It’s the relationship everyone was curious about.
How would George Karl’s fast-paced style mesh with a center, DeMarcus Cousins, who excels at punishing opponents in the halfcourt set?
Could Karl instill his plan of attack while not alienating his All-Star?
Cousins has put up big numbers lately, but he and Karl would agree it’s still a work in progress.
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On Monday night, Cousins had 20 points, 13 rebounds and five assists in the Kings’ 110-103 loss to the Atlanta Hawks at Sleep Train Arena.
The Kings have lost three in a row, which has made some personal statistics irrelevant to Cousins.
Entering Monday, Cousins had posted back-to-back games of 30 or points for the first time this season. Friday against Philadelphia, he had a career-high 24 rebounds.
“I’m still trying to get there,” Cousins said. “I think the past two games we’re kind of figuring out a way to make sure I get involved, still learning one another, and it’s still going to be a process. In the midst of it all, we’re still trying to build on the fly. There’s some difficulties with that, but I think we’re making progress.”
Karl has said Cousins doesn’t have a weakness in his offensive game and has a better understanding of defense than even he realized. Karl believes Cousins could join Memphis’ Marc Gasol as the league’s top-passing big men, especially if he reduces his turnovers.
Karl does try to monitor Cousins’ minutes because of the pace. But he believes the 6-foot-11, 270-pound center has a place in the up-tempo style.
“Everybody says we’ve got to slow it down to go to him. I think we can do both,” Karl said. “We’ve got to find that balance. It’s probably not going to happen in three months, so it’s not going to happen in three weeks. It’s going to take some time.
“I think we’ll find a good balance with how to play aggressively and up and down with tempo and also through Cuz.”
Karl believes Cousins’ rebounding is vital to the offense’s success. Cousins can ignite fast breaks with a rebound and an outlet pass. And if Cousins is trailing a play, he can get the ball for his own shot or create shots for others.
“The whole thing of fitting in a big guy to play fast is, DeMarcus is a great defensive rebounder, maybe the best defensive rebounder, he and (the Los Angeles Clippers’ DeAndre) Jordan,” Karl said. “All fast-tempo basketball starts with a rebound. That incorporates Cuz, and he’s a good high post player.”
Getting the most out of Cousins wasn’t easy Monday. The Kings were without second-leading scorer Rudy Gay (strained left knee tendon) for the second consecutive game, and third-leading scorer Darren Collison likely is out for the season after surgery for a core muscle injury.
With Gay and Collison sidelined, Cousins became the focus of the Hawks’ defense. He shot 7 of 19 and had five turnovers, tied with Andre Miller for the team high.
Cousins is optimistic that as he plays more for Karl, he can find a balance that keeps him involved when the Kings are at full strength.
If the Kings simply run and launch shots, they aren’t taking advantage of Cousins’ abilities. But Karl does not want to slow the game down to allow his players to accommodate Cousins.
“With his mind, I think he can find other ways for me to have a bigger influence on the game,” Cousins said. “We’re still trying to figure each other out. It’s going to take time.”
How well Karl and Cousins figure each other out this season won’t have much impact in the standings. But as the Kings seek to end their streak of losing seasons at nine, the sooner they can reach an understanding, the better.