As an update, DeMarcus Cousins' has been named as Kobe Bryant's replacement in the All-Star game. This is oddly appropriate.
The fans and coaches have spoken, and Demarcus Cousins isn't an All-Star. By conventional methods, sure, he's a star. He makes lots of money and scores lots of points. The reason for the snub is because he's on a bad team. While we certainly never hold a bad team against a star, the reality is that part of the reason the Kings aren't a top team is because Cousins isn't a star. He's an above average player, but not a star. Let's review why!
A quick primer
The Wins Produced formula estimates how many wins a player contributed to their team. This is based on point differential -- how much their team outscored the opponent. Points over Par (PoP) is a variant of Wins Produced that examines what spread a player earns their team in a game. This is done by comparing a player to the average performance at their given position. However much they overperform (or underperform) can be mapped into what edge they would give their team in a match. Also, we can directly map this back to the statistics. We can tell you why a player is good or bad according to the metric, unlike, say RPM. We'll be using PoP throughout this article to explain DeMarcus Cousins' game.
Offensively...he hurts his team
A significant reason people think Cousins is such a good player is his high points per game average. At 23.8 points per game, DeMarcus Cousins is top seven in scoring this season. Tack on 3.2 assists and, at first glance, DeMarcus Cousins appears to be a dominant player on offense. Except, not quite.
In regards to scoring, DeMarcus Cousins is superb at free throws. He earns his team a two-point edge per game with them. Except, he's quite bad – compared to other centers – at shooting from the field. His assists do help, but Cousins has a glaring weakness in his offense. He turns the ball over way too much. All the "good" his scoring and assists do? It's completely eaten by his inability to hold onto the ball. And, at least on offense, his rebounds are pretty much average for a center. In short, DeMarcus's offense can't overcome his poor ball handling.
Defensively ... he's ok
Despite this odd meme, that "we can't capture defense" with the stats, we do keep four defensive boxscore stats. It turns out this is where DeMarcus "shines"...well, kind of. DeMarcus is excellent at getting defensive rebounds. Of course, it turns out this is one of the statistics impacted by your team. For every defensive rebound you nab, you can pretty much know your team would have gotten it half the time. So despite getting 3.5 more defensive rebounds than the average center, it amounts to less than 1.5 points. His blocks, like his offensive boards, are pretty much spot on for a center. He is good at stealing the ball. And, while not as bad as his turnovers, Cousins is quite foul prone. As a result, Cousins ends up helping his team on defense. But at 1.6 Points over Par, it just covers his poor offensive stats.
The boxscore does capture all of the defensive information we need. The problem is that it can't attribute some of it to individuals. This amounts to opponent shooting (ignoring blocks) and turnovers not assigned to individual players. The Kings have an appalling defense, so in respect to these numbers, without having a better way to measure it, DeMarcus Cousins defensive numbers could take a hit. But, we can do an extreme thought experiment. What if, hypothetically, DeMarcus Cousins' defense that was not already captured by the boxscore was as good as the best team defense in the league? The Milwaukee Bucks have this. Additionally, let's pretend DeMarcus was as good as two players playing at this level. Adjusting for this factor, DeMarcus Cousins' Points over Par per game would be...+1.25. For perspective, if we assumed every forward/center in the West better than him was responsible for twice the defense of the worst team in the league (the Timberwolves), here's how our frontcourt in the West would shake out:
- Anthony Davis - 5.6 PoP per game with the defensive penalty
- DeAndre Jordan - 4.95 PoP per game with the defensive penalty
- Tyson Chandler - 4.4 PoP per game with the defensive penalty
- Kevin Durant - 4.2 PoP per game with the defensive penalty
- Kawhi Leonard - 2.7 PoP per game with the defensive penalty
- Rudy Gobert - 2.38 PoP per game with the defensive penalty
- Zach Randolph - 2.34 PoP per game with the defensive penalty
- Harrison Barnes - 1.64 PoP per game with the defensive penalty
- Draymond Green - 1.55 PoP per game with the defensive penalty
- Brandan Wright - 1.46 PoP per game with the defensive penalty
- Derrick Favors - 1.38 PoP per game with the defensive penalty
- Andrew Bogut - 1.31 PoP per game with the defensive penalty
- P.J. Tucker - 1.30 PoP per game with the defensive penalty
- DeMarcus Cousins - 1.25 PoP per game with a defensive boost
Yes, even if we gave DeMarcus Cousins an enormous defensive lift and penalized every other big in the West, DeMarcus Cousins wouldn't crack the top 10! His stats say he's an above average player. If we assume his defense is spectacular, he'd be a good, not great player. The reality is that Cousins is not a star player. All you need to do is look at his shooting efficiency and turnovers to see he's not at the same level as other players. The only real way DeMarcus Cousins could be considered a star is if he won a massive popularity contest, which he didn't. At least, DeMarcus Cousins' team thinks he's a star, or at least, pays him like one.
One last word on star criteria
One of the "easy" ways to make DeMarcus Cousins look like a star is to use the following logic: look at what he does well, and ignore what he does poorly. Except, this doesn't make sense. We can't credit DeMarcus Cousins with being good at defense and then ignore those very same stats in regards to his offense. The reality is turnovers and fouls are bad. The reality is Cousins' shooting, while better than average, does not compare with other elite players. To call DeMarcus Cousins a star requires making a lot of assumptions and ignoring reality. And thankfully, the fans and coaches didn't do that.