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NBA Draft: DeMarcus Cousins, the boom or bust debate

May 22, 2010, 3:05 PM EST

cousins_no1.jpgI clearly remember the first time I watched a Kentucky game this season. Like everyone else, I wanted to see what this John Wall kid was all about, so I timed a Saturday morning trip to the gym with a Kentucky game, got my spot on the stationary bike and watched.

Within just a few minutes I was asking, “Who is this DeMarcus Cousins?” The “other” Kentucky freshman was a beast inside — physically strong, quick feet, and he had a soft and deft touch around the rim. He looked like an NBA big thrown into a college pickup game, he was that much better than anybody else.

Scouts and general managers were already on to him for those same reasons. But they are also asking themselves: Will his million dollar body be done in by his five-cent head?

Questions of focus and work ethic popped up again at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago this week when Cousins tested with 16 percent body fat (second highest level at the event). Some GM’s said he was just going through the motions at the combine, not taking it seriously.

All that puts general managers in a tough spot, as Frank Hughes reported for Sports Illustrated.

But despite Cousins’ attitude and reputation, he’s still a projected top-five pick. And his talents present an interesting quandary: If a team passes on him and he ends up being a great player, like Amar’e Stoudemire, the GM stands to lose his job for failing to identify his strength of character. After all, one talent evaluator said Cousins is the most productive minute-per-minute player in the draft after averaging 15.1 points and 9.9 rebounds in 23.5 minutes a game for Kentucky. But if the GM picks him and he turns into a bust, like former Clippers No. 1 pick Michael Olowokandi, the GM stands to lose his job for failing to foresee the obvious red flags

By all reports Cousins came off well in the interviews in Chicago with team executives, and at 19 he deserves some leeway. I’m not proud of everything I did at 19, nobody is. But then there is this quote from his teammate Daniel Orton just this week.

“Unpredictable,” Orton said (of Cousins). “People don’t realize it, but he’s a loving kid — sometimes. I’ve seen it get out of hand, but he can control it. It’s kind of like watching a kid throw a temper tantrum.”

Some team in the top 5 will — and should — take the risk on Cousins. In the end, talent wins in the NBA and skilled, strong big men with a hunger to score like Cousins do not come around often. But I would go out and get a reliable veteran (preferably a big man) who has a good work ethic to pair with Cousins. Someone to show him what it takes to be an NBA player, someone to show him maturity and focus. Someone to be his Crash Davis.

With that, maybe the million-dollar body will come through. But there is a risk.

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