Blake Griffin, DeMarcus Cousins and Building a Better Contender (part one)
Cousins of course has enjoyed none of those benefits. He wasn't the biggest star on his college team, (despite possibly being the best player - his one year stats at Kentucky are utterly absurd); he is by physical stature more plodding and less high-flying than Blake; he was sent to a comparative backwater in Sacramento on a team with flailing ownership and what little talent surrounded him was at best ill-fitting. And he's a famously difficult personality; as I said the spring prior to the 2010 draft on a forum somewhere: "honestly, the most likely scenario is the team that drafts him has to deal with his bull**** for 3 years, finally gives up on him and then when he matures a little on his 2d or 3rd team we get saccharine stories on how he's grown up/been misunderstood." I don't think I was too far wrong, as the Kings ownership change counts as a new team as far as I'm concerned!
However, here is where the comparison starts to become interesting. Despite his SNL-ready public persona, Blake is not exactly a choirboy himself, at least on the court:
Blake's defenders will point out two things: he's never been in trouble off the court, and he does get hammered a lot on the court. Of course, both of these rationalizations apply to Cousins as well. He has no checkered legal past, and basically everyone from his college coach on down has said that he's a good guy who gets overly emotional on the court due to will to win. And he takes his own fair share of hard shots from opponents as well.
For my money Cousins is the superior offensive player from the standpoint of being a primary weapon. Whereas Griffin relies upon others to create situations where he can use his physical talents to his best advantage, Cousins' combination of size, quickness and skill allows him to create those situations, both for himself and others. To put it another way, you would be wise to double team Cousins in the post. Unless Blake has draw and switch, there is no real need to get the ball out of his hands in that spot from a defensive perspective. DMC forces the entire opposing team to adjust when he posts, Griffin simply requires effort and persistence from his own defender.
Blake is secretly pretty mediocre as a post player for a guy of his pedigree, though it doesn't completely show up in Synergy stats. Synergy has Blake scoring at a slightly higher rate than Cousins in postups, but if we discount midpost faceup plays (which Synergy inconsistently categorizes between post up and isolation plays), Cousins is clearly superior. To put it qualitative terms there is this: Blake Griffin has scored one buckets in back-to-the-basket plays vs. credible post defenders, and that was on opening night against Jordan Hill. He has scored a few on such defensive minuses such as Zach Randolph, Kevin Love and David Lee but other than that, all of his true "dump it in to the post and watch him work" baskets have come on mismatches where the likes of Omri Casspi have been switched onto him.
Griffin's main "post up" advantage, unsurprisingly, comes a bit further out on the floor - though Cousins has a decent face up jumper, he does not have the same explosive quickness to beat slower defenders from 12 feet. However, for these mid post facing touches occur more as a result of well defender pick-and-rolls and other action rather than a primary offensive look.
Both are fairly willing passers out of double teams, though the Kings' lack of perimeter offensive talent hides this ability in Cousins to an extent - even in his first game with the team, the addition of Derrick Williams might add some interesting off-ball cutting action to Sacramento's offense when it works through Cousins on the block. Further, Cousins is more sure-handed in the post, turning the ball over on just over 10% of his possessions used (a number which overstates the risk of throwing him the ball in the post as a result of how "possessions used" are tracked. Plays where he records an assist out of the post is not counted as possessions used by Cousin but rather by the recipient). By comparison, Blake turns the ball over on more than 14% of his post possessions.
Moving beyond the what's into the how's and why's, Blake's issue is that 5 years into his career, he still has rudimentary, at best, post skills. As with most right handed players, he prefers to post on the left block as it allows him to attack in either direction better as the help well usually come from the middle of the floor. This way, he his able to use his strong hand to score in traffic. However, unlike the better post players in the league, Blake does not have a single go to move beyond attempting to power through his man. He does like to spin to his right shoulder on the baseline side. However, this move is easily defended simply because he has nothing at all going to his left shoulder. He does not have a credible turnaround jumper over either shoulder, likely because he has relatively short arms for his size, making getting a post up jumper off cleanly troublesome, and though he is messing around with a left handed jump hook over his right shoulder, it's neither a natural looking nor particularly effective shot. So without a go-to-move, in spots where he can not simply bowl over his defender, he struggles.
This possession where Serge Ibaka bottles him up is illustrative:
Boogie achieves this with fairly simple repertoire based on his best asset - his combination of strength and touch. From the left block he has two basic movesets. He either turns over his left shoulder into the lane for a jump hook as shown above(with an up-and-under counter move), or he drop steps to the baseline (which he counters with either and up-and-under or a spin back jump hook).
By having this balanced and effective post up game, Cousins allows a team to play through him in the post in ways in which Griffin probably does not. Though it doesn't necessarily show up just yet for Sacto, that is because their wings are bad. Really bad, and have been bad the whole time DMC has been in the league, which makes his job doubly harder in that when he does kick the ball out, good things don't happen, which causes defenders to double him more freely. It is hard to run an inside-out offense well if the "outside" doesn't present much of a threat. See also the Grizzlies offense in the playoffs last year. I predict that as Cousins' teammates improve his post scoring efficiency will increase while his turnover rate drops somewhat simply because of the greater time and space he will be afforded.