Their teams might be a combined 10-16 in the rugged Western Conference but young stars Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins are playing like All-Stars. Both are redefining the power positions in the NBA and with PERs that rank second (Davis at 28.62) and seventh (Cousins at 24.65, per Hollinger) in the league, we’ve all been put on notice: they’re franchise cornerstones.
Davis does it with versatility, athleticism and defense. Cousins does it with brute force, strength and skill. They have their critics, as any great young big man is bound to have. But the 20-year-old Davis and the 23-year-old Cousins are two Kentucky products that’ll be running up individual awards very soon.
Today, we’re arguing who’s better: Anthony Davis or DeMarcus Cousins? We argue. You decide.
*** *** ***
DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis are the cornerstones of the future of big men in the NBA. However, both have a different and unique style of play. Since both played a year under John Calipari at Kentucky, it’s a necessity that we decide which player is “better” than the other. If someone ever gave me the keys to an NBA team (highly unlikely), what one would I pick? I would chose DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins over Anthony Davis every day of the week that ends in y. Let’s put them both in the ring and see how these two mammoths weigh out.
DeMarcus Cousins is a powerful human being that stands at 6-11 and weighs 270 pounds. He’s been a beast ever since he was drafted with the fifth overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft by the Sacramento Kings. The biggest separation between Cousins and Davis is Cousins’ superior offensive game. Both have similar stat lines this season: Cousins is averaging 21.3 points, 10.5 rebounds, 1.7 steals and 1.2 blocks per game while Davis is averaging 19.8 points, 10.6 rebounds, 1.8 steals and 4.0 blocks per game. But wait, if both stat lines are so similar, then you are probably wondering how Cousins has the superior offensive game, right? Well here’s the explanation for that.
Cousins is averaging 21.3 points and 10.5 boards playing 30.5 minutes per game. Davis is playing over 35 minutes per game. In other words, Cousins is only playing about 63 percent of a full 48-minute game while Davis is playing 73 percent. Five minutes may not seem like a lot of time, but let’s consider that a shot clock lasts 24 seconds. If Davis is on the court for five more minutes a game, compared to Cousins, then Davis is getting about 12.5 more possessions per game (considering each possession is one 24-second turn). What this essentially means is that Cousins is producing numbers on par with Davis, but with 12.5 less possessions per game. That shows in their per-36 minute averages, where Cousins’ rebounding, passing and scoring numbers dwarf Davis. DMC also averages more steals per 36 minutes.
To take this further, even though Cousins is playing less minutes than Davis, his team is getting him the ball more frequently. To date, Cousins is getting 59.5 touches per game while Davis is only averaging 50.6 touches per game. Also, Cousins has 715 total touches on the season, compared to 607 for Davis. The Kings know that Cousins is the closest thing the basketball world has seen to Shaq in years, so they get him the ball as much as possible. When discussing which player is better, the fact that the Kings run their entire offense through Cousins speaks volumes about how destructive (in a positive way) he can be in a game. Davis is a great player, without a doubt, but he just can’t take over a game the way that Cousins can.
Speaking of Shaq, the new part owner of the Sacramento Kings has been working with Cousins to improve his game both physically and mentally. O’Neal has spoken about Cousins and the terror he can strike on a basketball court (via USA Today):
“I like his game. I like his ferocity. And he hates to lose. When you have those ingredients, like I said it’s all about conversation. I was putting up big numbers and couldn’t win anything. We’d get swept by Utah every year, and then all it took was one or two conversations — one time I heard Larry Bird say, ‘You’re the greatest big man ever.’ It’s just conversations. We’re going to have nice, light-hearted conversations. I’m going to teach him one or two things that I think he can do better.”
Cousins’ maturity, or lack thereof, has long been the tipping point of his success in the NBA. His talent has been undeniable, but so has his lack of maturity, which damaged his image during his first few years in the NBA. However, one of the essential components of maturity is reflecting on problems of the past and realizing what went wrong. Well, Cousins has done exactly this (via Sports Illustrated):
“It felt like an AAU team. Everything [the critics] were saying before, I believe it’s true. We were the worst. We weren’t building for the future, we were just living in the moment. That’s why we were that bad. … Honestly, I feel like I wasted time. I hate the fact that it took everything we went through to get to this. I guess you could say it makes that much better.”
If DeMarcus Cousins can bottle all of his emotions and use them to become even more of a force, then the league (and Davis) are in trouble. Only 13 games into the season and Cousins already has three 30-point games under his belt. Anthony Davis has accumulated one 30-point performance against a lackluster Los Angeles Lakers frontline. Cousins has shot 52 percent from the field and grabbed 11.7 boards during the three 30-point performances. With three 30-point performances in 13 games, Cousins has a 23 percent chance every game to produce a monster night. Davis isn’t nearly the same type of threat. It’s early in the season, but these numbers still stand for something. Davis has the ability to be effective on offense, but he can’t dominate a game the way Boogie Cousins can.
Another area that Cousins can outperform Davis is in aggressiveness. While Davis is known for being a more efficient player, Cousins is known for bullying his way in the post, grabbing rebounds relentlessly and finishing at any cost. One of the better ways to show aggressiveness is by the number of times a player gets to the line. On the season, Cousins is averaging 7.3 free throws per game, compared to 6.8 for Davis. Cousins is getting to the line more frequently, giving his team the ability to score more points. Again, this all comes with Cousins seeing about five less minutes per game. Not for nothing, Cousins also has 13 and-1s on the season, compared to nine for Davis. The clear separation between these two players is aggressiveness.
As a big man, percentages in the paint are important to look at. While guards get most of their points from being shooters and cutters, big men hone their skills in the paint. This season, DeMarcus Cousins is outpacing Anthony Davis in this category as well. Cousins is shooting 39.7 (31-for-78) percent this season on post-up opportunities. Anthony Davis is shooting a paltry 25 (7-for-28) percent on post-up opportunities. Clearly, we can see the effectiveness of Cousins in the paint. Just to drive this point home, Cousins is converting 52 percent of his attempts at the rim after an offensive rebound, while Davis is converting 48.6 percent. Cousins is just more developed offensively at this point in his career. Davis can have all the block parties he wants, but it’s hard to stop a player as relentless as Cousins in the paint who finishes at such a high percentage.
Anthony Davis is a skilled NBA player and has a bright future ahead of him, there is no doubt about that. But DeMarcus Cousins is simply a beast and there are few answers for him in the paint in a league void of talented big men. Cousins’ career numbers are 16.5 points and 9.8 boards per game in only 29.8 minutes. His per-36 minute stats are 20 points and 11.8 boards. Cousins has the ability to be a consistent 20 and 10 player in the NBA, something that is becoming less and less frequent.
Cousins is already considered one of the league’s best. Imagine what will happen if he cuts out some of the stupid fouls and a few more minutes are thrown his way in Sacramento. As Cousins continues to micromanage his temper and be guided by the likes of Shaquille O’Neal, he will become the best center in the league. NBA centers should be all about power and aggressiveness, which is exemplified by DeMarcus Cousins. Sorry Anthony Davis, but Cousins wins this round.