by Tzvi Twersky | @ttwersky

In the past few months alone, DeMarcus Cousins has been referred to as “immature,” “uncouth” and “enigmatic.” And that’s only in reports written during his summer mostly spent away from reporters.

Yeah, after two up-and-down seasons in the NBA it’s fair to say that the slander surrounding DeMarcus Cousins is out of control. Just ask Thomas Robinson.

“Everybody told me, ‘You need to watch out for Cousins. He’s got an attitude—y’all are gonna clash,’” Robinson, the No. 5 overall Draft pick from Kansas, told me in August. “I met DCousins and we clicked, from the get-go.”

Maybe some of the negative press surrounding Cousins stems from a real place. Maybe—OK, more like probably—at times he acts immaturely on and off the court. Maybe he’s made a few mistakes since being drafted fifth overall by the Kings in 2010. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe.

Strip away the uncertainties and the “uncouth” behavior. Strip away what you’ve read about him—because, be honest, you probably haven’t seen him play much, him being in Sacramento and all—and how you feel about him. Strip away everything you think you know, and you’ll find that there are a few certainties with Cousins. Namely: He’s loud, he’s proud… and he’s better than any power forward or center on your favorite team.

“He’s just like me,” says Robinson, who is not only expected to help the Kings immediately but is also admired for his well-known off-court story and interview skills. “It’s just the way he expresses himself is a little louder than what people might want. But he ain’t changing, and he ain’t need to. They’re gonna have to accept it, because he really is going to be one of the best in the League.”

Robinson was on a roll, so I didn’t stop him… but he was wrong about one thing. Cousins isn’t going to be one of the best. He already is. I mean, just set aside all the talk about attitude and behavior and focus on skills.

Can he score? Last season—remember, it was only his second in the League—Cousins averaged 18.1 ppg in 30.5 mpg of playing time. According to NBA.com’s advanced stats, that was good for 28 percent of the Kings’ offense while he was on the floor. You can only imagine what those numbers would look like if he played with a pure point guard.

Can he rebound? Last season Cousins averaged 11 rpg, 4.1 of which came on the offensive glass. The latter number tied for first in the League with Kevin Love, and the former digit was good for 39 percent of the Kings’ rebounds while he was on the floor.

Can he play defense? Though Cousins sometimes plays apathetically on D and can certainly get better at it, he did average 1.5 spg and 1.2 bpg last season. It’s safe to assume that if he played on a winning team that focused on defense, with his size (6-11) and width (250+) and quick feet, he’d be an asset on that side of the ball.

Can he not do anything on the court? Very little. (Yes, he could shoot a higher percentage, he could stay out of foul trouble and he could pass better. Keep in mind, though, he just turned 22.)

Is he better than Amar’e Stoudemire, Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, Kevin Garnett, Tyson Chandler, Roy Hibbert, Tim Duncan and Al Horford? According to his ranking in the Top 50, yes. And even if you might not want him on your team ahead of all those guys yet, I personally had him ranked No. 18 in the League, four spots higher than I had Chris Bosh (22), and one spot higher than Blake Griffin (19).

Ah, Griffin, Blake. You knew this would come up, especially since Blake and Boogie (Cousins’ nickname) might be the new decade’s version of Duncan and Garnett.

In the middle of last season, the Second Season of Blake, Cousins called Blake “babied” and an “actor.” He said that Blake is a posterboy for the League, and that he gets away with a lot because of it. Take away the L.A. factor, though. Take away the dunks, the fans, take away SportsCenter. Take all that way and who between the two young bigs really is better? Thomas Robinson was quick to tell me he supports his teammate Cousins, and if you ask the experts you might be surprised by what stance they take, too.

“I say Cousins is the most talented big man in the League,” NBA TV’s Chris Webber told SLAM recently. “This is the year for him to show that.”

In a recent candid interview with SI‘s Sam Amick, entitled “After busy summer, Cousins ready to take his place among NBA elite,” the young forward seemed to be geared up and ready for a big, potential-tapping season. As Kings basketball President Geoff Petrie told Amick, “It has the potential for a really significant growth year for him. On the physical side for sure, he really consistently worked on his conditioning, played every day for the past couple weeks here getting ready. He’s shooting the ball very well. He’s coming into camp in the best shape I’ve ever seen him, really.”

In the wake of that interview, in the weeks since the start of training camp, there seems to be somewhat of a softening stance towards Cousins underway. There have been reports of his good conditioning, leadership efforts and strong play. Maybe just maybe the tide is starting to turn in his favor, at least when it comes to acknowledging his abilities on the court.

If things keep going this way, if he plays like he can and the Kings mesh, there could soon be a few new buzz words associated with Cousins. Namely: loud leader, proud prized player… and most dominant big man.


Where should DeMarcus Cousins rank in the SLAMonline Top 50?

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SLAMonline Top 50 Players 2012
RankPlayerTeamPositionPos. Rank
50Greg MonroePistonsC8
49Tyreke EvansKingsPG14
48Brandon JenningsBucksPG13
47Stephen CurryWarriorsPG12
46Ricky RubioTWolvesPG11
45Al JeffersonJazzPF14
44Anthony DavisHornetsPF13
43Serge IbakaThunderPF12
42Al HorfordHawksC7
41Ty LawsonNuggetsPG10
40Danny GrangerPacersSF6
39Tim DuncanSpursPF11
38John WallWizardsPG9
37Monta EllisBucksSG8
36Zach RandolphGrizzliesPF10
35Roy HibbertPacersC6
34Tyson ChandlerKnicksC5
33Eric GordonHornetsSG7
32Kevin GarnettCelticsPF9
31Manu GinobiliSpursSG6
30Amar’e StoudemireKnicksPF8
29Marc GasolGrizzliesC4
28DeMarcus CousinsKingsC3

Notes
• Rankings are based solely on projected ’12-13 performance.
• Contributors to this list include: Jake Appleman, Maurice Bobb, Rodger Bohn, Brendan Bowers, Franklyn Calle, David Cassilo, Bryan Crawford, Adam Figman, Eldon Khorshidi, Eddie Maisonet III, Ryne Nelson, Ben Osborne, Allen Powell II, Sam Rubenstein, Jonathan Santiago, Abe Schwadron, Leo Sepkowitz, Dave Spahn, Ben Taylor, Tzvi Twersky, Peter Walsh, Tracy Weissenberg, Yaron Weitzman, DeMarco Williams and Dave Zirin.
• Want more of the SLAMonline Top 50? Check out the archive.