DALLAS — Call DeMarcus Cousins what you will — lazy, uninspired, hot-headed — and maybe Spurs analyst Sean Elliott did. But Sacramento Kings coach Keith Smart has no choice but to view Cousins as an undeniably skilled, high-reward project.
It’s why Smart recently introduced the fifth overall pick in 2010 to the jump hook. Cousins has got to find something to perk up his 42.4 shooting percentage that droops to an abysmal 28 percent in the key — the painted part outside the “restricted area,” which is the area within the arched line located below the rim.
The hook didn’t go down for Cousins Saturday night in a win over Portland when he went 6-for-17 from the floor, but still finished with 19 points and 12 rebounds. Afterward Cousins was discouraged with the hook.
“That’s new territory for him because after that he said, ‘I’m probably not going to work on that shot any more,’ ” Smart said. “I said, ‘You’re right at the middle of the rim. You can’t get anything better than that.’ It looked like a real NBA shot of a big man trying to put the ball in with a jump hook. And now we’ve just got to refine that.”
Cousins followed up Monday with one of his best shooting nights of the season, going 10-for-17, although there was no sign of the jump hook. He scored 25 points, but it was inconsequential after the Kings fell behind the Dallas Mavericks by 28 points in the second quarter and lost 119-96 to end a three-game win streak.
It would seem difficult for a 6-foot-11, 270-pound man not to shoot a high percentage from so close to the basket, especially inside the “restricted area.” Yet entering Monday’s game, Cousins only made 71 of the 124 shots (57 percent) there, in part because he loves to take his man off the dribble from the elbow like a dynamic wing player might. But his big body gets caught in the air and he’s left to toss up an off-balance scoop shot or finger roll.
A couple of those attempts Monday against Mavs center Chris Kaman flew over the rim and hit the other side of the backboard. Another time, though, he spun beautifully around Elton Brand to the baseline and got fouled.
“The player at the moment doesn’t see himself as a big man,” Smart said of Cousins. “This guy can handle the ball just as well as some guards in our league. I don’t like him to do it a lot, but he can do those things and he doesn’t see himself in that frame of mind [as a big man].”
Push him out of the “restricted area,” but still in the key, where a jump hook might come in handy, and that’s where Cousins is shooting an almost impossible 28 percent (14-for-50). Take him out of the paint and out to the 3-point arc where he fancies himself a jump shooter and is especially fond of his fadeaway, and he’s shooting 31 percent (26-for-85).
Still, he’s the Kings’ leading scorer at now 17.2 points a game. And averaging 9.9 rebounds, he’s a would-be walking 20-10 player if only the Kings could post him up more. Smart is trying to get Cousins to commit to a go-to move that “you can count on every single night.”
It’s a daily struggle. But one Cousins must commit to. He said he had a back-to-the-basket game, but that he’s drifted farther and farther out during his time in the league.
“It’s just getting back to it,” Cousins said. “I’m basically kind of re-learning it again.”
His poor shooting percentages are not new and he’s made little progress from his first two seasons when his percentages in the paint were 29 percent and 30 percent, respectively. His best overall shooting percentage was last season’s 44.8.
“We’ve got to spoon feed a few of them [post-ups] down there for him to keep growing,” Smart said, “so we can keep that film in front of him to show him that along the line we can continue to develop other parts of his game as well.”
Smart said Cousins wants to be great, but that he wants it all to happen overnight, just like his frustrations when the jump hook didn’t immediately drop. Smart said, contrary to the beliefs of some, that Cousins is also willing to be coached.
“He’s coachable. You know, you might have to spend a little bit more time coaching him, but it’s good because he’ll take criticism,” Smart said. “He and I have a good relationship because I can come at him pretty hard and then he’ll respond and not talk for a day, and then we’ll come back around again. I think he respects me and he understands that I’m trying to get him to become one of those guys that he wants to become.”