While the rest of the NBA wants to play small, DeMarcus Cousins doesn’t think it’ll affect him or Anthony Davis.
Running lineups that eliminate the center position is the cool thing to do in the new-school NBA. It’s also effective for most teams. DeMarcus Cousins doesn’t see it that way. He told The Vertical’s Chris Mannix that he believes the New Orleans Pelicans can compete without having to sacrifice size.
“I think the game is actually playing into our hands,” said Cousins. “I think me and A.D. have a skill set that a lot of bigs don’t have in this league, or the league hasn’t seen some bigs throughout the history of the game.
I think it actually plays into our hands, and we’re just rolling with the punches. I don’t think (a smaller game) will affect me or A.D. at all.”
The Pelicans flopped to a 34-48 record, which includes 11-14 post All-Star after acquiring Cousins. However, downplaying the production from him and Davis is silly. After coming over from Sacramento, Cousins averaged 24.4 points, 12.4 rebounds and 3.9 assists in 17 games while shooting 45.2 percent overall and 37.5 from three. Davis, who topped 70 games played for the first time in his career, put up career-bests with 28.0 points and 11.8 boards. He shot 50.5 percent from the field, but his accuracy from deep wasn’t anywhere near Cousins’ at 29.9 percent. Instead, Davis left a mark on defense, averaging 2.2 blocks and 1.3 steals.
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Had Cousins continued to produce those numbers for an entire season, he’d join Kevin Love as the only other player to average more than 24 points and 12 boards while shooting 37 percent from three, according to Basketball-Reference. It’s safe to say bigs that versatile don’t come around often. Part of this is because forwards and centers didn’t play on the perimeter until recently, but Cousins has capitalized on a changing league. Oddly enough, he felt like he was playing out of character.
“I actually went in trying to change my game, and A.D. got on me a little bit, and the coaches got on me and told me to just come out and be myself,” said Cousins. “As I made that adjustment we actually started clicking a lot better and the team as a whole started playing a lot better.”
New Orleans certainly had their ups and downs, and they were amplified because two stars joined mid-season.
Like Cousins, Davis also had a campaign that only three other players have recorded — one with averages of 28 points, 11 boards and two blocks. It’s weird to think that the Pelicans — of all teams — had a frontcourt so statistically dominant. Of course, a lot of organizations would trade that for an extended playoff run.
New Orleans desperately needs to construct an identity on offense. Assimilating Cousins and Davis was challenging, but we’re going to expect from them this upcoming season. Fortunately, they’ve shown that they can work in ways that don’t clog up the offense. DMC’s ability to shoot opens up the low-post for Davis, who is sharpening his skills with his back-to-the-basket while also maintaining a nice in-between game.
However, they can’t do it alone. Others will need to step up. The lack of firepower contributed to New Orleans’ finishing 26th in efficiency with an offensive rating of 105.2. Until Cousins go there, Jrue Holiday was their second-leading scorer at 15.4 points a night. The addition of Rajon Rondo is huge, as well as Ian Clark. With Rondo, the Pelicans have an astute floor general who isn’t going to take shots away from Davis, Cousins or Holiday, and, historically, he’s played his best when he has total control of the playbook. If Alvin Gentry doesn’t grant him that, it’ll get ugly.
Clark won’t have as big an impact, but he’s a spark plug and gives them help from the perimeter. He can score from everywhere on the floor, but Golden State never gave him a huge role so we don’t know if Clark can sustain it with higher usage. Regardless, his three-ball is all they need. If that was the only positive, I think New Orleans would live with it.
It’s rare to see a team today where a wing or guard isn’t their best player. With that, New Orleans has an explosive duo up front that is more than capable of doing damage in a loaded Western Conference. Making a deep playoff run is a stretch, but a first-round upset isn’t overly-ambitious.
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