Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Every year, one player makes the jump from "very good to great." Last year, that player was Kevin Love.
The Minnesota Timberwolves forward exceeded all of our expectations by finishing among the league's top four in rebounding and scoring average, the only player in the NBA to accomplish that feat.
This year, I'm predicting Sacramento Kings forward DeMarcus Cousins will make the journey from "very good" to the kingdom of NBA fantasy greatness currently inhabited by such talents as LeBron James and Dwight Howard.
Despite playing in anonymity on a struggling Sacramento squad, Cousins was still able to light up the scoreboard for 18.1 ppg in 2011-12. That total was the second-highest on the Kings' roster, trailing only Marcus Thornton's impressive 18.7 ppg.
Cousins' skill as a rebounder is the part of his game that really stands out. The former first round pick averaged 11 boards per contest last season, the fourth-highest average in the entire league.
And that was with only a little over 30 minutes of playing time per game. Cousins' average of 17.3 rebounds per 48 minutes was third in the NBA behind only Dwight Howard and Marcus Camby.
Simply put, Cousins is a fantasy monster. And he just turned 22 a little over a month ago. The blow-up potential is definitely there ... in more ways than one.
Cousins has always carried the stigma of being difficult to coach and last season things met a boiling point early on when head coach Paul Westphal told Cousins to go home before a game versus the New Orleans Hornets. With Westphal and Cousins' relationship on the rocks, some wondered if the combative center would be shipped out of town.
In the end it was Westphal who was sent packing, as ownership fired the former Boston Celtics guard following the team's disappointing 2-5 start.
Since then, it's been smooth sailing for the temperamental University of Kentucky standout. No Western Conference center aside from Andrew Bynum averaged more rebounds per contest than Cousins over the final three months of the season.
Cousins was especially adept on the offensive glass, hauling in an incredible 4.05 offensive rebounds per game after February 1. For the season, only Cleveland's Anderson Varejao was more productive on the offensive glass than Cousins was.
In addition to his rebounding prowess, the 6-foot-11 Cousins further demonstrated his worth to fantasy owners by piling up dozens of steals and blocked shots. He led his team in blocks with 1.2 rejections per game while tallying 1.5 steals per contest, one of the highest averages among Western Conference big men.
In leagues where double-doubles count for extra points, Cousins was even more valuable to fantasy owners in 2011-12. Only five players were able to rack up more double-doubles than the 36 Cousins posted last season. Once, Cousins was able to explode for 20 points and 20 rebounds in the same game. Cousins was one rebound away from repeating the feat on three other occasions.
Though not a monumental transformation, Cousins was able to show steady, incremental improvements in the turnover and free throw shooting departments last year. His turnover rate dropped from 3.3 per night to a more manageable 2.7 per contest while his free throw percentage rose from 68.7 percent to 70.2 percent during his sophomore campaign. His field goal percentage also spiked to 44.8 percent compared to an even 43 percent the season before.
The comparison between Kevin Love and Cousins may seem like a stretch at first glance, but on closer examination, you'll see that the two are actually pretty similar.
Recently, Love has become the ultimate dual rebounding/scoring threat in the NBA, but during his second year in the league, he only averaged 14 ppg. That's 4.1 ppg fewer than Cousins averaged last year in his second season. On the rebounding side of things, Cousins and Love both averaged exactly 11 rpg during their sophomore seasons.
Love, now in his fifth season, jumped from 14 ppg to 20.2 after his third year while his rebounding averaged escalated to 15.2 rpg. If Cousins can show similar improvement in 2012-13, he could find himself somewhere in the neighborhood of 24 ppg and 15 rpg by season's end. These are MVP-like numbers we're talking about here.
Obviously, Love is the more grounded individual of the two given Cousins' checkered past, so there's less risk in choosing him early in this year's fantasy draft. I support that. But at the same time, Cousins' upside, assuming he keeps his emotions in check, could be gigantic.
Cousins' rebounding production could hit a ceiling if rookie power forward Thomas Robinson can work his way into the mix, but offensively, things looks pretty wide open for the third-year center/forward hybrid.
Thornton became injury-prone down the stretch last season while 2010 Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans saw his scoring average fall for the second year in a row. Aside from those two and second-year point guard Isaiah Thomas, the cupboard is pretty bare for Sacramento, meaning that a lot of the offensive responsibility will fall on Cousins' shoulders.
You don't have to like Cousins as a person but I think this kid has fantasy superstar written all over him. Make sure you don't let this young rebounding prodigy fall too far in this season's fantasy draft.