referees (and especially Chris Paul). It shows statistically: he is third in free throws attempted, third in defensive rebounding percentage and, unfortunately, first in personal and technical fouls. Long story short, Boogie seemingly cares more, and is just trying harder than ever.
Maybe it is Boogie’s reputation as a hot head that will keep him out of the All-Star Game this year, but even that’s a little unwarranted. Yes, he leads the league in techs, but as a humongous guy who gets hacked down low, he occasionally does have a case. Where some see a hot head who can’t control himself, some also see a passionate ball player who wants to win and be respected on the court. One can have Andrew Bynum and his lack of any real motivation or Dwight Howard’s goofiness. I’ll take Cousins and his emotional–and sometimes troublesome–heart-on-his-sleeve attitude.
Plus, there are signs Cousins is maturing. He responded to his max deal with his best season of his career, and after an embarrassing loss to the Charlotte Bobcats, Cousins, along with Isaiah Thomas, called a players-only meeting. Whatever he said in the meeting, it worked, as the Kings returned to the court two days later and beat the Blazers handily. He–and not someone else in Sacramento–took the leadership reigns himself.
What we are getting this season from Cousins is a culmination of potential he showed us long ago. Now instead of having to point at flashes of what he could be in the future, Cousins is giving his backers proof they were right all along.
While the coaches who vote on the reserves for the game may lean more towards more proven and respected veterans like Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki, or players like Serge Ibaka whose team has more wins, or even a safer personality like Anthony Davis, they should take a peak at one of the best players in the league when deciding who deserves to play in New Orleans amongst the stars. Again, he isn’t a perfect player, but if performance on the court is indeed the ultimate measuring stick, Demarcus Cousins is an All Star. And then some.