On Friday, DeMarcus Cousins will make his highly anticipated season debut when the Golden State Warriors travel to Los Angeles to take on the Clippers.
Cousins has been sidelined since Jan. 26 of last season with a torn left Achilles tendon. When healthy, he is one of the most dominant big men in the NBA. Prior to his injury, Cousins was posting averages of 25.2 points, 12.9 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.6 blocks and 1.6 steals per game on a New Orleans Pelicans team that had the sixth best record in the Western Conference.
Cousins led all centers in points, assists and steals to that point of the season, in addition to ranking third in rebounds and ninth in blocks.
There basically isn't anything Cousins can't do on a basketball court. He's always been a force in the post, but he's developed into a volume shooter from the perimeter who can make plays for himself off the dribble. It culminated in him averaging 9.3 drives per game last season, by far the highest rate in the league for a center.
Cousins created 6.1 points per game for himself off of those drives, which was the same amount as guards CJ McCollum and Goran Dragic to name a few.
This, for example, isn't a move you'd expect to see from a player Boogie's size:
Cousins' versatility on offense means he should be able to do whatever the Warriors ask of him. His 3-point shooting in particular opens the door for him to be used in pick-and-pops with Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant, giving the two MVPs even more space to work with in the halfcourt.
If Cousins' defender helps off of him to double either of them - something that happens frequently when Curry and Durant have the ball in their hands - he'll make himself available on the 3-point line for a shot he made at a 36.4 percent clip last season.
Golden State will have the option of running their offense through Cousins at the elbow and in the post as well, even when he's surrounded by Curry, Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. Whereas Green almost always passes the ball out to Curry, Durant and Thompson when they run their split cuts through him, Cousins will give the Warriors an element they've been missing - a big man who can pick defenses apart with his back to the basket.
The same goes for pick-and-rolls. Instead of Curry and Durant always being the ones who attack mismatches in isolation on the perimeter, they'll be able to give the ball to Cousins on the block when a much smaller player switches onto him.
It could become a factor in a postseason matchup with the Rockets, because Houston would have to be more liberal with their switches to avoid Chris Paul, James Harden and Eric Gordon having to battle with the 270-pound Cousins in the post over and over again.
Where the fit could become complicated is Cousins is used to having the offense run through him. He had the fourth-highest usage rate in the NBA last season, trailing James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Joel Embiid. He held the ball for the second-longest rate among centers while turning the ball over at one of the highest rates in the entire league.
His ability to carry an offense by himself will help the Warriors when Cousins is the only All-Star on the floor, but he'll have to make quicker decisions with greater efficiency to succeed next to Curry, Thompson, Durant and Green.
Another area of concern is defense. While Cousins is a capable defender when he's locked in, particularly as a rim protector in a drop coverage, he's never been a part of a defensive scheme that switches as much as the Warriors do. (According to ESPN's Kevin Pelton, Cousins switched on a total of 46 screens last season. Even Zaza Pachulia, who isn't the most fleetest of foot, switched more frequently than Cousins).
It could also become a factor in a postseason series against the Rockets, because Houston would likely target Cousins on defense in an effort to get him switched onto Paul and Harden in isolation.
Then there's the elephant in the room: Cousins is coming off an injury that has sidelined him for a year and this is all operating under the assumption that he'll be the same player he was in the first half of last season.
Even so, Cousins' shooting gives him clear value as a stretch five and his size gives him an advantage against almost every defender in the league in the post. With four All-Stars already on their roster, the Warriors can be patient while he works his way back into form in the hope of him being at full strength for the postseason.
For one year and $5.3 million, it was a genius signing by the Warriors in the offseason. And for Cousins, it gives him the best of both worlds - a chance to win an NBA title and an opportunity to prove himself as one of the most dominant big men in the league again before hitting free agency in 2019.
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