SLAM Top 50: DeMarcus Cousins, No. 9

The definitive ranking of the NBA's best players for 2015-16.
by October 13, 2015
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Let’s start this with a video.

That’s DeMarcus Cousins, going buckwild during a training camp scrimmage in San Diego.

Read that sentence again: A scrimmage. During training camp. In San Diego.

(OK yeah, that last part is irrelevant. But you get the point.)

That video is so DeMarcus Cousins. DMC hasn’t always been perfect—he tends to let his emotions get the best of him, the result being technical fouls, a loss of focus, etc. etc. etc. But when his skills align with his passion, he’s a straight up-beast, a scoring and rebounding machine that could undoubtedly serve as the anchor and best player of a very, very good team. He has a passion for the game that you don’t often see, and it’s been the reason for so much good and a bunch of not-so-good over the past five years.

I don’t know if this is going the year to be it all comes together for Cousins and the Kings. Probably not. They’re coached by George Karl, a sadly solidified member of the #WashedGang who hasn’t successfully connected with a group of NBA players in years. They’re going to be piloted by Rajon Rondo, an occasionally transcendent basketball genius whose mind (and, with it, talent) tends to drift away when the right group of veterans isn’t around to steer him in the right direction. They’re young—the only guy above the age of 30 currently on the roster is Caron Butler. Their front office is a fucking mess.

But at times things are going to come together nicely for the Kings, and when they do, it’s going to be beautiful. And whenever that does happen, it’ll be because Cousins, now entering his sixth season, is going to be better than ever before. He’s increased his scoring (from 17.1 per game to 22.7 to 24.1) and rebounds (9.9 per to 11.7 to 12.7) steadily over the past three years, momentum that should continue in ‘14-15. His posts moves are getting better—he’s more than just a big body who can plant himself under the hoop and reap the inevitable benefits.

Look at this: “I don’t really consider myself a center,” Cousins told the Sacramento Bee. “I’m just a basketball player. There’s so much I can do on the floor. People get stuck on the word ‘center,’ ‘big man’ and (are) kind of ignorant to the situation. I can’t really worry about that. I just go out there and do my job.”

Basically, he’s going to shoot some from the outside, which is probably needed if he wants to play in an offense that isn’t based in Memphis over the next decade.

We’ve placed Cousins ninth, which sounds about right. There’s still a class ahead of him, guys who’ve established themselves as elite superduperstars who can carry an NBA team as deep as an NBA team can possibly go. It says here that he’ll push forward this year, landing himself a couple spots upward next year after a season that excites no one more than those who draft him in their fantasy leagues. His temper will still flare up here and there, but he should have a better grasp on how to channel it into the right kind of aggression than he did as a youngster. (Playing alongside his buddy Rondo and with a strong-minded veteran like Caron Butler should help, too.) His post moves are going to get better, because he’s another year into his 20s, which is when post moves tend to get better, I guess. (And if he can shoot a little, his defenders are going to have to step out to guard him, at which point he can probably body right past them en route to the hoop.)

Regardless, the Kings are going to be soooo compelling. Rondo may still have some greatness in him yet. Rudy Gay can still score in fits. There’s plenty of young talent—Willie Caulie-Stein, Ben McLemore, Seth Curry, James Anderson, David Stockton, (potentially) Marshall Henderson (!). And there’s DMC. If this team doesn’t implode for the many reasons listed a few paragraphs up, they *could* be fun as hell.

Somehow, after five long years in the NBA, Cousins is still just 25. Twenty-five! If he puts everything together… well, quotes like these, on whether the MVP award is reachable for him this season, are going to seem way less ridiculous:

“Reachable, man? It’s mine to grab.”

It could happen! He’s already going nuts at scrimmages during preseason practices when most guys are still sweating out this summer’s alcohol intake. That innate passion, which has caused both problems and controversy over the past five years, is going to serve this cat very well over the remainder of his career.

And even if he doesn’t go full MVP mode, he’s still going to be pretty damn good this year. Like, ninth best player in the NBA good. Or a little better.

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SLAM Top 50 Players 2015
Rank Player Team Position Pos. Rank
50 Rajon Rondo Kings PG 14
49 Giannis Antetokounmpo Bucks SF 8
48 Rudy Gobert Jazz C 10
47 Al Jefferson Hornets C 9
46 DeMar DeRozan Raptors SG 7
45 Goran Dragic Heat PG 13
44 Zach Randolph Grizzlies PF 11
43 Jeff Teague Hawks PG 12
42 Bradley Beal Wizards SG 6
41 Joakim Noah Bulls C 8
40 Eric Bledsoe Suns PG 11
39 Tony Parker Spurs PG 10
38 Andrew Wiggins T-Wolves SF 7
37 Kyle Lowry Raptors PG 9
36 Serge Ibaka Thunder PF 10
35 Gordon Hayward Jazz SF 6
34 Pau Gasol Bulls PF 9
33 Paul Millsap Hawks PF 8
32 Mike Conley Grizzlies PG 8
31 Andre Drummond Pistons C 7
30 Dirk Nowitzki Mavs PF 7
29 Draymond Green Warriors PF 6
28 Kobe Bryant Lakers SG 5
27 Dwyane Wade Heat SG 4
26 DeAndre Jordan Clippers C 6
25 Tim Duncan Spurs C 5
24 Derrick Rose Bulls PG 7
23 Al Horford Hawks C 4
22 Paul George Pacers SF 5
21 Chris Bosh Heat PF 5
20 Kevin Love Cavs PF 4
19 Dwight Howard Rockets C 3
18 Jimmy Butler Bulls SG 3
17 Klay Thompson Warriors SG 2
16 Damian Lillard Blazers PG 6
15 Kyrie Irving Cavs PG 5
14 Marc Gasol Grizzlies C 2
13 Carmelo Anthony Knicks SF 4
12 John Wall Wizards PG 4
11 Kawhi Leonard Spurs SF 3
10 LaMarcus Aldridge Spurs PF 3
9 DeMarcus Cousins Kings C 1


Rankings are based on expected contribution in 2015-16—to players’ team, the NBA and the game.