NEW YORK -- Imagine you were tasked with creating the perfect big man, the one player who would dominate the NBA for the next 10 years. Chances are, he'd bring the following things to the table:
- Dominant post scoring ability with a set of polished offensive moves.
- A willingness to bang and play physical with post defenders.
- An elite rebounding acumen on both ends of the court.
- A mean streak that will fire up your team and intimidate others.
- A confidence that allows him to deadpan the answer "I'm the better player" when asked how he would sell himself as compared to another player.
Chances are, he'd also bring these things to the table:
- A freakish athleticism, making him capable of guarding pretty much any kind of player while wearing your opponents' big men out running the floor.
- An ability to be a lock-down defender on the pick and roll.
- The capability to catch any pass at the rim and finish it.
- Room to grow and the willingness to remain humble and be a good teammate.
- A modest outlook, even when selling himself against another player. He'd probably put the pitch like this: "I'd tell them how hard I work, during my offseason, and during the season too, how hard I play on the court."
Holy crap did this guy have a great year. He does everything you could possibly want from a big. He shoots a high rate from 2, he draws a huge number of fouls (8.4/40), he blocks shots (7.9%), he owns the offensive glass (2nd in the nation with a 20%), and he carries a massive usage rate without turning the ball over a ton. This guy deserves consideration for the #1 pick. There have been all sorts of rumors about his character but I honestly have no idea what the real deal is. Here's hoping the Wolves are putting in a ton of leg work on this kid because he's clearly one of the top 2 or 3 prospects in the draft, especially if his whispered red flags are really nothing more than adjustable attitude problems. If he measures out as having legit NBA center height and length, he'll be a tough prospect to pass over...no matter where the Wolves end up drafting. ... It's really hard to overstate just how well Cousins performed this year. His offensive rebounding (20% vs 14.1%) and shot blocking (7.9% vs 3.6%) were well above and beyond what Griffin put up, which are things you like to see in a young big. Cousins also got to the line at a better clip (73.1% vs 70.6%) and turned it over less (14.8% vs 18.1%).
And before you bring up the limited minutes thing, there's been ample evidence that great production, particularly great rebounding production, translates extremely well to good production with more minutes.
But the questions still linger, and for those teams that are really concerned, there is another option.
Unlike Cousins, you shouldn't ever have to worry about Favors having any ... uhh ... issues. Favors is coachable, willing to improve and a good "face" of the franchise, if you will. He's also an unbelievable defensive player that is a quick study. Favors and Cousins played a one-on-one game in a workout in Philadelphia, and while many were more impressed with Cousins, Favors said he was able to mostly stop him because he's picked up Cousins' moves from knowing him throughout the basketball pipeline.
It's that combination of athleticism, smarts and coachability that has many excited about Favors. Say what you will about great college production, but players with all three of those qualities in spades rarely fail. As an example, Dwight Howard had everything but production, and yet, he became the league's best big man over Emeka Okafor, a guy who was the best player in college basketball the season before. Cousins is no Okafor, but it's hard not to at least think of that comparison when talking about the Favors-Cousins question.
"[Favors has to make up] a lot of ground. He's raw. Physically, he needs to get stronger. He needs to improve his polish. He needs to improve his offensive game," Givony said. "But he's got physical tools that you can't teach. His upside is off the charts."
But unlike Howard, there is a rather large body of work of Favors being, well, underwhelming. His freshman year at Georgia Tech wasn't bad, but he didn't come close to dominating games like Cousins did. He came on a bit at the end of the year, but still fumbled too many passes, missed too many short shots and ceded too many post touches to the inferior Gani Lawal (who he also not-so-incidentally praised at media day). Favors is younger than Cousins, but not my much. Certainly, not by enough to fully explain away the huge difference in their production in college.
So what could explain it? Perhaps the issue was Favors' teammates. While Cousins got passes from John Wall, Favors had to share the post with Lawal and receive entry passes from a rag-tag group of guards. Favors will never admit this being a source of frustration for him, but it had to be. When he was asked point blank about what it would have been like to play with Wall instead of his guards, he paused for an instant, trying to find the right word, before finally saying "They might not be as good as John Wall, but those guys are good. They're hard workers, and they do a good job." Not exactly a ringing endorsement.
Givony took the diplomatic route, saying both Favors' teammates and his rawness played a role in his underwhelming season, and I'm inclined to agree. I came away from talking to him thinking he was very humble (which is good), but also very much lacking a mean streak. At the same time: athleticism, smarts, coachability. When you have those three qualities, you don't often fail.
So there you have it. In one corner, the insanely productive guy who wants to be great, but also might be a hot head. In the other corner, the athletic freak that's willing to defer, but may not be willing to be great. Both guys are slated to play the most position on the floor in the NBA, and even to this day, it doesn't seem like too many people have a handle on either. This debate has it all.
Same position? Check. Contrasting styles? Check. Iffy but maybe legitimate "intangible" questions on either side? Check. Nature vs. nurture, in terms of their college environment? Check. Paralysis by analysis? Check.
In other words, it's everything we love about the NBA Draft. Barring injury, we know John Wall is going to be great, and we know Evan Turner will be very good (though maybe not great). There's no intrigue in talking about them.
But Derrick Favors and DeMarcus Cousins? That's a real guessing game. And isn't that what makes the NBA Draft so great?