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How DeMarcus Cousins’ skill set will elevate the Warriors’ offense to even greater heights

This is an in-depth look at DeMarcus Cousins’ offensive skill set, and how he can use those skills to excel in the Warriors’ vaunted offensive system.

New Orleans Pelicans v Indiana Pacers Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Bada bing, bada boom.

With those four simple words, DeMarcus Cousins declared that he was going to be a Warrior. Dub Nation rejoiced and laughed at the absurdity of it all — the best center in the NBA was about to join them for a measly $5.3 million.

Meanwhile, the rest of the NBA fandom moaned and complained further about how life was unfair.

This goes without saying, but Cousins is a potent addition to an already deadly offense. Adding arguably the best center in the NBA today to a team consisting of the best point guard in the league, a 7-foot scoring machine, the ultimate 3-and-D player, and the human Swiss Army knife is like combining the nuclear arsenal of the United States with that of Russia.

How will Cousins specifically fit into the Warriors’ offensive system? First, let’s take a look at exactly what kind of offensive force he is.

The low post behemoth

Cousins is listed at 6 feet 11 inches, about what one would expect for an NBA center. His listed weight is 270 pounds — heavily built for banging down low in the post.

As someone would expect from a traditional center, Cousins is an elite low post player, capable of using his strength to control his man down low for buckets. Defenders often find it difficult to seal him off, as he usually gets into good post position.

Cousins also has an array of post moves, combining finesse with bully ball into a package that is nigh-unstoppable. His moves aren’t as fluid as someone like Hakeem Olajuwon, but they are nevertheless effective.

See for yourself. (Word of advice: mute the video if the music isn’t to your liking.)

Finished watching? Then you must have already been awed by the numerous ways Cousins scored in the post: spin moves, drop steps, pump fakes, and just plain old out-muscling his defender.

The versatile perimeter threat

If you’re a coach on the opposing team — thinking that Cousins is unguardable down low — you would think the solution would be to prevent him from getting into good post position in the first place. That prospect is already difficult enough to pull off as it is, but let’s say that the defense manages to get Cousins wandering around the perimeter.

And then, this happens.

That was a 270-pound center with a quick first step that beat his defender for the slam.

Cousins can be very effective even when he’s not in the low post. He is capable of taking his man off the dribble and driving inside for the basket. His handles are exceptional for a man of his size, and he has enough foot speed and agility to get past his defender.

Speaking of handles, Cousins is a legitimate threat in the fastbreak. Yes, you heard that right — a man of Cousins’ size is more than capable of running the floor while handling the ball.

The third Splash Brother

It is probably safe to say that not a lot of centers are capable of doing crossovers, behind-the-back dribbles, Euro steps, etc. Cousins, much like his newfound teammate Kevin Durant, is a basketball unicorn: a seven-footer who has the skill set of a guard.

And much like a guard, Cousins has shown that he has an excellent jump shot, with range that stretches beyond the three-point line.

Cousins made 104 out of 294 attempted threes last season and shot a respectable 35.4% from that range. In comparison, during the 2016-17 season, he made 131 out of 363 attempted threes, good for 36.5%.

Cousins’ shooting wasn’t just a one-season wonder; he has proven to be a reliable threat from beyond the three-point line. It may have been said in jest before, but there’s a legitimate reason why he is called the “third Splash Brother.”

The passing big man

Among the many things the Warriors value are big men who possess excellent passing skills. Andrew Bogut and Zaza Pachulia were two of the best passing big men in the history of the Warriors, and Cousins has the potential to continue that lineage.

If you didn’t know that Cousins is one heck of a passer, then watch him perform Magic. (See what I did there?)

The versatility of Cousins’ passing is a sight to behold: full-court passes, cross-court passes, needle-threading, and yes, even behind-the-back passes!

But perhaps the most important aspect of his passing is his ability to pass from the post, something that will be discussed in further detail later on.

Cousins averaged 5.4 assists last season, the highest of his career up to this point. It is evident that as a part of his evolution and growth as a player, he is putting much more emphasis on making plays for his teammates, especially since the defense will have its attention focused on him whenever he has the ball.

If it hasn’t been made clear by now, then the bottom line is this: Cousins is an offensive juggernaut.

Just how will his offensive skill set mesh with some of the sets that the Warriors run? Let’s take a look at a few of the common sets the Warriors run, and how Cousins’ involvement could make opposing coaches break their clipboards in classic Steve Kerr fashion.

As the anchor of the offense

The Warriors’ offense is a melting pot of several offensive philosophies that Kerr combined together, much like a mad scientist concocting a potent toxin that would enable him to achieve world domination. It takes elements from Mike D’Antoni’s pace-and-space offense, Gregg Popovich’s egalitarian motion offense, and Phil Jackson’s Triangle offense.

One play that has elements of the Triangle offense is the classic split action. Our very own Apricot broke down this play — basically, the split action puts a big man on the post as a sort of an anchor or a pivot point, while two perimeter players move around and create chaos for the defense in a variety of ways.

As has been established, Cousins is a capable passer from anywhere on the floor, including the low/high post. The defense already has enough to worry about, with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Durant roaming the floor, ready to pounce on all sorts of holes in the defense.

Imagine Cousins doing this, only with Curry and Thompson roaming around him.

What if the perimeter players can’t get open? Then Cousins can just take his man on the block one-on-one and score himself. The gamut of options that he will have in this set is numerous, and defenses will be hard-pressed to defend it.

As a threat in constant movement

Kerr places a huge emphasis on ball and player movement, something he learned under the tutelage of Gregg Popovich when he played for the San Antonio Spurs. A signature set that the Spurs run is Motion Weak, something that the Warriors themselves have adopted and executed on a consistent basis.

It is mostly a read-and-react set, meaning that a variety of options are available depending on how the defense chooses to defend the play. Most commonly, there is cross-screening by the two-guard for the big man in the paint, which frees up the big man to go for a wing pick-and-roll with the ball handler.

It is easy to imagine that in this set, Thompson would perform a cross-screen for Cousins down low, and Cousins will initiate the two-man game with Curry. The prospect of a Curry-Cousins pick-and-roll is equally deadly, if not more, than the tried-and-tested Curry-Durant pick-and-roll. Defenses who try to switch will have to deal with Cousins being guarded by a small defender down in the post, while those who choose to hedge/double Curry will deal with a wide open Cousins, who can drive it inside or pop out for a jumper.

As a decision-maker and distributor

Another staple of the Spurs’ motion offense playbook that the Warriors adopted is Motion Strong, which differs from Motion Weak in that the initial ball handler does not perform a shallow cut to the other side (the weak side) and instead stays where he is.

This often evolves into a horns formation where two players — usually the four and the five — are stationed at the elbows. A variety of options are available at this point: an entry pass to one of the big men, who then may decide to pass it to cutters, or to take it himself to score one-on-one. They can also pass it to a wing or guard and initiate a two-man game. Again, Cousins will have a grand time in this set, in combination with either Curry, Thompson, or Durant, while also having the option of taking it himself to the basket with the added advantage of having good post position.

These are just a few examples of what Cousins is capable of in the Warriors’ offensive system. He can be used in a variety of ways: as a decoy, as a screener for shooters, or as a one-on-one scoring threat. The possibilities are virtually endless.

The one huge caveat

All of this discussion about how great of a player Cousins is, and how well he’ll fit into the Warriors’ offense, comes with a huge elephant in the room: his Achilles injury. Such an injury is usually hard to recover from; most players do not return to their pre-injury forms.

One issue that can come up with recovering from Achilles injuries is a general lack of mobility and speed. The Warriors are a fast paced team, even in their half-court sets. Off-ball movement and cutting requires fresh and healthy legs, and someone like Cousins will probably not have those initially, if ever at all.

You can expect the Warriors to be conservative in their approach when it comes to incorporating Cousins into the lineup. Despite previously stating that he was targeting a return in time for the start of the season, Cousins later backtracked and said that he is not in a rush, according to a Chris Haynes report for ESPN.

“‘I was aiming for training camp, but I’ve communicated with the staff and the coaches, and it’s kind of up in the air,’ Cousins said at a news conference at the Thomas & Mack Center at UNLV after he signed his contract with the Golden State Warriors. ‘It will be when I’m ready, 100 percent ready, and we’ll take it from there.’”

It remains to be seen whether Cousins will truly have an impact with the Warriors, especially since his expected return date is set at around December/January. But if he can return with around 80% of what he was capable of before his injury, he can still be a force on the Warriors’ offense for the reasons stated above and more.

For Warriors fans, Cousins is a welcome addition to Golden State’s nuclear arsenal. The rest of the league will now have to watch out and brace themselves for the fallout that is to come.

Bada bing, bada boom indeed.

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