DeMarcus Cousins did more than throw his own coming out party Thursday night against Sam Houston State, he also emerged as the potential difference maker for the Wildcats this season. Cousins is the kind of skilled big man Kentucky hasn’t had in, well, maybe forever. The closest guys I can come up with, at least off the top of my head, are Nazr Mohammed and Jamaal Magloire. And neither one of them were ever even close to Cousins in terms of raw talent, but in terms of productivity and (occasional) dominance, they’re the closest we’ve had. Even Randolph Morris, an athletic specimen who was a consistent underachiever, never came close to fulfilling the hype that came with him. He was a guy who looked like an NBA player from day one on campus, but never played like one (even after three years and one ill-fated attempt at an NBA draft).
But Cousins looks like a guy that has the potential to be the kind of guy who, on any given night, can carry a team to victory. His size-athleticism-skill set combination makes him a unique threat that can potentially give opposing coaches matchup problems: You want to put a lead-footed post player on him (like, say, Cole Aldrich or Greg Monroe)? Fine, he goes outside. Try putting a smaller defender on him that can match his agility (maybe a Derrick Favors-type)? Cousins bullies him down low.
I can remember watching (and hating) Joakim Noah at Florida, thinking, When was the last time Kentucky had a player like that? A guy that could dominate down low with his size and strength, but was still agile enough to make athletic moves to the hole. Cousins can do that. On top of that, Cousins has an outside jumper—something Noah never had.
But there is one important trait that no one ever questioned in Noah which people constantly question in Cousins: Desire. Does Cousins have it in him? Does he want to get better? And, more importantly, is he willing to do whatever it takes to do so? This progression of Cousins is worth watching. If he gets a taste of dominance (like he did tonight) and likes it, maybe it will inspire him; or, and this is the flip side, maybe he gets content. Players like Cousins are such a tease and an enigma that you can’t help but be both excited and depressed by their flashes of brilliance.
In short, Cousins can make or break this team’s title chances. If he’s playing up to his potential, it’s hard to imagine anyone matching up with us down low; both he and Patterson are too tough to defend singlehandedly. On top of that, Cousin’s success gives us more than just Cousins, it gives us more of others (Wall, Patterson), which is something nobody (other than Kentucky fans) wants to see.