Could DeMarcus Cousins Win the NBA MVP Award in 2015-16?
Cousins has put up solid numbers in his career, but there are a lot of other factors to consider when looking at his chances of winning MVP. Opinions may vary, but a consensus view when deciding MVP comes down to statistics, team success, and impact on said team’s success.
After missing 23 games last year, Cousins appears ready to return to the court and display some new dimensions to his game. Is it possible for Cousins to contend for league MVP?
Perhaps the biggest obstacle Cousins faces heading into his sixth NBA season is himself. He has a history of letting his temper get out of hand, leading to unnecessary and technical fouls.
Cousins led the league in personal fouls per game with 4.1 last season. He received the third most technical fouls with 14 and was ejected once. Big guys rarely get the calls of their smaller counterparts, and Cousins needs to understand this.
Foul trouble will limit his minutes per game, which in turn will negatively impact his statistics. He needs to cut down on the negative displays on the court and instead use his passion to fuel his play. Cousins is capable of dominating opponents when his mind is right; he just hasn’t been able consistently stay under control.
Battling foot and other injuries last season, Cousins played in a career low 59 games. Healthy headed into the year, he will have to play more than 59 games to win the MVP award.
Only five players since 1956 have played fewer than 70 games and won MVP. The most recent was LeBron James in 2012. Cousins doesn’t have a history of injury, playing in at least 70 games or more in three of five seasons.
Although injuries can’t be predicted, health shouldn’t prohibit Cousins from MVP Contention.
The Kings finished 13th out of 15 teams in the Western Conference last season, winning just 29 games and losing 53. This was just a one-game improvement over the previous season’s win total of 28. Last season the Kings ended 16 games out of playoff contention and 38 games behind the top seeded Warriors in the West.
Taking over after the All-Star break last season, head coach George Karl and Cousins had a tumultuous start. After a lot of rumors throughout the second half of last season between the player and coach, it appears the two may be on the same page to start this season.
Hoping to revive his career in Sacramento after struggling in Dallas last season, point guard Rajon Rondo will be an important cog in the Kings’ young roster. The Kings currently have just one player over the age of 30 on the roster: offseason addition small forward Caron Butler.
Fellow former Kentucky Wildcat and first round center Willie Cauley-Stein should help Cousins in the paint. Not the most polished offensive player coming into the league to say the least, Cauley-Stein should provide an impact on the defensive end.
The addition of Cauley-Stein, should allow -- or force -- Cousins to play more away from the basket on offense. With two post players the size of Cousins and Cauley-Stein, lanes could be more clogged, and Rondo is most damaging when driving to the basket and dishing. This is something Karl and the Kings will have to figure out.
While the offseason additions should help the Kings, there are still questions about the quality and depth of the roster.
Our preseason power rankings have the Kings ranked 24th with a 9.3% chance of making the playoffs and a 0.0% probability of winning the championship. We project them to win 31.7 games and lose 50.3. Long shots even to make the playoffs in the competitive Western Conference, the Kings don’t look like contenders this season.
At just 25 years old, Cousins has made improvements to his game each season. Cousins’ points per game and rebounds per game have increased in each of the last three seasons. His points per game increased from 17.1 in ’12-‘13, to 22.7 in ’13-‘14, and then to 24.1 last season. His rebounds per game also increased at a solid pace from 9.9 in ’12-’13, to 11.7 in ’12-’14, and 12.7 a season ago.
Cousins has a good free throw percentage, finishing last season with a career-high .782 percent on 541 attempts. He also sports a career field goal percentage of .463. One area Cousins has to improve on is turnovers. A turnover average of more than four a game last season is unacceptable. Part of this problem may be fixed if he can play under control, but he has to be more careful with the ball in his hands.
Given the green light by Coach George Karl to play more away from the basket, Cousins will have to improve his outside shooting.
Cousins as attempted 37.7 percent of his field goals from within 3 feet of the rim and has maintained a 63.2 percent field goal percentage on those. His percentages farther from the hoop are concerning, given that he'll likely see a sizable increase on these attempts this season. Last season, he shot 31.8 percent from 3 to 10 feet, 34.9 percent from 10 to 16 feet, and 38.3 percent from 16 feet to the arc.
Our projections for Cousins this season are identical to last season’s totals of 24.1 points and 12.7 rebounds per game. With help from his supporting cast these numbers could improve, and at this point Cousins is clearly the best player on his team. Can he step up into the upper echelon of franchise players and get his team to the playoffs for the first time in his career?
That will be a daunting task with the players around him, especially in a deep and competitive Western Conference. Not only would Cousins have to lead the Kings to the playoffs, but he would likely need more than a first round exit for MVP consideration.
Cousins has the ability to be one of the best players in the league. Beating out players like Stephen Curry or LeBron James on championship contending teams, though, is a long shot. Perhaps a more realistic goal for Cousins to start with is making the playoffs for the first time and All-NBA First Team honors.
To win MVP, Cousins will have to take his game and the Kings to an unexpected level. It isn’t completely impossible -- just highly unlikely.