On paper, the Sacramento Kings had one hell of draft last Thursday. Holding the #5 selection, they picked up PF/C DeMarcus Cousins, almost certainly the most physically talented player available in the entire draft from a basketball skills standpoint. At 6-11, 290, he wore down any and all opposing college centers this past year, putting up phenomenal pers of 15 points and 10 rebounds in only 24 minutes. He shot 56% from the field, got to the charity stripe for 7 free throws a night, and also blocked 1.8 shots each outing. Cousins used brute force and crafty moves in tandem, making him extremely difficult to slow down on the offensive end.
And that was only half of it. With the third pick of the second round, the Kings grabbed Marshall center Hassan Whiteside, who was projected as a certain first rounder until the first round was over. The 7-foot freshman absolutely dominated defensively at Marshall, averaging 5.4 blocks per, and he didn't even start his first 9 games. In fact, it was his triple-double off the bench in that ninth game (17 points, 14 rebounds, 11 blocks – which came three weeks after a 14-17-9 performance) that thrust him into the starting lineup for all but two of their remaining games. Whiteside also averaged 13 points and 9 boards in his 26 minutes per.
Every pundit who assigned grades to teams' selections gave Sacramento a resounding A, saying they nailed the picks, getting an overly impressive frontcourt duo to play in front of Tyreke Evans. If everything I told you up to this point was the entire story, I would have to agree with all of them, but there's far more to the picture. In fact, there's so much more, I don't see how the Kings' draft can accurately be graded for quite some time.
Cousins is an absolute beast in the paint, but it appears his attitude problems may also be beastly. Anytime Kentucky coach John Calipari had to speak to Cousins on the sidelines about a mistake he made, TV audiences saw Cousins either refusing to look at his coach or talking back. It was a well-known rift, feud, whatever you want to call it, so much so ESPN made sure they talked to the coach on draft night to get his official “There was never a problem” remarks. We all saw it many times Calipari; Cousins clearly doesn't like to be told his effort wasn't enough.
All season, his body language sucked and his interactions with teammates and coaches during tense moments sucked. This wasn't an isolated blow-up; he just doesn't take things not going his way very well. When he was finally selected Thursday, ESPN's info graphic stated “Must Improve: Maturity” among his information. The last player to have this much talent and this many red flags for maturity was Michael Beasley, the second selection in the deeper 2008 draft. If he could ever stop being mentioned as trade bait all over the NBA—with no one biting by the way—I'll let you know how that worked out.
And don't forget that Cousins has been plagued by conditioning issues up to this point, as well. At the combine, his body fat was measured at 16.4 percent. The NBA has taken this measurement for the past five drafts, and that's by far the highest number for any first-round selection in that time, and it far trumps DeJuan Blair's 12.0 from last year, and he's a player who's had that “hefty” tag stamped on him for quite a while. Considering Cousins was listed as a 250-pound recruit just over a year ago, and then as 270 pounds at UK, and he just recently weighed in at 292 at the combine, there may be something to these concerns.
Whiteside's issues aren't as singularly destructive to team togetherness as Cousins', but they may be equally destructive to his own career. Whiteside also got the dreaded “Must Improve: Maturity” graphic, so there's that. The explanation du jour is that he was recently diagnosed at Marshall as having Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). If you've missed the news for the past decade, every teenager with anything even resembling ADD gets that diagnosis by the time they're 15. Somehow Whiteside went through middle school, high school, and 18 years of family doctors and no one ever spotted anything … not until someone figured out while he was in college that he may be a headcase, and being a headcase without a doctor's explanation can hurt your marketability.
So how'd that diagnosis work out for him? Here's a quote from his agent, Andre Buck: “He's going to have to figure out how he's going to address it. He was on medication he didn't like and didn't think was good for him. He stopped taking it.” Hmmmm, probably not what Kings' fans want to hear. Oh yeah, Kings' officials say the ADD was not on their medical chart for him.
According to Fanhouse, one NBA insider said his team was “scared” by Whiteside (no explanation given), and one GM had questions about his “desire to improve.” Ron Artest may be nuts and scare people, but no one questions his desire to improve. Considering Whiteside has terrible fundamentals all around at this point, this is the wrong side of the desire spectrum to fall on if he wants to pull NBA paychecks for a while.
In addition, he had to jump some academic hurdles last year to even get eligible for his freshman season at Marshall (he's 21, by the way), plus he's so weak that he's really only a weak side shot blocker (can't stop his own man, who always seems to get great position on the block), and he flat out gives up on plays, and this is before he gets into a complex NBA playbook or has to face non-MAC opponents. On top of all of this, he clearly expects to be the man because once he gets the ball in the post, it's basket-making time. He averaged 0.3 assists per (that's even worse than it sounds), and he had 26 games with 0 assists.
With all of Whiteside's issues, however they're labeled, Marshall coach Donnie Jones actually took him out of the starting lineup for the last two games, letting him play 16 and 22 minutes as a reserve. If you're by far the best player your teammates will ever get to suit up next to, and your coach still doesn't want you starting, there's a good chance you won't make it in the NBA.
This is why grading the Kings' selections is impossible to do at this point. They clearly picked up two talented dudes. They also picked up two guys who will probably be told to visit the team psychologist quite a few times. Tons of players with this dichotomy have made the NBA rounds, and very few of them seemed to play both sides while helping their team do great things. Zach Randolph has averaged a 20-10 forever, and he hasn't been to the playoffs in his seven years as a starter.
Ultimately these picks need to be judged on how well they improve the club, which can't be decided accurately for a couple years. Of course the Kings will improve next season; Tyreke Evans is still developing, and the law of averages says Sacramento will win more than 25 games no matter what they did in the draft. What I'm more curious about is how the team is doing in three or four years, when these two (if Whiteside is still in the league at that point) are fully integrated in what's happening on the court and in the locker room.
Until then, I don't feel confident enough in predicting either Cousins' or Whitesides' futures to grade Sacramento's picks. Gun-to-my-head analysis: it's an A for the Kings on EA Sports NBA Elite 11, but a D in real life with their greatest value coming from future trades for other, more-stable teammates.