UK Men's Basketball

DeMarcus Cousins looks to himself for improvement

Sacramento center DeMarcus Cousins drove around Golden State's David Lee during a pre-season game last week. Cousins had six points and 10 rebounds over 29 minutes in the 95-91 win.
Sacramento center DeMarcus Cousins drove around Golden State's David Lee during a pre-season game last week. Cousins had six points and 10 rebounds over 29 minutes in the 95-91 win. AP

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Mention some of DeMarcus Cousins' less-than-flattering statistics from last season, and you won't hear any excuses.

Cousins doesn't blame his teammates' inability to catch passes for averaging 3.3 turnovers, ninth-most in the NBA. And there's no complaining about officiating as a reason Cousins led the NBA with an average of 4.1 fouls per game.

Then there's the 43 percent shooting from the field, especially bad for a 6-foot-11 center.

The former Kentucky star began his second season Monday night against the Los Angeles Lakers with plans to improve all those numbers.

Maybe the officials will give Cousins the benefit of the doubt. He also should know what he can get away with when it comes to contact on the court. Cousins, however, knows all improvements begin with him.

"I'm actually hoping for all of that," he said. "But it's really just me playing smarter. But I've got to play a lot smarter."

Cousins playing smarter will be key all season. He's the Kings' best post player and, off the bench, the Kings don't have a player who duplicates what Cousins brings.

For the Kings to improve, Cousins has to stay on the floor more than the 28.5 minutes he averaged as a rookie.

Kings Coach Paul Westphal said Cousins learns through experience.

"It's hard for him learn by somebody telling him something, but he does learn," Westphal said. "One of the things about last year was, I knew DeMarcus was going to have to play through some mistakes in order to find where the boundaries are. I expect his improvement to be in the areas of shooting percentage, turnovers and fouls."

Despite the learning curve, Cousins averaged 14.1 points and 8.6 rebounds and finished third in Rookie of the Year voting.

Still, there were too many nights when Cousins settled for jumpers or tried to dribble to the rim. Those decisions would lead to turnovers or fouls. There also were times when Cousins tried to draw charges and picked up cheap fouls. Westphal said doing that forces officials to make a call, one that could go against Cousins.

But Westphal was impressed with the work Cousins did in the off-season to improve his conditioning, which could help with some of those mistakes.

Reflecting on his rookie season, Cousins can point to instances when he didn't play as smart as he needed to.

"I'm playing against some of the smaller big men, and I'm trying to take them off the dribble," Cousins said. "I should be using my body, using my strength. It's just knowing what to use."

Kings forward Chuck Hayes, who played at UK from 2001-05, faced Cousins last season while with Houston and has gotten to know Cousins' game in practices.

"Right now, he's just playing basketball," Hayes said. "But as soon as he gets it, hopefully this year, he can be an All-Star."

When Hayes refers to Cousins "getting it," he's talking about the smart play Cousins is working to develop.

"He's the biggest guy, he's got the longest wingspan and, for a guy his size, he's very much athletic," Hayes said. "He's going to attract a lot of attention. If he just sticks to his strengths, which is in that paint and be a monster like we all know he can be, he'll open up things for (his teammates), and we all can feed off of him."

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