In the past, the Golden State Warriors have had two very different plans for the center position in the regular season and postseason. In the playoffs, Draymond Green is maybe the most unique center in the league; he makes smallball work defensively by providing the post defense of a center and the perimeter defense of a guard. Offensively, he pushes the pace so much that few true centers can stay on the floor.
But playing center as an undersized big is not always a smart decision. The wear and tear, especially during the regular season, is tough on Green’s body, and rest is crucial for the Warriors’ playoff runs. Last regular season, Green didn’t play as hard or aggressively as in seasons past, and I don’t expect that to change this year either.
The lion’s share of the Warriors’ minutes at center during the regular season should go to new addition DeMarcus Cousins. Though he’s a tremendous talent, there are some crucial questions about how he fits in. First, his Achilles injury that will likely keep him out for a part of the season could permanently affect his play. Big men need all the agility and quickness they can get nowadays, and the history of the Achilles tear is not kind to basketball players.
Second, he’s a little bit of an awkward fit with the rest of the Warriors’ stars. His best skill is high-volume shot creation, something that is less useful to the Warriors than to other teams. He’s struggled taking care of the ball and scoring with efficiency so far in his career. Most importantly, Cousins is not a great defender and will likely be worse in his first season back from injury. He’s probably best suited to play traditional pick-and-roll defense instead of switching, which goes against the Warriors’ defensive principles.
But Cousins does a lot of things the Warriors could use.
What Cousins does well
He’s a great rebounder, a reliable spot-up shooter and he could score buckets in a hurry with the Warriors’ bench lineups. He can pass the ball as well as almost any other big man, which will fit nicely within the Warriors’ offensive style. If the double team comes, he has the ability to find the open man. Maybe most tantalizing, if opponents try to switch on him, he can obliterate smaller players, using his strength to overpower guards who dare take him one-on-one.
Cousins could also play better on the Warriors simply because of the tremendous talent around him. He won’t have to force up shots and should be a more efficient scorer. The Warriors also have a winning team culture that can absorb his fiery personality. On a great team, Cousins hopes to show the rest of the NBA he can play winning basketball and receive a lucrative contract in 2019.
What could go wrong
But herein lies a problem: Cousins needs to show other teams that he’s valuable on the Warriors, and there’s a solid chance he is absent in Golden States’s best lineups. The only way he impresses is if he plays a meaningful role for the Warriors in the postseason. If Cousins’ play isn’t up to par, the Warriors could simply go with more Draymond Green at center, which unlocks some of the best lineups the league has ever seen. Alternatively, Kevon Looney and Jordan Bell aren’t as talented as Cousins, but they fit the Warriors’ system amazingly and aren’t weaknesses to be attacked.
What it all comes down to is if Cousins can produce more offensively than he gives up defensively. Against the Rockets, can he attack switches better than James Harden can attack him? To me, it’s doubtful. But against almost any other team, Cousins has the ability to break down defenses that are used to sagging off the Warriors’ bigs, and he’ll likely be able to stay in the paint defensively, where he’s most comfortable. In that case, he’ll be useful.
Boogie Cousins is an enigma in many ways, and it’s impossible to predict how this season plays out for him. Best case, he’s an All-Star whose offensive abilities scale with the other stars’ talents. Worst case, he doesn’t play in the playoffs due to health and lack of defensive ability. Cousins’ return is by far the most uncertain storyline for the defending champions this season.