Given DeMarcus Cousins’ dominance at the FIBA World Cup, it’s hard to believe many assumed he was in danger of being cut from Team USA. And according to coach Mike Krzyzewski, that prevailing notion was always erroneous.
After Cousins scored 11 points on 5-of-5 shooting and pulled down seven rebounds in just 15 minutes of playing during the Americans’ win over Mexico yesterday, Krzyzewski lavished his backup center with praise, insisting that he was a part of USA Basketball’s FIBA plans from the beginning.
…we have believed in DeMarcus right from training camp. All the reports about him not making the team and all that were all not right. We felt he would be the perfect guy with or in place of Anthony at times, but more in the place of Anthony, and I think it’s just a matter of him continuing to get in better shape, our guys getting accustomed that when he does come into the game he’s different than Anthony and so to look for him. I think they see him more now, and I think his defense has really improved. He tried to take three charges today. He played Ayon pretty well without getting help, so they couldn’t get a three off of him. I thought he played, not grading everybody although you guys do that, he’d get an A+ from me today, let’s just put it that way.
When reports surfaced that Mason Plumlee was ahead of Cousins in Coach K’s pecking order, it was easy to believe the Sacramento Kings star had a slim chance of making the final FIBA roster. And despite the disparate status of each player within the NBA, that news made sense – Cousins is ball-dominant and slow of foot defensively, while Plumlee is a great finisher and ideal pick-and-roll defender.
But that report came early in training camp, and Team USA’s final pair of exhibition games proved Cousins’ worth. As Coach K says, he’s a wonderful fit behind Davis given the pair’s contrasting styles. As long as Cousins’ teammates learned to take advantage of his unique attributes, it was a veritable lock that he’d perform well for the Americans – there are even fewer players on the international stage than the NBA that can compete with Cousins’ combination of size and skill.
Still, few expected Cousins to perform this well. He’s averaging 9.8 points and 5.0 rebounds in only 14.0 minutes per game while shooting a scorching 70.1 percent from the field, and has held up far better defensively than most anticipated. Part of the latter success is due to a decided adjustment in Team USA’s long-held defensive schemes. Instead of trapping and jumping out aggressively at pick-and-rolls, Krzyzewski has adopted principles of assistant Tom Thibodeau by having his big men sag off the ball to corral the dribbler. Unsurprisingly, that switch has proven a major boon for Cousins.
He’s still not USA Basketball’s prototype center – that’s Davis, obviously – but Cousins has clearly emerged as a fixture of the program’s present and future.
What do you think?
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