He's now in his fourth season in the league, and despite a rather checkered history with the team, in September he signed a four-year, $62 million extension.
But you don't get to be dubbed a superstar just because you have a superstar-sized contract. The Kings' investment in Cousins is based on future expectations rather than past achievement.
Here are five reasons why you can't anoint DeMarcus as a superstar quite yet:
1. He still blames the refs for everything that goes wrong - In their loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday, November 5, Cousins took a cheap shot to the groin from Hawks rookie PG Dennis Schroder. Yes, it was a dirty play by a rookie trying to make a name for himself, but Cousins' comments after the game were revealing.
According to Cousins, "I took a cheap shot to my lower area. [The refs] just blew it off. I guess because it was me. But as soon as something happens on the other end, because it's me, they run to the camera."
In Cousins' own backward view of the world, he's always in trouble because people target him. His actions are always an effect, rather than a cause. Until he manages to get it through his head that he is responsible for his own behavior, he'll always struggle with discipline and court composure.
2. He doesn't play enough - Cousins has actually been reasonably healthy for a 7-footer, averaging more than 73 games per season over his first three years in the league. The problem is, he doesn't log enough minutes per game. Over those three years, he's playing just 30 minutes per contest. Compare that to Shaquille O'Neal, who had early success with the Orlando Magic. In his first three seasons, he averaged 38, 40, and 37 minutes per game. That extra 7 or 8 minutes makes a huge difference, especially in close contests.
Why isn't Cousins playing more? See Answer #1. He commits too many personal fouls, too many technicals, and makes too many boneheaded moves that necessitate pulling him from the game. He wants to be the centerpiece of the entire roster, but he's on the floor about as much as the average NBA sixth man.
3. A lack of consistency - DeMarcus may churn out some impressive stat lines, but it's also noticeable how weak he plays when he's facing a team with solid interior big men. A couple of recent cases in point are the Kings' losses to Atlanta and Golden State. In those two games, Cousins averaged 9.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, and less than 24 minutes of action. When he goes up against the likes of Andrew Bogut and Al Horford, big men with inferior talent but superior polish and maturity, Cousins shrinks. He needs to learn to rise to the occasion.
4. He doesn't know how to be a vocal leader - I've often argued that one of Cousins' biggest flaws is that he has poor leadership skills. Good leaders do need to be vocal at times. Unfortunately, when DeMarcus does open his mouth, it usually comes across as if he's throwing his fellow teammates under the bus.
This happened again on Tuesday, when Cousins made it sound like he was the one who makes personnel decisions and he was going to make some changes to the lineup. That kind of public comment isn't likely to earn him too many friends in the locker room.
5. Ultimately, it's all about the wins - In the three seasons since Cousins entered the league, the Kings have won 29%, 33%, and 34% of their games, and they're off to a weak start this year. It would be generous to call this an "upward trajectory."
There are plenty of players in NBA history that build a career out of putting up big numbers on mediocre teams. What will ultimately separate DeMarcus from that category is if the Kings can get out of their slump and put together a successful season. They don't need to make the playoffs this year, but with the recent infusion of talent, anything less than 35 wins is a failure.Doug Brockwell is a lifelong follower of NBA basketball who grew up cheering for the Denver Nuggets. After relocating to Northern California in 2008, he began to follow the Sacramento Kings, who remind him of the endearingly hapless Nuggets squads of the '90s that he endured as a kid.
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- DeMarcus Cousins