Welcome to King of the Court, our daily celebration of the best performances in basketball from the night that was. We’ll be keeping track of the best player of every night of the NBA season, and tallying the results as we go along.
King of the Court: DeMarcus Cousins
We never quite know what DeMarcus Cousins is capable of doing on any given night. It’s the most amazing and captivating thing about him; it’s also what keeps him from his rightful place at the forefront of the NBA’s ongoing “best big man” discussion. His production is never really the thing in question. It’s the picking up six personal fouls in just under 11 and a half minutes, or throwing his mouth guard into the stands and subsequently going up to retrieve it. It’s all the extra stuff that happens in the spaces between his dominant performances.
Through eight games Cousins leads the Sacramento Kings in both points and rebounds per outing — 25.5 and 9.1, respectively — same as he did for all of last season (26.9 and 11.5) and the one before that (24.1 and 12.7). Even with that consistent output, there is a much-greater-than-zero-percent chance that Boogie Cousins on Wednesday will look next to nothing like Boogie Cousins on Sunday. Shit, Boogie Cousins in the second quarter may look next to nothing like Boogie Cousins in the fourth. Cousins, now in his seventh season, still projects a needling sense of incompleteness.
But let’s be totally, 100 percent clear: DeMarcus Cousins can fucking ball.
On Sunday the Kings played the Toronto Raptors with a chance to not lose all five games of a five-game road swing, and managed to do just that with an ugly but still cashable 96–91 win. Raptors starting center Jonas Valanciunas, the only actual hope against Cousins, sat out with a knee contusion, which meant the Lithuanian’s sizable shoes would be filled first by Jakob Poeltl, and then by Lucas Nogueira. Playing against lesser opposition, Cousins’s offensive performance was irksome. Sure, he had 22 points, but it was on 7-of-21 shooting. Still, those seven makes were exhilarating, and, as is Cousins’s way, occasionally forced you to rethink what a near-7-footer could be capable of. Like suddenly appearing weightless while contorting himself up and under Nogueira in the second quarter for an off-hand layup and two of his 10 first-half points. Or suddenly hulking up to 1,000 pounds to nearly tear the rim off on a putback dunk in the second half.
Cousins added 14 rebounds to his 22 points, but the play of the game was in the fourth quarter, when DeMar DeRozan drove to the basket for what might’ve been a momentum-shifting dunk, and Cousins was like, nah.
The game marked Cousins’s 247th double-double, the most in franchise history. Again, for all his contradictions and inconsistencies, DeMarcus Cousins can fucking ball.
Runner-up: Devin Booker
Thinking about Devin Booker’s game over several consecutive viewings of these highlights from Sunday’s game, I don’t have a better word for it than “swashbuckling.”
The Lakers rolled to their third straight win with a 119–108 win over the Suns, but Booker refused to go quietly. Booker set a career high for the second time in as many games with 39 points. He exploded for 29 of those in the second half, including one crucial three-point play in the fourth quarter that cut the Lakers’ lead to one, but the Suns couldn’t overtake them — Nick Young’s competence on the floor lasts for entire series of possessions at a time now, apparently.
Honorable Mention: Rudy Gobert
Kristaps Porzingis helped the Knicks jump out to an early 10-point lead in the first quarter of Sunday’s game against the Jazz with 14 points, and everything was fine. Good, even. The sun was shining, the birds were chirping, the offense was running relatively smoothly, and Derrick Rose was doing NBA 2K11 stuff.
But the wheels came off, as they tend to do for the Knicks, and, while trailing in the dying embers of the fourth quarter, the home crowd had to watch the live sacrifice of their franchise’s most-favored son at the careless hands of Rudy Gobert.
And then they had to watch it happen again, just one possession later.
Porzingis was actually good, with 28 points in Knicks’ 114–109 loss, but somehow, I think Gobert’s arms are long enough to erase history.