The Golden State Warriors are preparing to unleash hell on the post-All-Star break NBA in the form of a fully capable DeMarcus Cousins.
According to the San Fransico Chronicle, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr recently stated that Cousins would have his minutes restrictions lifted, meaning he can now play more than the 25 minutes he was being held to and within an ideal rotation.
“It just depends,” Kerr said after practice on Wednesday, regarding Cousins playing time. “We’ll see how the games go. I don’t think we’ll change the plan too much in terms of how we’re going to play him in the rotations and all that, but I think once we get back into the rhythm, we can absolutely play him for longer stretches, play him down the stretch how we like.”
So what does this mean for Cousins, the Warriors, and the rest of the NBA? Kerr basically unintentionally threatened the rest of the league. A fully healthy Cousins who can close games alongside four other All-Stars – two of them being MVPs – is some “Monstars” from Space Jam type nonsense.
Cousins has played only 11 games for the Warriors since returning from a nearly year-long Achilles tear but doesn’t look to be severely hampered by the once devastating injury.
As a Warrior, Boogie is averaging 13.9 points, 6.8 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.3 steals, 1.1 blocks, and 2.1 turnovers per game while shooting 42.4 percent from the field, 29 percent on threes (on 2.8 attempts per outing), and 73.3 percent from the free-throw line. The most significant number, though, is actually quite small. He averages only 23.4 minutes per game and has topped 25 minutes a game in only five of his 11 appearances.
His numbers so far are about on par with where you might expect them to be. Especially when you stretch Cousins’ numbers out on a ‘per-36 minutes’ basis, he’s doing things on the stat sheet that resemble his healthy seasons in New Orleans and Sacramento. But he’s not closing games yet effectively (although the Warriors have gone 10-1 in the games with Cousins, so it’s not like they need him to win games down the stretch at the moment).
In his first six-to-seven games with the Warriors, Cousins would play up until anywhere around the 5-8 minute mark in the 4th quarter and then come out in favor for other bigs such as Kevon Looney or Jordan Bell. Boogie has only closed out two games so far, one coming in a loss to the Philadelphia 76ers in his sixth game back and the other in a close win over the Miami Heat in his 10th game back. He played up until the last two minutes in his 11th and most recent game back against the Utah Jazz, a game the Warriors won by seven. The only game in which he has not appeared in the fourth quarter is during his eighth game back, which was a blowout Warriors win over the San Antonio Spurs.
So what we can take from this small trend is that Kerr has already been slowly trying to acclimate Cousins into the closing lineup. Now that the center has had over a week off and with only 25 games left in the regular season, this is the perfect time to get him into a rhythm as the postseason draws near (especially since he shot a combined 6-23 in his last two games playing 26 and 28 minutes, respectively). And considering how often Cousins has been in foul trouble through only 11 games (he’s registered at least three fouls in all 11 games and more than four in five games. He fouled out once in his very first appearance for Golden State, however, he never fouled more than three times per game over his five most recent outings), he needs all the on-court experience he can get right now.
The Warriors closing lineup will now likely feature Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, and Cousins. Those five have only shared the court for a total of 243 possessions (fifth-most among Warriors rotations), but the numbers are encouraging – and somewhat frightening. That group averages 115.2 points per 100 possessions, according to Cleaning the Glass, which is an above average figure, but what’s scary is that they boast an effective field goal percentage of 58.3 percent, a borderline elite number.
*Side note: Cousins has not played more than 80 possessions with any other five-man groups.*
Overall, when Cousins has played, the Warriors have dominated. Through 530 total possessions played, Boogie has the Warriors ranking in the 86th percentile in total points per 100 possessions differential. Basically, for every 100 possessions (including both offense and defense), the Warriors are outscoring their opponents by 6.8 points when Cousins is on the floor. That’s very very good, but also a small(ish) sample size.
Playing among a star-studded cast of supporting players can typically mean that ball-dominant players see the ball less and less. But in the instance with Cousins and the Warriors, that hasn’t been the case. His usage rate of 28.8 percent ranks in the 97th percentile among all big men and his assist rate sits at 22.2 percent, which ranks him in the 96th percentile. Remember, the majority of his playing time is coming next to four other All-Stars. But the most encouraging number? A career-low 12.8 percent turnover percentage.
When you watch Cousins play, he doesn’t run like he’s coming off a horrific injury. His steal and block numbers are about the same as they have been throughout his career and he’s getting to the free-throw line with elite-level frequency. His overall shooting numbers are down, but that can reasonably be chalked up to him still regaining his confidence and shooting touch. The drop off from the All-Star version of Cousins that played 48 games with the Pelicans to this 11-game version of Cousins is honestly not too noticeable. Once he can get back into game shape and confidently play 30-plus minutes without massive fatigue, the Warriors are just going to get even better.