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DeMarcus Cousins is the force behind the Kings' 5-1 start

DeMarcus Cousins and the Kings are improved, but it's not just because of cooler heads.

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

DeMarcus Cousins has yet to be whistled for a technical this season. Sure, it’s only been six games, but Cousins set a goal of being tagged with five or fewer technicals this season -- and he's following through. His new-found maturity is certainly playing a role in the improved Boogie Cousins, but there's more to his play this season than a subdued attitude.

Cousins and the Sacramento Kings are off to a surprising 5-1 start thanks to an improved defense and a noticeable toughness and confidence on both sides of the court. Darren Collison has been a great addition so far while Rudy Gay has done what's expected of him and Ben McLemore has shown flashes. For Cousins, though, he's stepping up in more ways than one to lead the Kings to a fast start.

He’s playing fewer minutes but having a bigger impact

The one digression in Cousins’ game this season is that he can’t stay out of foul trouble. He’s averaging 4.8 fouls per game (he was at 3.8 last year) and it's keeping his minutes down. He fouled out in the Kings’ win over the Denver Nuggets in only 22:29 of play on Nov. 5. He's averaging 29.8 minutes per game (down from 32.4 in 2013-14) yet impacting the game more. He's scoring more points (24.2 per game versus 22.7 last year) and his usage rate is up to 31.1 from 30.7. Meanwhile, his PER is way up: 30.43 this season compared to 26.18.

He’s scoring more points on fewer shot attempts

Cousins shot 49.6 percent from the field last year on 16.8 shots per game and averaged 22.7 points. This year, he's averaging 24.2 on 50 percent shooting with 15.7 shots a game. Maybe the one less shot is because he's playing fewer minutes, but he's making up for it in other ways, like getting to the free throw line. Last year he shot 8.4 free throws a game. This year, he's shooting 10.5. Plus, he's making them, just like his teammates ...

Cousins and the Kings can shoot free throws

The Kings are averaging 82 percent at the charity stripe and Cousins is at 81 percent. Plus, they're getting to the line more. Cousins is getting to the line 10.5 times per game, and the Kings are shooting 39.8 free throws a game. That's tops in the league by over five shots a game, and since they're shooting at such a high percentage, they're getting six more points per game from the free throw than any team in the league (32.7 free throws made per game).

His teammates are stepping up

After Cousins fouled out with 39 seconds left in regulation on Friday night against the Phoenix Suns, it would have been easy for the Kings to fold. Instead, they ended the first overtime on a 7-0 run and the second with six unanswered to pick up an improbable win. The biggest difference is the team's defensive efficiency. Last year it was 106.3. This year it's 98.7, which ranks seventh in the league.

***

It's not just Cousins who matured, it's the entire Kings team. It's still early, but at 5-1 with only a loss to the Golden State Warriors, these Kings appear ready to stay near the top in the West.

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