DeMarcus Cousins Somehow Remains Underrated

I’m starting to feel like a broken record with all of these articles hyping DeMarcus Cousins, but I just today got caught up on the Sports Illustrated Top 100 NBA Players rankings, and felt I had to address it. Mostly because the lovely guys over at SI had Boogie as the 14th best player in the Association.

I had a couple of problems with the earlier installments of the list as well, but having Cousins barely make the top 15 active players in the NBA just doesn’t feel like it can be correct. Especially considering some of the big men ranked ahead of Boogie.

LaMarcus Aldridge (12), Tim Duncan (11), Marc Gasol (9), Blake Griffin (8) and Anthony Davis (3) all ranked ahead of Boogie according to Sports Illustrated’s list. That’s an impressive group of bigs, but I don’t believe all five of them are better than DeMarcus Cousins, considering this is a 2015 list, not a career one (obviously Duncan far and away eclipses all of these guys if that were the case).

RkPlayerSeasonGSFGAFG%FTAFT%TRBASTSTLBLKTOVPFPTS ▾
1DeMarcus Cousins2014-155919.1.4679.7.78213.43.81.61.84.54.325.4
2Anthony Davis2014-156817.6.5356.8.80510.22.21.52.91.42.124.3
3LaMarcus Aldridge2014-157120.3.4665.2.84510.41.80.71.01.71.823.8
4Blake Griffin2014-156717.5.5026.5.7287.85.41.00.52.33.022.4
5Marc Gasol2014-158114.4.4945.9.7958.44.10.91.82.42.818.9
6Tim Duncan2014-157713.2.5125.0.74011.43.71.02.42.12.717.3
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/6/2015.

Cousins led that group in points per 36, rebounds per 36 and steals per 36. He’s tied for third in blocks per 36, third in assists per 36 and fifth in field goal percentage. So how do those numbers add up to him being the worst of the bunch?

According to SI, it’s because Boogie hasn’t been winning:

There isn’t really a polite way to put this: DeMarcus Cousins is the highest-ranked player on this year’s Top 100 who hasn’t won anything in the NBA. All 13 players ranked above Cousins, who’s perpetually dysfunctional Kings are 131–263 (.332) since drafting him in 2010, have made the playoffs, 12 have won a series, eight have made the conference finals, and four have won a title. Besides Tim Duncan, who turns 40 next April, none of the 13 players are older than 30 and none are in decline. The 25-year-old Cousins has watched, often with a grimace, as his peers have moved on to bigger and better things, while he’s still hoping to play for a 30-win team and trying to remember who is coaching him this week.

They’re obviously not wrong, but I just don’t agree that that’s something that should be held against Cousins. It’s impossible to win in the NBA by yourself–as much as narratives try to convince casual fans otherwise this is very much a team game.

And Cousins hasn’t had any good teams to play on. And he’s still been a dominant force for most of his career thus far. I would say he should be at least a top ten player, and probably more like somewhere in the top seven. Some guys are clearly still on another level–LeBron James and Kevin Durant (when healthy) are the two most obvious cases of this.

I could also see arguments for James Harden, Anthony Davis, Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and Russell Westbrook being better than Cousins. I’m not convinced on the last three, but even if you suppose Boogie is the worst of that group it still leaves him at ninth overall in the Association, not all the way down at 14th.

The best way for Cousins to prove all of these doubters wrong is, of course, to start winning. If he can continue to play at the insanely high level he’s been at for the last few seasons on a playoff team he’ll probably have a chance to crack the top seven of this very same list next season.

Is it right that winning dictates a player’s legacy? Maybe not, but that’s how it is. Dan Marino will always be remembered as the greatest quarterback to never win a championship, despite his legendary level of play. Hopefully DeMarcus Cousins doesn’t remain the best center to never win 30 games for even one more season.