Is DeMarcus Cousins worth $80 million?

It's so close he can almost taste it....(image credit: scott mecum)

So close he can almost taste it (image credit: scott mecum)


With NBA basketball still over a month away, we’re now in that exciting time of year where we get to analyze potential rookie-scale contract extensions. Members of the 2010 draft class who were drafted in the first round have until October 31st to sign extensions. So far, only two eligible players — John Wall and Larry Sanders — have signed extensions, but reports are saying that Paul George and DeMarcus Cousins are approaching agreements with their respective teams. George is apparently nearing a deal around $90 million over five years, and Cousins is reportedly looking to sign a deal worth $80 million over five years.

Are these two players worth that kind of money? What about the rest of the 2010 draft class?

The following table represents the players taken in the 2010 draft who have played around 3000 career minutes and are eligible for an extension. Included in the table are career minutes, points, and PER.

Player Minutes Points PER
Greg Monroe 6991 3064 19.8
DeMarcus Cousins 6548 3583 18.6
John Wall 6594 3113 17.7
Greivis Vasquez 5251 1921 16.2
Derrick Favors 4698 1830 16.2
Ed Davis 4767 1539 16.0
Paul George 6195 2651 15.9
Larry Sanders 3452 1142 15.8
Gordon Hayward 5337 2187 14.9
Trevor Booker 3211 1021 14.9
Patrick Patterson 4126 1555 14.2
Jordan Crawford 4489 2242 13.6
Eric Bledsoe 3858 1318 13.6
Evan Turner 6402 2269 11.9
Kevin Seraphin 3532 1328 11.8
Al-Farouq Aminu 4995 1411 11.6
Ekpe Udoh 3632 899 11.5
Quincy Pondexter 2979 834 9.8
Avery Bradley 2965 997 9.6

PER is included in this table because it is excellent at capturing the perceptions of NBA fans, coaches, and executives. According to PER, Greg Monroe, DeMarcus Cousins, John Wall, Greivis Vasquez, Derrick Favors, Ed Davis, Paul George, and Larry Sanders are the leading candidates for extensions. This jives quite well with the recent chatter I’ve been reading in the NBA blogosphere, so I think PER has done a good job in capturing league-wide sentiment.

However, it should be noted that PER is not very good at capturing actual productivity. For that, I turn to Wins Produced and Arturo Galletti’s most recent Off-season List:

Player 5yr Projected Wins 5yr Estimated Worth ($millions) Extension
Paul George 59.2 $103.5 $90/5?
Greg Monroe 51.4 $90 ?
Gordon Hayward 44.3 $77.4 ?
Derrick Favors 40.7 $71.4 ?
John Wall 40.4 $70.9 $80/5
Eric Bledsoe 28.8 $50.3 ?
Ed Davis 27.7 $48.4 ?
Larry Sanders 27.6 $48.3 $44/4
Greivis Vasquez 22.7 $39.4 ?
Al-Farouq Aminu 20.7 $36.3 ?
Evan Turner 17.6 $30.7 ?
DeMarcus Cousins 13.0 $22.9 $80/5?
Avery Bradley 12.4 $21.7 ?
Trevor Booker 11.4 $19.9 ?
Quincy Pondexter 6.9 $12.1 ?
Patrick Patterson 4.5 $7.8 ?
Ekpe Udoh 2.2 $3.8 ?
Jordan Crawford -0.4 -$0.7 ?
Kevin Seraphin -3.3 -$5.8 ?

The list of the top players remains largely the same. Barring injury, Paul George is likely to be worth more than a max contract, joining a list of players that includes LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Chris Paul. Although there has been no talk of an extension for him, Greg Monroe would also be worth a max extension. Other players worth extensions in the range of $10 million/year or more include Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, John Wall, Eric Bledsoe, Ed Davis, and Larry Sanders.

Noticeably absent from this second list is DeMarcus Cousins. Based on his career so far, Cousins is only projected to produce 13 wins over the next five seasons. The going rate for this level of production is only $22.9 million. That means that, if Cousins gets the extension he’s looking for, he’ll be overpaid by $57 million over five years — or almost $11.5 million per season.

Why is there such a disparity between the way Cousins is perceived around the league and his actual production? When we take a closer look at his career stats, we see a classic Wages of Wins story (numbers courtesy of The NBA Geek).

DeMarcus Cousins' Career StatsThere are several strengths to Cousins’ game — for example, he’s good at getting to the free throw line, rebounding, getting steals, and getting assists — but scoring is not one of them. Yes, he does score a lot of points, but that’s only because he takes so many shots from the field. Unfortunately for Cousins, shooting efficiency is the single most important factor when it comes to basketball productivity, and his strengths aren’t enough to make up for his poor shooting and excessive turnovers.

Why is Cousins’ shooting so poor? That’s the type of question that cannot be answered by Wins Produced, so we have to find other ways of looking at field goal attempts. Luckily, thanks to sites like Hoopdata and Basketball Reference, we can get a more in-depth look at Cousins’ shot locations. An examination of these numbers indicates that his shooting percentage on jump shots is terrible and makes up an unusually large percentage of his field goal attempts. To put this into perspective, Cousins is more likely to shoot a jump shot than Chris Bosh, even though he shoots 10-15% worse than Bosh on those shots.

Given his strengths, it’s possible that Cousins would become a productive player if he cut down on the jump shots. But Cousins has already been in the league for three seasons and is unlikely to deviate from the playing style that has him on the brink of securing an $80 million jackpot. While following the examples of Allen Iverson, Stephon Marbury, and Carmelo Anthony is going to make DeMarcus Cousins a very rich man, executives and fans of the Sacramento Kings are probably going to be spending the next half decade or so wondering where it all went wrong.

– Devin

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