Posted Jun 24 2010 10:56AM
DeMarcus Cousins is huge. And if he had the first pick in Thursday's Draft, he knows exactly who he'd take.
"Me," he said during the Chicago pre-Draft camp.
From a talent standpoint, Cousins may not be far off. There aren't too many 6-foot-10, 290-pound centers floating around, and fewer still who averaged nearly a double-double against top-notch competition in one of the country's toughest conferences. There is not, and there has never been, questions about Cousins's talent; he is, clearly, the best center prospect coming into the league. As you surely know by now, the questions concern other aspects of the 19-year-old's makeup. And combined with the needs that other top-five teams have entering the Draft, Cousins may wind up going as low as five to Sacramento.
The list includes some garden variety physical stuff -- an altercation in high school with an adult coach, an elbow in a game early last season to the noggin of Louisville's Jared Swopshire (which, Cousins' defenders will point out, followed a knee to Cousins' head in a pileup seconds before). There was also the sense from pro scouts that Cousins occasionally took himself out of games mentally, and loudly questioned his coaches on occasion.
"My biggest fear for him is going to be his mental," said a college coach whose team played Kentucky last season. "Is he going to be able to be stable for your franchise? You're going to have to have somebody babysit him all day. He's a monster. If he's right, somebody will be very happy, but you have to be sure. That's a lot to invest in. A lot is going to be expected of that kid. A lot is going to be thrown at him. He has to be ready to accept that responsibility and not wig out. How are you going to handle that extra time when you don't have practice and you don't have games?"
Cousins acknowledged that he had questions to answer in Chicago.
"That's been the question the whole year, my so-called red flags," he said. "I'm misunderstood, a lot. I'm trying to show that now ... I tell [teams] the truth. I'm not that type of guy."
But those things aren't as important to NBA types as the concerns about Cousins physically. He weighed 291 at Chicago, which was fine -- but also had 16.4 percent body fat, which was not. He isn't out of shape, having worked out religously in Washington, D.C., with a personal trainer during the last month and a half, but he has to be careful.
Said one Pacific Division scout who thinks Cousins has a "really good" personality: "all of the talk about immaturity is misplaced, because he's 19 and all of these guys are immature about something. The bigger concern is conditioning. He's a below the rim player anyway and he needs to be as agile as possible."
Said Cousins: "playing for Cal [Kentucky coach John Calipari], your work ethic is gonna change. You're gonna come in and work. That alone helped me out a lot, because my work ethic is a lot better than it used to be. I was on one of the biggest stages there was, and it helped me out tremendously."
There were mixed reports out of Chicago about how Cousins did in his interviews with teams. Some thought he came across a little aloof, but others thought he was just fine.
"He surprised me in the interview," said a Pacific executive. "It was a pretty good interview. He knew what was going on."
Said a Central Division executive: "He was good [in the interview]. I met him after the Lottery. The kid is transparent. I think you ask him something straight, he's gonna shoot you back straight. I think he likes the game a lot, which is important for a big man. I think he's got some emotion for the game. I like that about him. He looked everybody in the eye. He stood up and talked with confidence."
There is a dropoff in center talent after Cousins, but several fives will go by the end of the first round. Kansas' Cole Aldrich is one of the better defensive centers around and is not likely to get out of the top 20 -- probably no further than Milwaukee, picking 15th. Behind him is Marshall's 6-foot-11 Hassan Whiteside, who didn't start playing organized basketball until he was in high school (he was a wrestler before he sprouted up several inches). Obviously he is raw, but he showed some offensive skills in his one season at Marshall.
"I like a lot of things about him, but there are a lot of concerns," said a Northwest Division executive. "... He hasn't played organized basketball for a long period of time. He could be inexperienced but he could be a sponge, but you don't know that until you get him on the court. In terms of skill, he's got it. He's the best shot blocker in the draft, probably. Longest wing span (indeed, Whiteside topped all players in Chicago with a 7-foot-7 stretch). He's as good running the court as any big. Can shoot the 15-foot jumper. He's just got to get a lot stronger and put on weight but that's going to come in time."
Coming on strong with a lot of teams is Larry Sanders, the 6-foot-10 junior from Virginia Commonwealth, who needs to put on some weight (he weighed 222 pounds in Chicago) but has great length and a tremendous desire to play at both ends of the court. His upside and personality have a lot of teams intrigued, and willing to work with him as he develops physically.
"We interviewed him in Chicago and I enjoyed that," said a Southeast Division personnel man. "He's got a pretty good feel for what he needs to do. I think he was pretty insightful as a kid as far as where he is now as a player and how to get playing time. I thought he had a pretty good self-awareness. I think he's got a chance to be a good player simply because he can change ends of the floor so fast and he's so damn long."
Said a college coach whose team played VCU last season: " He's not as skilled as you'd like him to be, but that could be a blessing in disguise. He can get better. I think his upside coming from VCU is as big as anybody. He has a great frame. He runs well. Great timing, can score, can really score, being a young kid."
Sanders knows he has to spend years in the weight room -- "I always wanted to get stronger, I just didn't know how," he said in Chicago. But he was coached at VCU by Anthony Grant, now at Alabama, who has helped produce several pro players in the past few years, from Al Horford and Joakim Noah (Grant was Billy Donovan's top assistant at Florida before taking the head job at VCU) and Oklahoma City guard Eric Maynor.
"He told me to use things that I already have to my advantage, constantly being able to use my conditioning to push my teammates," Sanders said. "Being able to run the court not only to get the ball, but to space the court out so that my teammates can get the open shot. Just things I couldn't see at first, but he brought it to my attention. He's still in my ear."
Tulsa's Jerome Jordan had some moments -- one scout thought he outplayed Whiteside last season when the two faced off in a game. But he has to get stronger and show he can hold up against big-time competitors; he did not dominate Conference USA the last two seasons, when there weren't nearly as many quality bigs as there had been in years past. Florida State's Solomon Alabi has a defensive presence, but some think he plateaued as a senior after a strong junior season for the Seminoles.
The biggest enigma may be Kentucky freshman Daniel Orton, who surprised just about everyone in Lexington by opting to enter the Draft after one season. It was assumed that Orton would take over next season for the departed Cousins in the middle, since he only played 13 minutes a game behind Cousins last season. But Orton believed he could make the jump. He has talent but a lot of scouts have very little feel for his game based on his scant playing time, and he may fall some in the draft until a team with an extra first-round pick feels comfortable enough to take a gamble.
Texas' Dexter Pittman played plenty for the Longhorns, but concerns about his weight -- he was the biggest player at Chicago, weighing in at 302 pounds -- have NBA scouts concerned that he'll be able to get in shape and stay in shape over an 82-game season. Tibor Pleiss, a 20-year-old who played in Germany this season, is a long-term project who's expected to stay in Europe for at least a couple of seasons before coming over.
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