By Carson Breber
July 2, 2018, marked a sad day for the overwhelming majority of NBA fanatics. While Warriors fans rejoiced at what appeared to be their championship-clinching move, the rest of the league sat in shock as one organization continued to climb higher and higher above its competition. That’s right; the squad with four all-stars that had already won back to back titles and three of the last four just added a man who many consider to be the best big in the league on an exceedingly cheap deal.
Demarcus Cousins put pen to paper and agreed to move out to Oakland for one year on a $5.3 million dollar salary. So while it may be the instinct of many to remain hysterically outraged, this is a reality, and for that reason, I’ll be breaking down what the Cousins move means for next NBA season.
How Cousins Fits With the Warriors
Cousins has a skill set that, in many ways, compliments Warriors basketball. For such a gifted inside scorer, Boogie has significantly improved touch from deep, as he knocked down the three-ball at 35.4 percent on over six attempts per game last season. He’s not afraid to shoot, and in a Golden State system where ball movement is crucial and three of the world’s best shooters are regularly on the floor together, his efficiency from there should improve, making the Warriors even deadlier.
Another one of his defining attributes that is ideal for Oakland is his passing- a skill that Cousins has improved on quite a bit in the league. Be it out of the post or from the perimeter, Cousins does an exceptional job (by big man standards) of finding the open man, and he is not tentative to move the ball once he sees that opportunity.
Why It’s Not All Sun Shine and Threes
However, on the other side of things, there are some reasons to question Boogie’s ability to adapt.
First off, Boogie’s primary skill is scoring the basketball, as he has averaged over 25 points per game over each of the past three seasons. In Golden State, he will be the third option at best, and considering his fiery personality and apparently substantial ego, it is not a given that he will acquiesce to that.
Cousins is also most effective as a post scorer- although he has grown to love the outside shot, this is undeniably his greatest strength. Are the Warriors going to stop the flow of their offense to feed him down low? Maybe occasionally, but it is unlikely that Cousins will get the regular touches and looks out of the post that he has grown accustomed to.
Furthermore, Boogie loves to have the ball in his hands. He may be a strong passer (5.4 assists a night last year), but he also has a tendency to over-dribble or hold onto the ball for too long (5.0 turnovers per game last year was second worst in NBA). That will not fly in Golden State. Cousins is an intelligent player overall, so it’s not out of the question that he will be rid of that habit once he joins a new system, but it is also something that has been ingrained into him and will likely be difficult to drop.
The final potential flaw to this signing is that Cousins is, at times, deficient in an area that Golden State prides themselves on: defense.
He has notorious personality issues that impact this. Cousins is actually an impressive defender when engaged, specifically in the paint, and also has an eye for the ball (he snagged 1.6 steals and blocked 1.6 shots per game last year). However, it is an extreme struggle for Cousins to stay engaged and keep his emotions from getting the best of him.
If we want to assume that when he becomes part of a winning culture, Cousins will all of a sudden be a changed man and no longer be an emotionally volatile, easily triggered player who can vanish on the defensive side of the ball. Yet that just may not be the case. Emotions running high has been the most notable thing to hurt the Warriors, (Draymond’s suspension in game five of the finals, all the techs they received last season, etc.) and throwing Cousins, who suffers from emotional instability more than any of them, into that environment may just fuel his erratic engagement.
My concern essentially stems from this: the rest of the group can collect themselves and play hard and smart in the big moments because they’ve been there countless times. Cousins has never been to the playoffs. He’s never really played a meaningful game in his NBA career. He has shown again and again an inability to stay engaged and upbeat. So while it may be easier in Oakland, it is far from a given that Boogie will suddenly play hard on defense and keep his emotions under control.
I may have dwelled more on what could be difficult here, but my overall feeling is that Cousins will do well in Golden State and that it is a solid basketball fit. He is a skilled shooter and passer, can defend when he wants to and could provide them with a go-to scorer down low that they’ve never had before; I’m just not confident that it will be a painless transition. Either way, when you have a chance to grab a talent like this, you absolutely do it, and the Warriors will be better for having Cousins.
What It Means For The Rest of the NBA
The Warriors were already the best team in the league, and believe it or not, adding an elite offensive player and perennial all-star will only make the gap between them and the competition more pronounced. How much impact this signing will have on the regular season is uncertain, as Cousins is still recovering from a torn achilles that he suffered this past January. He claims to be pursuing a return to action by training camp, but it seems very unwise to rush recovery, especially from something as serious as an achilles tear, so it’s more likely he makes an appearance in December or January, midway through the regular season (where the Warriors will not exert full effort).
This injury should also not be diminished when discussing the effect Cousins will have, as an achilles tear may be the nastiest injury an NBA player can experience. It turned Kobe from a 27 point per game scorer on 46% shooting to a sub 40% guy who struggled to stay on the floor, all but ended Chauncey Billups’ career, and turned a consistent 20-10 player in Elton Brand (who was just 28 when injured) to an average starter. Only Dominique Wilkins has ever truly returned to pre-injury form.
This signing has huge upside, of course, but Boogie is far from a guarantee to be what he once was. Still, if he can be 80% of that man, Cousins is still about an all-star caliber player, which would propel the Warriors to another level of dominance come playoffs.
So, unless Cousins is truly crushed by this injury and then one of their existing stars goes down, a title is all but guaranteed for the Warriors. No team can accumulate enough talent to contend with this squad when healthy, so the rest of the league would be better off planning for the future. It’s a sad day for competition, but reality nonetheless.