DeMarcus Cousins’ second NBA coach was Keith Smart, who reminded the then-second-year center he needed to anchor the Kings’ defense.
Smart didn’t say Cousins had to win the Defensive Player of the Year honor to prove his worth defensively. At the time, Smart said Cousins just needed to draw votes for the All-Defensive team to demonstrate he was developing.
Last May, when the All-Defensive teams were announced, Cousins received one first-team vote even though the Kings were one of the league’s worst defensive squads.
Under first-year coach Dave Joerger, the Kings need Cousins to stay on Smart’s path to defensive excellence in their hope to become a stifling unit by season’s end. The Kings opened the season Wednesday night against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena.
Cousins always has been adept at drawing charges and rebounding, two important aspects, and as he becomes more vocal in leading the defense, he could fulfill Smart’s vision while helping the Kings change their reputation.
Cousins isn’t the highlight-reel type on defense. He doesn’t soar to block shots. But he’s smart and has good instincts and quick hands, which can force turnovers when he doesn’t overextend himself by reaching and picking up unnecessary fouls.
“I’ve always felt I could defend at a high level,” Cousins said. “I’ve always felt I was a smart defender. That’s kind of me with (not) being the most athletic guy. I think that’s what’s always helped me defensively. But I have gained more knowledge defensively.”
That knowledge will be important this season. When the Kings use small lineups, Cousins will be the only big man on the court most of the time. So he’ll have to direct the defense a lot and protect the rim while remembering the words of former teammate Rajon Rondo.
Rondo often implored Cousins to talk more on defense. On the league’s best defensive teams, players constantly yell directions and help each other. The Kings have had issues in those areas.
Rondo wanted Cousins to discover that if he was quiet, the team still would not be good defensively even if the center did his part.
“One thing (Rondo) was always preaching to me was being a talker,” Cousins said. “I would always be in the right spots, always do the right assignment, but I wouldn’t let anybody know so it would still break down. So my biggest thing is just talking a lot.”
Cousins noted Rondo’s standard for talking on defense is high since the guard played with one of the league’s premier defenders, Kevin Garnett, early in his career with the Boston Celtics.
“He came up under KG, a dude who never stops talking, so I’ve got some high expectations,” Cousins said.
Joerger has said the process of becoming a good defensive team takes time. So does the process of Cousins becoming more vocal on defense.
“He’s working on it,” Joerger said. “It’s a work in progress. You just want to have that trust. Bigs just want to know when somebody has them (covered if they move from their defensive assignment). They never like being extended or selling out to cover up somebody else, which is what they always have to do if nobody is going to cover them.
“So as you build that trust through your defense, the bigs are more comfortable.”
And that’s how those All-Defensive votes start to pile up.