NBA Snub-Stars: DeMarcus Cousins and Lance Stephenson

The All-Star case for DeMarcus Cousins and Lance Stephenson.

We are definitely in the golden age of basketball. There are more elite, skilled players than ever before coming from all parts of the world. I mean this all to say: the fact that we’re arguing about snubs and we're really, really mad about them is good for the sport of basketball. The fact that we have so many great players to the point where we can’t even figure out who the best 24 are is a fantastic problem to have. Let’s remember that.

Fellow writer Russell Peddle highlighted two other All-Star “snubs” in Goran Dragic and Kyle Lowry, so please go read that after you dive into this, if you haven't already. Those aren't the only important players who were snubbed this year though - here are two more guys having career years that I believe should have been NBA All-Star selections.

The Boogie Man

DeMarcus Cousins is perhaps the most polarizing player in the league outside of New York City. Coming out of the University of Kentucky, his maturity problems have been well documented for many years now. However, we have to be open to recognize a change in narrative if it occurs. We can’t let it cloud our judgment of his on-the-court basketball work.

I’ve compiled a table of stats that are important for both big men and go-to players in general (the latter hopefully being a skill of an “All-Star”). The number in parentheses is the NBA rank of that player in that particular stat, for all eligible players (minutes per game equals at least 20).

For a quick explanations of stats, you can read more in depth on here.
REB%: Percentage of available rebounds made while on the court
USG%: Percentage of plays a player uses while on the court
PIE: Player Impact Estimate, a players stats measured against total game stats
EFF: Efficiency Rating, the total measure of a player's contributions while on the court
PER: Player Efficiency Rating, a measure of a player's per-minute productivity
EWA: Estimated Wins Added

Player 120.8% (4)33.0% (1)17.6% (5)25.6 (7)26.58 (6)10.2 (5)
Player 220.2% (5)24.3% (52)14.2% (20)22.4 (11)21.12 (24)8.6 (13)

Player 1 is DeMarcus Cousins. Player 2 is Dwight Howard.

Now, the point of this is not to bash Dwight - he's had a very solid bounce-back year after struggling with the Los Angeles Lakers. He's gotten back to being a low post threat and defensive force. However, the big name of Howard seemingly means more than the statistics of Cousins. If it was based on the latter, then clearly Boogie would be in the All-Star game.

DeMarcus leads the league in personal fouls drawn at 7.6 per game, with Dwight right behind him at 7.2. However, Cousins number is more reflective of attacking the rim while Dwight’s is more reflective of the “Hack-A-Dwight” mentality that teams are using more and more often (see the Spurs game from last week for example). This is important because attacking the basket as opposed to settling for mid-range jumpers puts added pressure on the opposing defense and opens up opportunities for teammates.

Boogie may not be the rim-protector that Howard is, and that is obviously a definite commodity to have. But to say that Cousins doesn’t try defensively is just not true. In what he lacks in shot-blocking prowess, he makes up for with his quick hands and feet. He averages 1.8 steals per game, which ranks 10th in the league and is the highest of all big men. The next true big man is Anthony Davis, who is about 25th on the list, a man who should've made the team, too.

The West is loaded with big men. Paul Millsap is an All-Star this year, but it took a move over to the Eastern Conference to make it happen. Boogie has proven this year that he deserves to be in the conversation, no matter the conference. Hopefully this will fuel him to have an even better 2014-2015.

Born Ready

Lance Stephenson, aka Born Ready (no, seriously, he has it tattooed on his bicep), has a case for the All-Star game as well.

Lance let everyone know last night how he felt about being left off the All-Star ballot, posting yet another triple-double with 14 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists. There has been a lot of media attention about the emergence of Paul George as a top-five or so NBA player this year, but there have been more than a few times where Stephenson has been the best Pacer on the floor.

He is averaging 14.2 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 5.4 assists per game with a ridiculous 49.9 FG%. His superstar teammate, George, is at 23.0 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 3.5 assists per game with a 45.0 FG%. Both are beasts on the NBA's best team, but Lance is severely underrated and overshadowed by George this year. He's second on the Pacers in rebounding - Roy Hibbert is at 7.8 per game - but Lance could very well pass that by the end of the year. I can't remember another time where a SG led his team in rebounding, ever.

So, how could a guy averaging only 14.2 points per game possibly be an All-Star, you ask? While Stephenson isn't his team's first option by any means, that makes his statistics all the more impressive in comparison to one Joe Johnson. His averages on the year: 15.7 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 2.8 assists with a 44.3 FG%.

That's just on offense, too. Defensively, it's not even close. While a lot of our defensive statistics are somewhat biased towards overall team performance, it doesn't skew it this much. Johnson has a DefRtg (points allowed per 100 possessions) of 103.6, while Stephenson's 94.7 ranks seventh in the entire NBA.

Despite being sometimes his team's third or fourth option, Stephenson boasts a better PIE at 13.5%, compared to the 10.2% of Joe Johnson. He is the do-it-all guy for the Pacers, and might be the most important player for them come playoff time when they have to beat the Heat four times out of seven.

Simply, Stephenson is the better, more efficient, complete player. He will be due for a big pay-day when his rookie contract ends, as GMs around the league know his worth, despite being underrated in a small market like Indiana. There are many All-Stars years in the future for Born Ready.

Final Thoughts

As stated before, the NBA is in a good place. Having too many All-Star caliber players is a great problem to have. The fact that the media and fans are discussing why one player should be in as opposed to another makes the NBA better and more popular.

My one hope is that the selection process becomes more black-and-white and more statistic in nature. Fans are completely biased (not a bad thing) and coaches can only pay attention to so much outside of their own team (also not a bad thing). If we designed a process that eliminated these issues, then we could have players truly worthy of being an All-Star, despite their prior history or media fame.

Cousins and Stephenson won't be All-Stars this year, but that doesn't mean they haven't been All-Stars this year. They're both very young players that have worlds of potential. Let's be excited that we get to watch them prove to us for many years why they should have been included.