SLAM Top 50: DeMarcus Cousins, No. 12

Good news: DeMarcus Cousins is the best center in the NBA.

Bad news: So what? He’s never been to the playoffs.

He’s the most dominant center in the NBA today with the numbers to back it up—27 and 11 per game. DeMarcus is a big body they can’t handle in today’s hands-off game of H-O-R-S-E. He’s more athletic than stunned defenders realize, but he has the Z-Bo junk game, too. Sounds good? Well, DeMarcus can stretch the floor, hitting more than two 3-pointers a game last season. Larry Bird never did that (the NBA game is different than it used to be). Dominant bigs are like franchise running backs in the NFL. As both leagues play funny games with the rules to crank up the offense for fantasy and to make real life basketball seem more like a video game, the dominance of the big matters less.

As the latest disaster of a season was unfolding in Sactown, Anthony Davis was going off for 52, breaking Wilt’s record in the All-Star Game. The final score won’t fit on your screen. And then it was forgotten as Cousins was traded to team with the aforementioned Unibrow for the potential for frontcourt domination unheard of. If New Orleans could provide some stability, then you could see a flourishing partnership like great twin towers of the past: Sampson and Olajuwon, Duncan and Robinson. Better than that? Well… it gets complicated.

Not only that, DeMarcus is both superstar and enforcer. If someone on the other team disrespects the star, he makes them pay with violence. This may not be a good thing, and it’s time to talk about the other side of Cousins. He never reached the playoffs because the Kings were a mess. Or, were the Kings a mess because of DeMarcus? Few can match his talent. The drama he brings hasn’t been helpful yet. Separate the player from the drama if you can, but you can’t. DeMarcus brings the best low post scoring, outside touch from a big, strength, mobility, rebounding. But he also brings enough baggage to stop a plane from taking off.

When you talk about Russ Westbrook, you dismiss the negatives because they are part of the package. A guy who is so dynamic because he’s fearless will also make reckless mistakes. Cousins has a lot to offer, but his negatives don’t help him, they just take him off the court and cost his team. If he could eliminate the drama, the immaturity, the needless technicals, he would be one of the key forces in the League. Can he?

There is a plethora of excuses for why DeMarcus has never made the playoffs. The West is tough, he’s had bad coaching, Sactown dysfunction. Subpar teammates. George Karl has been butting heads and burning bridges with rebellious superstars for decades: Shawn Kemp, Big Dog Robinson, Carmelo. DeMarcus broke him. NOW, the West is more loaded than ever. DeMarcus should have more stability than ever. This year it’s time to break through, or he could see this ranking drop next year.

Previous Rankings:
2016: No. 9
2015: No. 9
2014: No. 20
2013: No. 29

Rankings are based on expected contribution in 2017-18—to players’ team, the NBA and the game.

No. 50 – Dion Waiters
No. 49 – Ben Simmons 
No. 48 – Brook Lopez
No. 47 — Harrison Barnes
No. 46 — Jrue Holiday
No. 45 — Lonzo Ball
No. 44 — Myles Turner
No. 43 — Goran Dragic
No. 42 — Andre Drummond
No. 41 — Al Horford
No. 40 — LaMarcus Aldridge
No. 39 — Kevin Love
No. 38 — Paul Millsap
No. 37 — Hassan Whiteside
No. 36 — Andrew Wiggins
No. 35 — Marc Gasol
No. 34 – DeAndre Jordan
No. 33 — Bradley Beal
No. 32 — Kemba Walker
No. 31 — CJ McCollum
No. 30 — Devin Booker
No. 29 — Nikola Jokic
No. 28 — Joel Embiid
No. 27 — Mike Conley 
No. 26 — Kyle Lowry
No. 25 — Rudy Gobert

No. 24 — Gordon Hayward
No. 23 — Kristaps Porzingis
No. 22 — Carmelo Anthony
No. 21 — DeMar DeRozan
No. 20 — Blake Griffin
No. 19 — Draymond Green
No. 18 — Chris Paul
No. 17 — Klay Thompson
No. 16 — Jimmy Butler
No. 15 — Isaiah Thomas
No. 14 — Karl-Anthony Towns
No. 13 — Damian Lillard