Getting drafted is not at all a concern for DeMarcus Cousins. He's probably guaranteed to be one of the top two overall prospects in this draft, no matter who declares, and would be on every top-five list that's based on talent. And that holds true for just about any draft.
His combination of size, hands and ability to get buckets is very, very special. I typically watch multiple NBA games every night. And whenever I see Cousins play I think of Zach Randolph and Al Jefferson, only taller (with a little Pau Gasol mixed in). And just so you know, those first two guys are among the very best low-post scorers in basketball today, worldwide.
In the draft, getting a post player who can really score is one of the best ways to upgrade a team, as low-post scorers are not nearly as prevalent as they once were. But drafting Cousins seems as much of a risk now as it did six months ago when he started playing at Kentucky and the red flags started waving.
I sat there in shock watching him get into at least two verbal spats with Kentucky head coach John Calipari in the Elite Eight. To beat a team as mature and tough as West Virginia, Kentucky needed to have 100 percent of its players' and coaches' attention on the game, with a single-minded purpose. That wasn't possible with Cousins acting out in those situations. Was it the reason the Wildcats lost? To my eyes, it was every bit as important as all those missed 3s. And therein lies the problem with Cousins.
If the NBA has ever been guilty, as a whole, of any single problem, it's been the league's lack of an ability to help an athlete gain maturity when he desperately needs it. There are many success stories that come in all shapes and sizes. But should Phoenix have taken Earl Clark at No. 14 over Ty Lawson? How would Miami look with Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love or Brook Lopez instead of Michael Beasley? The Bulls chose Tyrus Thomas over Brandon Roy. And that's just since 2007.
The truth is, Cousins is a better prospect than all of those guys were when they left college, but that doesn't mean he will realize that potential. I don't blame the NBA at all for this problem, and the teams can do only so much. This isn't college, where a player can be accounted for and mentored at all times (which does not always help, either). Factor in the money and nightlife, and the fact that players often have more power than coaches, and it's easy to see why drafting Cousins could lead to more problems than he's worth, at least in the short term.
The length of time that it takes to get Cousins on par with everyone else is the important question. Clark has plenty of time to get it right and be worthy of his lottery status. Ditto for Beasley, who has always shown signs of excellence, just not consistently. But at some point that light clicks on only after the player has to be moved. I think Thomas will end up a double-double machine, with all-defensive team efforts to boot, in Charlotte, having lost that opportunity over the years in Chicago. Randolph is a top-tier talent now, but that's after multiple trades. And there are plenty of other guys who ultimately figured it out for teams that did not draft them, just as there are super talents who never got things right.
Every decision-maker fancies himself as an expert at developing a player -- physically, mentally and emotionally. And Cousins is so talented that he just has to be taken in the first five picks, right? But maybe, this one time, teams will think twice, three times ... or perhaps four times before drafting and paying millions of dollars to a guy they know could not get his act together in the most important game of his life. And maybe losing that game will serve as a slap in the face to this marvelous talent, and he'll realize how precious and fortunate his talent is, and start acting like the pro he's about to become.