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NBA Saturday: DeMarcus Cousins Continues to Mature

Through the early part of the season, DeMarcus Cousins is showing added maturity and a dominant all-around game.

Jesse Blancarte



With DeMarcus Cousins, talent has never been the issue.  At 6’11, 270 lbs., Cousins can back down opponents in the post the way Shaquille O’Neal used to, but is also nimble enough to take opponents off the dribble the way Tim Duncan does (with remarkable success).

The issue for Cousins has always been about maturity.  On January 1, 2012, former Sacramento Kings head coach Paul Westphal sent Cousins home before playing against the then-New Orleans Hornets because of an ongoing rift between the player and coach.

“…he (Cousins) is unwilling/unable to embrace traveling in the same direction as his team, it cannot be ignored indefinitely,”  Westphal said in an official statement.  “DeMarcus Cousins has demanded to be traded.  In the best interest of our team as we go forward, he has been directed by me, with the support of management, to stay home from the New Orleans game tonight.”

On January 5, 2012, the Kings fired Westphal, and Cousins eventually denied ever demanding a trade and dismissed the notion that he had anything to do with Westphal losing his job.

After this incident, Cousins just kept finding ways to get in trouble.  In November 2012, Cousins was suspended by the league for getting into a “hostile” altercation with former player and San Antonio Spurs broadcaster Sean Elliot, who criticized Cousins for “talking and flapping his guns” against Duncan during a game.  Then in December 2012, Cousins was suspended by the league for one game after punching O.J. Mayo in the groin, and then later suspended by the Kings for getting into a verbal altercation with former Kings head coach Keith Smart during halftime of a game against the Los Angeles Clippers.  Cousins was also suspended by the league in February of 2013 for punching Rockets point guard Patrick Beverley in the stomach during a game.

For all of the mistakes Cousins has made in the past (the examples above represent just a few of the more notable incidents), he seems to have turned over a new leaf this season, and is carrying himself with more control and maturity on the court.  Before the season started, Cousins set a personal goal to only get at most five technical fouls throughout this season.

In a game against the Phoenix Suns, Cousins was called for his sixth foul after setting what appeared to be a legal screen on Marcus Morris.  Kings head coach Mike Malone was livid, and Cousins eventually grabbed him and took him back to the bench to prevent his coach from getting a technical foul at a critical juncture of the game.  Then, on Thursday against the Chicago Bulls, Kirk Hinrich got tangled up with Cousins and looked as though he was trying to instigate a response to draw a technical foul on the Kings center.  Cousins didn’t respond and instead Hinrich was called for a technical foul, something that almost certainly would not have happened last season.

Unfortunately for Cousins, NBA officials (understandably) keep him on a short leash and are sometimes quick to call a technical foul on him.  He got flagged for his first technical foul of the season against the Memphis Grizzlies for walking to the bench in displeasure after being called for a foul.  The NBA later rescinded the technical, acknowledging that Cousins response did not warrant the call*.

*Note: Cousins has one official technical foul on the season stemming from a game against the San Antonio Spurs.

Cousins recently spoke with Rebecca Haarlow of NBATV to discuss his maturity issues and the Kings’ early season success.  When asked where he has grown the most, Cousins talked only about the mental aspects of the game.

“With my mindset, how I approach the game, how I approach like every day coming in,” said Cousins.  “It’s a lot different from two, three years ago.  I’ve grown wiser.  I’m older now.  I understand the game better.  I believe it’s all starting to transition to my game.”

A big part of that new approach stems from Cousins’ time with the USA National team this summer, which won gold at the FIBA World Cup Tournament in Spain.

“It (playing in the FIBA tournament) helped out a lot,” said Cousins.  “I’d say the biggest thing is learning how to sacrifice for your team.  Doing the small things to help the team.  That’s probably the biggest thing I’ve taken away.  I mean, I played with an incredible group of guys, a very talented group of guys.  So, me playing the way I usually play, it wasn’t really needed for the team.  So just learning how to do the small things, and also learning how it feels to be that guy in that position, so that way when I come back to my team, those guys that are in that position, I appreciate them a lot more.”

Other players around the league are taking notice of Cousins’ growth.  After beating the Chicago Bulls on Thursday night, Joakim Noah, another passionate and at times antagonistic player, praised the talented center.

“They’re a good team,” Noah told “They’re a very good team.  They play hard at home. I think that they’re starting to build something over here.  Defensively they’re better.  DeMarcus is a lot better. He’s playing more efficiently … Sometimes he gets frustrated and that works in our favor.  But I feel like this year he’s the one getting guys frustrated, and it’s worked for them, so we’ll see them again.”

“We’ll see them again at home and we’ll be ready for that one, but you can tell there’s been a lot of growing on his side as a player.”

Cousins has developed his game on the court as well since last season.  Last season, per 36 minutes, Cousins averaged 25.3 points, 13.0 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.4 blocks per game.  This season, per 36 minutes, Cousins is averaging 26.3 points, 13.9 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.7 blocks per game.  He has also improved his shooting efficiency, improving from a 55.5 true shooting percentage last season, to 57 percent this season.  Cousins’ numbers would be even better if he could stay on the court longer, but he is unfortunately tallying 5.6 fouls per 36 minutes (up from 4.2 last season).  This is in part explained by his active hands on defense and eagerness to strip the ball from opponents.

In fact, for all of the praise that Cousins is receiving for his offensive improvements, it is his defensive effort that is having the most impact for the Kings.  Cousins has been an average defender through the first few years of his career, but this season he is putting in more attention to playing team defense.  Opponents are attempting 8.4 shots at the rim per game against Cousins, and he is holding them to just 43.6 percent, while blocking 1.4 shots per game.  Those numbers are in line with Serge Ibaka’s, who is considered to be one of the elite rim protectors in the game (Ibaka is holding opponents to just 42.9 percent at the rim on 8.5 attempts per game, while blocking 1.7 shots).  This improved commitment to defense is reflected in the Kings’ defensive efficiency numbers.  When Cousins is on the court, the Kings are holding opponents to 98.4 points per 100 possession.  When Cousins is off the court, opposing teams are scoring 111.2 points per 100 possessions.

Cousins’ overall improvement has helped the Kings get off to a surprising 7-5 start, with quality wins over teams like the Trail Blazers, Clippers, Suns, Spurs and Bulls.  There are other factors contributing to the Kings’ hot start, like the efficient play of Rudy Gay, the effectiveness of Darren Collison as the starting point guard and the improved cohesion that comes with another season under Malone.  But it is clear that the biggest difference maker for this team is Cousins, which is why it is so important that he has, at least for now, kept his temper in check.

So does this mean that the Kings are going to break the eight-year drought in Sacramento and make it to the playoffs?  Cousins wasn’t ready to make that proclamation yet, but he is appropriately optimistic.

“I think a lot of people got a little too excited about the 5-1 start,” Cousins told Haarlow.   “We’re a still a team that’s growing every day.  We’re still a young team.  We haven’t been together that long.  We’re still learning one another.  We’re still building that chemistry.  And us being in that situation, us being a new team, that’s something we weren’t used to.  So it’s just about learning to handle those situations.”

“If we continue on the path that we’re on now, if we continue to grow every day, continue to get better every day, I do believe we’re a playoff team.”

The Kings may not make it to the playoffs this season, which is understandable in the stacked Western Conference, but at least now the Kings have a franchise big man that is finally taking control of his emotions and dominating opponents on a nightly basis.

Westbrook and Durant Making Progress

Anthony Slater of the Oklahoman reports that the Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are each making progress on their return from injury.  Both Durant and Westbrook worked out at Friday’s shoot-around, and have each been working out for the past couple of days.

Coach Scott Brooks also stated that both players will participate in parts of Sunday’s practice.

This is great news for a Thunder team that is struggling mightily without its two superstars.  The Thunder are now ranked last in the Western Conference at 3-11, and have lost five games in a row.

Slater reports that Westbrook may return by the end of next week.

Jesse Blancarte is a Deputy Editor for Basketball Insiders. He is also an Attorney and a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.


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NBA Daily: Checking In With Terrance Ferguson

Oklahoma City Thunder rookie Terrance Ferguson talks to Basketball Insiders about learning from his teammates, earning minutes and being mentally tough.

Ben Nadeau



Before he reached the NBA, the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Terrance Ferguson was once often referred to as a man of mystery. After changing course on two different programs in a two-month span, Ferguson ditched the typical one-and-done collegiate season for an adventure on the other side of the planet. But even after the Thunder selected Ferguson with the No. 21 overall pick in last year’s draft — the questions still lingered. How would a teenager with one season overseas adjust to the world’s most physical basketball league?

Not many rookies can contribute to a 40-plus win squad out in the cutthroat Western Conference so quickly — but down the stretch, here Ferguson is doing just that. With the Thunder locked in a tight playoff battle with six others teams, the 19-year-old’s hard-working personality has fit alongside the roster’s three perennial All-Stars — Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. And although his rookie season has come with some growing pains, Ferguson is earning meaningful minutes and making the most of them.

“I think it’s my work ethic, I come in every day with the same mentality,” Ferguson said. “I work my butt off — inside the game, being physical. Even though I’m a skinny guy, as everyone can see, I’m still everywhere on the floor being physical. I think [the coaching staff] really likes that, especially on the defensive end.”

Skinny or not, Ferguson is one of the league’s youngest players, so the 6-foot-7 guard has plenty of room to grow — literally. But for now, he’s playing an integral role on an Oklahoma City team looking to protect its high postseason seed. Late January brought the unfortunate season-ending injury to Andre Roberson — an All-Defensive Second Team honoree in 2016-17 — so the Thunder have needed both new and old players to step up in bigger roles.

While those candidates included the three-point shooting Alex Abrines, veteran Raymond Felton and the newly-acquired Corey Brewer, Ferguson’s recent rise in the rotation has arguably been the most interesting development. Since the calendar flipped to January, Ferguson has featured in almost all of the Thunder’s games, tallying just two DNP-CDs and one missed contest following a concussion. This steady diet of opportunity comes as a stark contrast to the 15 games in which he received no playing time, spanning from the season’s opening tip to the new year.

Of course, playing time is not always indicative of success, but Ferguson himself isn’t surprised that he’s carved out a crucial role ahead of the playoffs.

“Not really, it’s all up to coach’s decision,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I’m just here playing my part, staying ready at all times and some minutes came, so I’mma take them and play to the best of my ability.”

Back in October, Basketball Insiders’ own Joel Brigham spoke to Ferguson about his unconventional path to NBA and the choice to spend a year grinding with the Adelaide 36ers, an Australian outfit. In the land down under, Ferguson averaged just 15 minutes a night, considerably less than he would’ve likely received as a highly-recruited prospect here in America. Some five months later, Ferguson’s early-season stance on the move still stands out.

“I’m living the dream now, right? I must have done the right thing,” Ferguson said.

Today, it’s hard to disagree with Ferguson’s decisions considering that they’re currently paying off. In 2009, Brandon Jennings became the first to skip college and play in Europe before being drafted, with Emmanuel Mudiay most notably following in his footsteps six years later. While those two point guards both were selected in the top ten of their draft classes — at No. 10 and No. 7, respectively — it still remains the road far less traveled.

Considered raw by most pre-draft evaluations, an early expectation was that Ferguson would spend much of the season with the Oklahoma City Blue, the Thunder’s G-League affiliate. Instead, Ferguson has played in only three games with the Blue, where he has averaged a commendable 14.7 points, four rebounds and 1.3 steals per game.

But as of late, the Thunder have found somebody that’ll always work hard, learn from others and do the little things that don’t show up in the box score.

“I’ve learned a lot more from when I first started,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I got great teammates — I got Nick Collison, I got Russ, PG, Melo, so just picking their brains. I got Corey now, so just the work ethic they put in, just picking their brains each and every day about what I can do better, watching game film, it’s a lot of things.”

When he was drafted, Ferguson had a reputation as a skyscraping leaper with the athleticism to become an elite perimeter defender. Although his current averages with the Thunder understate his innate potential, Ferguson knows he can contribute without scoring — even noting that he can make up for it “on the other side of the court.” Playing defense and competing hard every night, he has slowly made a name for himself.

And while Ferguson has tallied far more single-digit scoring outings than his 24-point breakout performance in early January, he’s earned the trust of head coach Billy Donovan and his veteran teammates, which is something the rookie will never take for granted.

“Coach believes in me and that means a lot to me,” Ferguson said. “But my teammates believe in me, so I’m not gonna let them down. I’m gonna go out every day and play my hardest, compete and try to get the win each and every night.”

One might assume that his year abroad in Australia helped to mentally mold him into the high-flying, hard-nosed rookie we see today. Ferguson, however, contends that he’s had that edge from the very beginning.

“I’ve been mentally tough, it wasn’t overseas that did that,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I had to be mentally tough just to go over there — so I’ve always had that mentality, the [desire] to just dominate, play to the best of my ability and compete.”

And now he’s doing just that in the NBA.

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Is Kyrie Irving’s Second Opinion a Cause for Concern?

Shane Rhodes breaks down the tough situation the Celtics are in with Kyrie Irving.

Shane Rhodes



The Boston Celtics are in one awful predicament.

With a third of the roster out due to injury, Brad Stevens has been forced into the impossible task of maintaining Boston’s championship aspirations with some subpar talent; while they have performed admirably, the likes of Abdel Nader and Semi Ojeleye wouldn’t see the same run they are currently on with most contenders. Gordon Hayward has missed the entire season, save a few minutes on opening night. Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Daniel Theis are all currently out, some for the year and others not. Key contributors Al Horford, Marcus Morris and others have missed time as well.

It couldn’t get worse, could it?

Well, it may just have. Reports surfaced Tuesday that Irving, who had missed time this season — including the last four games — with left knee soreness, is seeking a second opinion after a lack of progress in his recovery.

In the wake of the Isaiah Thomas fiasco and his ailing hip last Summer, an injury that lingered deep into this season, the Celtics will likely be more than cautious with Irving, whom they gave up a haul (the rights to the 2018 Brooklyn Nets first round pick, most notably), to acquire. But one can only wonder if these persistent issues — Irving’s left knee was surgically repaired after he sustained a fractured kneecap in 2015, and he reportedly threatened the Cleveland Cavaliers with surgery this offseason before his trade to Boston — are a cause for concern for general manager Danny Ainge and the Celtics.

The situation presents the Celtics with a quandary, to say the least.

Knee injuries aren’t exactly a death-knell, but fans need not look far for to see the devastating effect they can have on NBA players (e.g. Derrick Rose). They can snowball and, over time, even the best players will break down. Regardless of the severity, Irving’s knee issue presents problems both now and in the future.

The problems now are obvious: the Celtics, already down Gordon Hayward, cannot afford to lose Irving if they are at all interested in making a Finals run this season. Boston struggles mightily on the offensive end when Irving and his 24.4 points, 3.8 rebounds and 5.1 assists aren’t on the court. In a playoff atmosphere, especially, the team would sorely miss his scoring prowess.

Looking ahead, if Irving is dealing with these problems at the age of 25, what could the future hold for the All-Star guard? Knee issues, most lower body issues in general, are often of the chronic variety, and constant maintenance can wear on people, both mentally and physically.

Just a season separated from a likely super-max payday, will the Celtics want to commit big-money long-term to potentially damaged goods?

If there is a silver lining in it all, it is the fact that 20-year-old rookie Jayson Tatum must now shoulder the scoring load, something that should go a long way in building on the potential that made him the No. 3 overall pick last June. And, should Irving miss the remainder of this season, exposure to the fires of the playoffs should only temper the Celtics’ young roster. In the event that Irving’s absence isn’t prolonged, time like this could only serve to strengthen the roster around him.

Still, Ainge brought Irving to Boston for a reason: he was meant to lead the Celtics into battle, alongside Gordon Hayward and Al Horford, in their quest for a title. Obviously, he can’t do that from the bench. Without Irving at 100 percent, the Celtics are not a championship caliber squad, healthy Gordon Hayward or not. That fact alone will make Irving’s situation one to monitor going forward and for the foreseeable future.

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NBA Daily: Houston Has It All

Deciphering whether Houston is a contender or pretender is tough, but they’re making it easy.

Lang Greene



It is very easy to get caught up in the NBA regular-season hyperbole. The past is littered with a plethora of NBA teams that looked like world-beaters in the regular season only to pull up lame in the playoffs and emerge as a bunch of pretenders.

So when it comes to the Houston Rockets, it’s no surprise many pundits and fans of the game fall heavily on one side or the other. The 2017-18 Rockets are a polarizing squad in that respect. On one side of the fence, you have the folks that are struggling to get behind Houston until they see how the franchise performs in the playoffs under the brightest of lights and on the biggest of stages. On the other, folks that place a great deal of weight on the 82-game regular season and the ability to sustain consistency throughout the marathon.

As always, the truth is somewhere in the middle.

At the top of Houston’s lineup are two future Hall of Famers in James Harden and Chris Paul. The latter was a perennial star in his heyday and is still a top-tier talent in the league. Harden, on the other hand, is closing in on his first MVP award and had serious cases for winning the honors in prior seasons, as well. Both Harden and Paul are criticized for their past playoff failures.

Paul entered the league during the 2006 season and has been dogged by the ever looming fact that he’s never reached a Conference Finals. Harden has been to the NBA Finals but has been dogged for multiple playoff missteps and shaky performances that remain etched in everyone’s memory. But something about this season’s Rockets team (57-14) seems different as the duo closes in on 60 wins.

One way to measure the true greatness of a NBA team is evaluating how many ways the roster can win playing a variety of styles. From the eyeball test, Houston checks the boxes in this category. The team sustains leads during blowouts. They have an offense built to erase large deficits quickly. The team possesses the talent to employ an array of versatile lineups to withstand top heat from opposing teams. Head coach Mike D’Antoni has shown the ability to adjust on the fly during certain situations. Houston is seemingly comprised of a bunch of guys that are selfless and ready to sacrifice at this stage of their respective careers.

Time will tell on all of those aforementioned aspects, but the Rockets are built to compete and win now. On paper at least, the team fits the criteria.

Floor Generalship

Paul has a chance to go down as a top five point guard in NBA history .His court vision is unquestioned and his big men always seem to end up being in the top five of field goal percentage each season (i.e. Tyson Chandler, DeAndre Jordan and now Clint Capela). In years past, the Rockets faltered down the stretch of games because the entire system ran through Harden. But this year’s club has the luxury of taking some of the on-ball expectation away from Harden and by giving the rock to Paul who naturally thrives in this role the squad doesn’t take a step back on the floor.

This is going to be big for Houston which has seen Harden gassed late in playoff games from carrying the entire load.

Small Ball Ready

Presumably standing between the Rockets and an appearance in the NBA Finals are the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors turned the NBA upside down with their free-flowing offense, long range accuracy and the successful ability to push the pace while playing small ball.

At the height of Golden State’s success they employed the “death lineup” which places All-Star forward Draymond Green at center. In different variations this gives the Warriors five guys on the court who can dribble, drive, pass and shoot. Versatility is important and if you look at this year’s Rockets team they have the ability to match the death lineup with their own version. Veteran forward P.J. Tucker would be able to guard Green in this scenario at center or Houston could just rely on the athleticism of Capela.


When it comes to defense, the Rockets will never be confused for the bad boy Detroit Pistons of yesteryear, however, the team has an assortment of individually capable defenders on the roster. Paul has all defensive team honors hanging on his mantle during his time in the league. Small forward Trevor Ariza made his bones in the league by placing an emphasis on defense. Before Capela emerged as a double-digit scorer, he was relied on as a defensive spark off the bench. Luc Mbah a Moute has a reputation and consistent track record of being a very willing defender.

Shooting, Versatility and Experience

All of this success, leads to the variation D’Antoni can put out onto the floor. The versatility to go with a small ball lineup or a lineup heavily skewed toward defenders is a luxury amenity. Houston also features five guys with 125 or more three-pointers made this season with Harden, Eric Gordon, Ariza, Paul and Ryan Anderson leading the way. A sixth, Tucker, should join the +100 club before season’s end. Veteran Gerald Green has only played 30 games with the franchise but has already knocked down 76 attempts from distance.

Experience is key as well. This year’s Rockets team features only one player under 25, receiving 25 or more minutes per night in the rotation. Look at NBA history, title winning teams are full of veterans not second or third year players.


Again, the Rockets will never be confused with the late 80s or early 90s Pistons but the team has more than a few guys that don’t shy away from contact or physical play. The collection of Nene, Tucker, Green and Ariza have had more than their share of shoving matches when things get heated on the floor.

With the start of the NBA playoffs (April 14) under a month away, the Rockets continue to build momentum toward a title run. Will Harden and Paul’s playoff demons from the past emerge or is their first true shot at greatness with a complete team? These questions will soon be answered.

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