Cousins To Davis Is Full Of Potential

Several weeks ago, the New Orleans Pelicans traded for DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins. The idea is simple: putting Cousins next to Anthony Davis gives the Pelicans, arguably, one of the most talented frontcourts in NBA history, and from that foundation, only good things can happen.

“Good things have not happened,” said the Arrested Development voiceover.

Boogie and AD have played 10 games together thus far and have gone 4-6. One of those four wins came in a game that Boogie didn’t play (he was suspended one game after getting whistled for his 18th technical foul resulting in automatically missing his next game). This means that practically speaking, the Pelicans are 3-6 since pairing Boogie with Davis. Those performances have been ugly, as the team has gone from having one source of incredible gravity (Davis) to having two of them and the team hasn’t immediately adjusted perfectly.

This has lead to people wondering if the trade was wrong-headed, and if what we’re witnessing is the beginning of an incredible disaster. Or, for those who have ever spent any time watching the Pelicans, the worsening of an ongoing disaster.

Here’s the thing though:

That’s Boogie Cousins throwing a perfect pass from beyond the three-point line to a cutting Anthony Davis, who, while spinning, catches it mid-air and throws it down. Put aside how awesome that dunk is – but, seriously, that dunk is awesome – and focus instead on the idea of a 6’11” hulk throwing alley-oops to a cutting 6’10” scythe.

“That’s great!” might be the reply, “But how often can they do that?”

Because our modern times demand that we rush to drawing immediate conclusions – which is obviously a good and healthy thing for all of us – the thought continues to be that this isn’t going to work out. But basketball players, even professional ones, do not adjust to one another immediately.

Anybody who has ever played the game knows this. I’ll take five guys who know each other over five strangers in any pick-up game we can imagine, not because those five strangers are necessarily worse players, but simply because they do not have the familiarity with each others’ games. Cousins and AD are both incredible players (and they both went to Kentucky) but that being true does not mean that they are capable of being immediately incredible players when it comes to working with one another on the basketball court.

But acknowledging this lack of an immediate gel does not then necessarily mean that they are incapable of ever achieving that greatness. It simply means that such cohesion takes time. Players have to learn what their teammates want and how they want to get it.*

So let’s revisit last night’s alley-oop. Cousins, the biggest player on the floor and the one being guarded by Portland’s Meyers Leonard, is at the top of the arc. Leonard having followed Cousins out to the three-point line opens up the lane for activity. Meanwhile, Portland’s monstrous Jusuf Nurkic is guarding Davis out on the baseline. This is the beginning of a problem, as Nurkic, while great, is huge and slow and fundamentally incapable of sticking with a cutting Davis. So now the Portland defense has to pick its poison: it can clear out the lane to keep players on Cousins and Davis (both of whom are competent shooters) or it can pack the lane to prevent what is about to happen. It chooses the former, both Cousins and Davis recognize this, and both are savvy enough to immediately take advantage of the opportunity.

It should be acknowledged that Portland’s defense is laughably bad, that Leonard and Nurkic are “defenders” in as much as they’re both on the court in jerseys for the team without the ball, and that other teams will be more defensively competent. But the point is that Cousins, with the ball beyond the three-point line, and Davis, in position along the baseline, realized what was available, realized what each were capable of, and realized how to make it happen. This is what happens as players slowly become accustomed to one another. This is what the Pelicans are hoping for.

Critics who declared that the Pelicans missing the playoffs this year were evidence that the Cousins/Davis pairing was doomed to failure are, frankly, missing the point. The rest of this season is about getting these two players familiar with one another. Next season is about figuring out if it can actually work, especially if New Orleans makes some practical personnel moves that put the sorts of players around Cousins/Davis that might make the team a more cohesive whole.

 

*In this, basketball is very similar to other activities involving human beings including…cooking each other dinner. Ahem.

DeMarcus Cousins Goes For A Very Good 55…

DeMarcus Cousins went for 55 points last night, and punctuated his game by doing all kinds of DeMarcus Cousins stuff, like getting ejected from the game before then getting un-ejected from the game, which is an awfully neat trick.

Those who hate Cousins are going to focus on the (non)-ejection. It will be evidence of his inherent cancerousness. They will insist that it is sufficient evidence to show that any team would be bonkers to want him playing for them. Cousins’s home is of particular importance given ongoing questions about him being moved to another team (and his the impending end of his current contract).

This though isn’t about that. People that dislike Cousins are always going to do so, and there’s no convincing them otherwise. And for even the fans tempted to defend Cousins – who has frequently gotten a raw deal in terms of the coverage that he has been forced to endure – often struggle to actually do so, given the big guy’s volatility.

But the other part of the Cousin’s equation was equally in play last night: the fact that he is really, really good at playing basketball. Like, exceptionally good. This is why teams continue to consider ways to acquire him. Talent doesn’t supersede all other things, obviously, but it can supersede a lot of them. Just look at him taking apart the Portland Trailblazers’ “defense” here:

The most notable thing about Cousins’ 55 points is that they were gotten on only 28 total shot attempts. It is very worthwhile to unpack that second number. Let’s start with the very most obvious thing: scoring 55 (or more) points in a game is hard to do. It has only happened 90 times since 1963, which isn’t a lot considering how many players and how many games that timeline represents. But we need to control it farther, and to do that, we need to account for the shot attempts. Those started being tracked in 1982. Since that year, players have mustered 55+ points on 57 occasions.

Only 9 of those 57 occasions involved a player shooting the ball 28 or fewer times. Which means that Cousins 55 points was an exceedingly rare event within an exceedingly rare event. It should be celebrated.

But for those who refuse to celebrate anything involving Cousins, here is something: of those nine performances, Cousins’ 55 points on 28 attempts produced the second-lowest game score. Game score is a measure of how impressive a performance was within the context of a single game, and accounts for everything a player did, from scoring to rebounding to fouls to turnovers. It was developed by John Hollinger. Cousins’ game produced a 42.7, which within Game Score generally is an exquisite number, and evidence of an absolutely tremendous performance. But Michael Jordan (x2!), Kevin McHale, and Dominique Wilkins managed to break 50 (holy moly), and Karl Malone broke 60 (holy guacamole*).

So perhaps it is best to finish with the following – DeMarcus Cousins contains multitudes. He’s talented and bonkers and, presumably, it is impossible to get his one without getting his other.

*Malone’s awesome 61/18/2/3/0 with 2 turnovers and 2 fouls came in a rout. Cousins’ came in a relatively close game. And in fact “awesome” might not be sufficiently explanatory. That Malone game was the third-highest game score ever

DeMarcus Cousins and Galactus Takes Turns Devouring Worlds

DeMarcus Cousins is, perhaps, might be basketball’s most maligned player. He is loathed by media, by former players, by former coaches, by current coaches, by owners. He has been repeatedly suspended by both his team and the league.  Meanwhile, since Cousins was drafted in 2010, the organization has Sacramento Kinged all over the place, averaging 27.3 wins per season. It has had six coaches in seven years. It has changed ownership. It almost left Sacramento.

It is tempting to describe both Cousins and the Sacramento Kings as ongoing mudslides that are for some reason occurring on a burning garbage barges.

Except there is this too:

That’s Cousins’s putting up a 36/20/4/2/1* in a (predictably) losing effort against the Washington Wizards, although perhaps the Kings can take something from knowing they pushed a not-very-good Eastern Conference team into overtime before finally succumbing. Or, no, wait, maybe that is precisely the thing to be concerned about.

Anyway, given that the man has been relentlessly criticized from his very first moments in the league – and, actually, before he ever got there – and given that much of the criticism has been premised upon what an disaster Cousins allegedly is, it is worth noting that the big only gets so much attention because of how unbelievably good he can be. Players going for 36+ points and 20+ rebounds and 4+ assists and 2+ steals just isn’t something that happens very often. With Cousins, it is tempting to believe that it is something he could achieve whenever he felt sufficiently…well…the temptation is use the word “motivated” but it has never been entirely clear that is not motivated.

It is that last part that is always the problem with Cousins, per his critics. They claim that the only thing holding Cousins back has been him as a human being, and that if only he could get past that – how, exactly one does that is never entirely clear – then the sun would finally shine on a Sacramento team that hasn’t been relevant since Chris Webber’s heyday. But it would absurd to dismiss Sacramento’s dysfunction as having contributed hugely to Cousins’s alleged imbalance. He plays for an imperfect team in an imperfect place for imperfect coaches as part of an imperfect roster. It seems an awfully big ask to demand that a player thrive in an environment that nobody anywhere would describe as being conducive to thriving. And yet he does thrive. Cousins has shown annual improvement for now going on six years. He is in the prime of his career and is an unstoppable force when he has his game going.

Which is, perhaps, why Cousins name is again coming up in trade talks. Although numerous teams have repeatedly hinted that they are not interested in emptying their pockets to get him, it also seems hard to believe that teams who need a talent bump wouldn’t be interested in a guy who, while surrounded by literally very little, averages more than 28 points and 10 rebounds a game. Surely, the thinking must go, if that is what he is capable of in a place like Sacramento, he would only get better in a place like…

Boston has long been rumored, although Brad Stevens’, the Celtics’ coach, is apparently less than enthusiastic about the possibility. Still, it seems impossible to believe that somebody, somewhere, would take a risk on getting the big man, (assuming he is actually gettable). And to add intrigue to everything, one somebody might be his former running-buddy John Wall.

Whatever happens, the man’s current trajectory is the same as Derrick Coleman’s before him – a player of enviable abilities and accompanying instabilities. Whether or not he overcomes them will end up being the difference.

*This was an Anthony Davis, as Cousins’s 63 trumped his teammates’s 60.