DeMarcus Cousins and Derrick Favors versus Top 5 Centers (1990-2008)

Is DeMarcus Cousins the best big man prospect since Shaq?  That’s the question I started asking myself after watching him play and physically dominate the competition he faced this year at Kentucky.  Without accounting for attitude issues and looking strictly at production, a strong case can be made that Cousins is in fact such a prospect. 

Below the Fold I make a statistical comparison for both Cousins and Favors and how they compare to other players who can play some Center and were Top 5 picks from 1990-2008.

We all know that there is nothing sexier to an NBA GM than a talented big man.  To make an effective comparison, I went back to 1990 and looked at every player who could possibly play some center in the NBA that was drafted in the Top 5.  I realize that I am going to miss some players picked after the Top 5, but as Big Men are generally coveted in the draft, the best Center prospects likely were Top 5 picks at the time.  As Cousins played College Ball in the US, and those college statistics are what I am using to draw a comparison, Prep to Pros Big Men drafted during this time (Garnett, Bender, Brown, Chandler, Curry, and Howard) were not included in the comparison.  Additionally, Internationals (Gasol, Ming, Milicic, and Bargnani) were also not included as Euro stats aren’t directly comparable.  This leaves us with the following list of comparables from 1990-2008 (Shaq, Christian Laettner, Kenyon Martin, Antonio McDyess, Donyell Marshall, Juwan Howard, Shawn Bradley, Rasheed Wallace, Tony Battie, Drew Gooden, Alonzo Mourning, Derrick Coleman, Dikembe Mutombo, Raef Lafrentz, Chris Webber, Joe Smith, Stromile Swift, Elton Brand, Tim Duncan, Michael Olowokani, Chris Bosh, Emeka Okafor, Tyrus Thomas, Shelden Williams, Greg Oden, Al Horford, LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Love and Andrew Bogut) for a total group of 30 players.  Additionally, since Favors is projected as a Top 5 pick, I included him as well making the control group 31 total players.

In order to make the comparison, I used freshman statistics for all these players where possible; however, Cousins played over 890 minutes as a Freshman so to be as fair as possible in this comparison, some players sophomore stats were used who didn’t play enough minutes as a Freshman.  Sophomore stats apply for Mutombo, Laettner, Battie, Brand, Martin, Swift, Williams, LMA, and Al Horford.  Olowokandi was the bizarre outlier who didn’t really play heavy minutes until his junior year so I used his Junior stats, however unfair that may be.  Additionally, all stats are reduced to per 40 minutes.

1.  Olowokandi – 27.99
2. Cousins – 25.76
3. Elton Brand – 24.22
4. Kevin Love – 23.56
5. Joe Smith – 23.56
9. Greg Oden – 21.66
13. Shaq – 19.76
22. Derrick Favors – 18.10
31. Tim Duncan – 12.96

This list tells us nothing of efficiency, only total points per 40 minutes.  Olowokandi is a junior here playing in the smallest conference of any of the comparables.  Additionally, he and Drew Gooden both attempted at least 2 more shots per 40 minutes than third most which happens to be Cousins.  Interesting to note that Tim Duncan brought up the bottom of the list as clearly he was not a polished offensive player as a freshman.  Cousins field goal percentage placed him at 21st nearly identical to players like Chris Bosh, Derrick Coleman, Kevin Love, and Chris Webber.  Favors on the other hand had a Field Goal % in the Top 5.  The difference between Favors and Cousins as we see below is that Cousins drew significantly more free throw attempts.

True Shooting Percentage
1. Dikembe Mutombo - 70.22%
2. Elton Brand - 65.98%
3. Kevin Love - 65.54%
4. Chris Bosh - 64.40%
5. Alonzo Mourning - 64.26%
12.Derrick Favors - 62.00%
17.Tim Duncan - 60.17%
21.DeMarcus Cousins - 59.04%
23.Shaquille O'Neal - 58.35%

This is the major weakness in Cousins offensive game in relation to his peers; however, he is close to both Duncan and Shaq at this stage of their development.  At the top of the list we see the 2 back to the basket low post players in Mutombo and Mourning who both took around 10 shots per 40 with Mutmbo hitting over 70% from the field.  Mourning shot lower however as we see below, he drew a lot of free throws.  Brand is also similar to these two and who shot better than Mourning but drew less free throws than him.  Love and Bosh both made around 1 three point shot per 40 and with Love a little better at drawing free throws.  Cousins get's hurt with his 21st best FG% as mentioned above and even though as we see in the next category that he is great at drawing free throws, he is not so great at making them.

Free Throw Attempts per Field Goal Attempts
1. Alonzo Mourning - .74
2. DeMarcus Cousins - .73
T3. Shelden Williams - .71
T3. Christian Laettner - .71
5. Dikembe Mutombo - .67
T6. Greg Oden - .64
T6. Kevin Love - .64
17. Tim Duncan - .50
T19. Shaquille O’Neal - .49
T19. Derrick Favors - .49

I didn't use raw free throws drawn as players that attempted more shots, which Cousins did, would look better.  Anecdotally, Cousins averaged over 12 Free Throw Attempts per 40 minutes his freshman year, no one else on the list of 31 made it over double digits.  Interesting to note that Shaq wasn't a major force at drawing free throws his Freshman year even with his physical and athletic advantages.  Clearly he was able to change this aspect of the game in the NBA.  Kevin Love even being undersized and unathletic has been able to translate this aspect of his game to the NBA and I would think that would bode well for Cousins.

1. Shaquille O’Neal – 17.09
2. DeMarcus Cousins – 16.75
3. Dikembe Mutombo – 16.31
4. Drew Gooden – 14.46
5. Kevin Love – 14.36
21. Derrick Favors – 12.30

Shaq, Cousins and Mutombo are in a class of their own as far as rebounding.  This is a seriously underrated aspect of Cousins game.  His rebounding numbers as a Freshman are historically amazing and his comparables of Shaq and Mutombo were both world class rebounders in the NBA.  I would have loved to break this list down into offensive and defensive rebounding metrics and more advanced rebounding percentage statistics but unfortunately college stats from the 1990's don't necessarily have all this information.

1. Al Horford – 3.05
2. Christian Laettner – 2.96
3. Andrew Bogut – 2.91
4. Chris Webber – 2.79
5. Shaquille O’Neal – 2.71
6. Kevin Love – 2.60
12. DeMarcus Cousins – 1.70
17. Derrick Favors – 1.50
31. LMA - 0.64

For a guy who supposedly is a black hole on offense, Cousins comes in above average on assists on this list at 12th.  Always fun to shine a light on LMA’s shortcoming so his last place finish is highlighted on the comparables.  Cousins assist numbers are better than Bosh, Brand, Duncan, Wallace, and Oden.

1. Christian Laettner – 2.08
2. Chris Webber – 1.99
3. Stromile Swift – 1.97
4. Antonio McDyess – 1.88
5. Joe Smith – 1.82
7. Shaquille O’Neal – 1.69
8. DeMarcus Cousins – 1.66
18. Derrick Favors – 1.30
23. Kevin Love - .93

Cousins defense is already mentioned as a potential weakness in his game, however Steals is an area where he is clearly above average.  Favors is supposed to be the big with the defensive potential; however, Cousins outpaces him here on steals.

1. Shawn Bradley – 7.20
2. Alonzo Mourning – 7.03
3. Dikembe Mutombo – 6.42
4. Emeka Okafor – 5.41
5. Shaquille O’Neal – 5.11
6. Tim Duncan – 4.97
9. Greg Oden – 4.54
T19. DeMarcus Cousins – 3.00
T19. Derrick Favors – 3.00
26. Kevin Love – 1.94
27. Andrew Bogut – 1.76

The biggest weakness of Cousins game and the stat that jumps out when people try to project his defense is blocks.   Chris Weber, Elton Brand and Chris Bosh are the three comparables that are closest to Cousins in terms of blocks.  A far more interesting statistic is that Favors registers so low on this list.  For a big like Favors who supposedly has strong defensive potential, his blocks and steals numbers don’t show it.  Additionally, I don’t think you can blame Georgia Tech’s poor guard play or Lawal for Favors blocks and steals numbers unless you think Lawal was somehow stealing blocks from Favors.  Interesting to note that someone like Andrew Bogut has been able to improve this aspect of his game immensely from his freshman season in college, meaning there is still hope for players who underperform here. 

Cousins scoring looks fantastic and his rebounding abilities aren’t just elite, their historically great.  He may have defensive shortcomings but compared with Favors, his defensive statistics look better.  Without factoring in attitude issues and style of play, I find it difficult to argue that Favors is a better prospect than Cousins.  When the eye test in the games I’ve watched shows cousins closing out on perimeter shooters and playing decent pick and roll defense, I’m less concerned than others about his defense.  Clearly Favors is more mobile so projects to have more defensive potential, but Cousins blows him away in production.  With the frontcourt logjam the Wolves currently have it is hard to get excited about a guy like Cousins since he doesn’t fit a need, but to get a guy like him with the 3rd or 4th pick could create roster headaches but also a long term dominant player at a position that is extremely difficult to fill.

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