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Sacramento Kings' Early MVP Candidate: DeMarcus Cousins

Cousins Is the Team's MVP, and Isaiah Thomas Is a Clear Second

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | Players like Andrew Bogut and Marc Gasol have neutralized him. His head coach has benched him, hinting at a lack of effort, and called him out publicly for poor post defense.

Yet DeMarcus Cousins clearly is the Sacramento Kings' MVP candidate through nine games.

The same argument deployed (quite fairly) to remove Cousins from any real MVP discussion also may be the most logical reasoning to back him: His teammates are awful.

Call it lack of leadership. Say MVPs are supposed to make those around them better. If he's so good, why is his team 2-7 and fending off Utah as the dregs of the Western Conference?

Yet, add LeBron James, a four-time NBA MVP, to the team. Would the Kings make the playoffs? Most would project any team with the 2013-14 James as a playoff group no matter what, but the fact that it's a legitimate question tells you something.

The Kings need two things to happen to win, and often it's more of an "and" proposition than an "or": 1) The team's jump shooters have to be hot, and 2) Cousins has to dominate.

Next-level statistics make a solid case for sixth-man Isaiah Thomas as team MVP -- Cousins holds an advantage in ESPN's Player Efficiency Rating (10th and 14th in the NBA), while Thomas laps the big man in 82games.com's Simple Rating (18th and 86th in the NBA).

Thomas is off to a wonderful start, including a career-best, if unsustainable, 46.9 percent from the 3-point line, and is playing more minutes than every current starter. But he's still a 5-foot-9-inch spark plug whose most effective role is as a Nate Robinson-type -- injecting energy and scoring off the bench, but often dribbling too much and prone to streaky play. He's best cast as a lead in a B movie.

Beyond Thomas, the Kings have -- well, not much. The small forward and power forward positions are atrocious, the worst group in the NBA. There's hope that rookie shooting guard Ben McLemore will be a good pro, but he's averaged five points on 31.3 percent shooting in three games as a starter. Marcus Thornton, a reliable scorer if nothing else, is off to a horrid start shooting. And distributor Greivis Vasquez has yet to replicate last year's breakout season in New Orleans.

Back to Cousins. Coach Mike Malone has pulled him for long stretches more than once, most recently against Memphis on Sunday along with most of the starting lineup. (Prone to fouling, Cousins has committed five or more personals in three games, yet his season-low 18 minutes against the Warriors and Grizzlies was due to his play.)

At 6-11, 270 pounds, Cousins is skilled with the ball and has an array of moves. When he's at his best, he's a matchup nightmare for most every team in the league. He's been more consistent this season than ever, which is more of an indictment on his past than his current play. But as he reminded us with his 30 and 14 against Denver on Oct. 30, his 33 and 12 against Portland on Nov. 9 and his 26 and 13 against Detroit on Nov. 15, he's the only Sacramento player who can dominate a game any given night.

Thomas is a more consistent scorer and an improving distributor, but Cousins is the team's only option for MVP, though he's a much better All-Star candidate.

Cousins will deliver an MVP-type performance for the Kings about once a week, but Sacramento isn't a legitimate threat to win anything in 2013-14.

Growing up in the 1990s, Christopher despised the Lakers growing up and fell in love with the Kings by proxy. He left the San Diego Chargers prior to the 2012 season to become FBS Senior Editor at Football.com.

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