DeMarcus Cousins is having a career year thus far in the 2013-14 NBA season, and it's not a coincidence.
The major improvement he's shown to this point is what the Sacramento Kings banked on when they gave the mercurial big man a four-year, $62 million extension in September. Since then, he's rewarded the team that drafted him in 2010 in a big way -- he's scoring and rebounding among the league's best. What's more is the Kings are relying on him to be the focal point of the offense.
As planned, he's been the centerpiece when the Kings posses the ball, amassing a league-leading usage rate of 32.1. That metric, according to ESPN, measures the number of possessions a player uses per 40 minutes.
Because a player's usage relies heavily on shot attempts, it's somewhat of an anomaly to have big men lead in that area. Guards and wing players, who play more often with the ball in their hands, tend to dominate because they initiate more offense on a consistent basis. Centers rely on guards to get them the ball, and are the players most likely to see their touches limited.
For example, in 2012-13 Brook Lopez led all centers with a 26.1 usage rate and was No. 16 overall among all qualified players. Carmelo Anthony was first. This season, Cousins is the top among all players through 15 games. Lopez ranks second among centers but is 38th overall at 24.6. What that translates to on the floor is that Boogie is not only getting plenty of touches, but he's turning them into field goal attempts, getting to the free throw line, sharing the ball and limiting turnovers as well as anyone in the league.
For a big man, that's almost unheard of and speaks volumes of how dedicated Sacramento is to playing through him. It further demonstrates the trust they have in him and that their intent in re-signing him was to give him every opportunity to deliver on their investment.
So far he has.
Cousins is shooting a career-high field goal percentage of 48.5 percent through 15 games. He's also posting a career-high in points per game (21.7) and PER, where he's seventh among all players at 25.6. A look at his shot chart for the same period gives us an intriguing peek into where he's been most effective.
Cousins has always proven to be a versatile shooter for a big man, but this season he's been exceptionally good from mid-range, as evidenced by the chart above. The Kings are setting him up to knock shots down from all over the floor, and given his usage, he's been confident enough to oblige his teammates by taking them.
SB Nation's own Tom Ziller wrote in prophetic fashion back in September as it relates to the big contract:
"Cousins [now] has no excuses. If he didn't get an extension, you could make an argument that the uncertainty over his future weighed on him this season and caused him to do x, y and z. Nope. With an extension, the mystery on that is gone. This will also be his third head coach and he has a solidly run franchise behind him. He's been loaded with gobs of royal jelly. His teammates aren't the best in the world, but no one is expecting him to win 50 games. The expectation is to keep his nose clean(er) and produce. If he doesn't, at the end of this season, we'll know."
Those simple expectations -- to behave and produce -- have been far exceeded so far. Things haven't gone well for the team as they sit firmly in last place in the Pacific Division, but as pointed out above, the expectation for this young group with a new coach, direction and nucleus isn't to win right away. It's only for Cousins to control what he's capable of, and that's his effort and attitude.
From what it seems, the contract situation did play a significant role in some of his antics, because he's stayed down and delivered twofold on the floor. As the Kings continue to build around him, the risk the new ownership took on him long-term figures to continue to pay dividends.
That's a good thing for Sacramento and NBA fans. When superstars do what they should be doing, everyone wins.