DeMarcus Cousins’ name doesn’t jump off the page when you scan the box score of Monday night’s contest between the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Lakers. Its inclusion is certainly noteworthy - it will take a lot more than two games for a fanbase used to seeing “Kevon Looney”, “Damian Jones”, “JaVale McGee”, and “Zaza Pachulia” occupy the space next to “C” on the stat sheet to get used to this - but the numbers appearing alongside it won’t make your eyes pause.
Eight points on nine shots. Nine rebounds. Five assists. Four fouls.
But, in many regards, it was a more exciting and encouraging performance than Cousins’ debut, when he filled up the box score in more traditional ways.
In that game, a victory against the Lakers’ little brother, the Los Angeles Clippers, Cousins and the Warriors went on their first date. There were sparks, to be sure, and plenty enough reasons to exchange numbers and go on date number two.
But the date was replete with those awkward moments that are all too familiar. In his debut, Cousins’ first touch came on a designed post-up, where he forced a nearly-impossible shot that had no Plan B. Later he seemed to find himself straddling the line between wanting the shoot the open shots the team created, and not wanting to take shots away from his new All-Star teammates. At times he appeared caught off guard by the passes his teammates were able to make. He was late or lost on a few defensive possessions, and fouled out in 15 minutes.
In a good match, the awkwardness begins to recede for the second date, as both parties realize the other remained interest despite the foibles of the initial dance. They grow comfortable as the internalize that they can be themselves.
Such was the case on Monday, when Cousins performance may not have caused any double-takes, but the comfort level of both Boogie and the team certainly did. The team operated with ease around their new center, rarely forcing the kinds of passes that offer reassurance rather than success. Cousins operated comfortably around his new squad, showing a willingness to shoot when he should, pass when he should, and go off-script when the situation warranted it.
At one point he found himself improvising a two-man game with Klay Thompson, resulting in one of Thompson’s 10 triples. It was mildly clunky, as though they were new dance partners, but you could see them figuring it out as the play transpired.
The Warriors have a pair of stars in Steph Curry and Kevin Durant who may go down as top-ten players when all is said and done. They have one of the most unique specimens in basketball history in Draymond Green.
And yet, when the team announced the signing of Cousins, the player I most eagerly anticipated watching him play with was Thompson, who needed just two games from Boogie to put together a historic performance.
Watching Cousins and Thompson is a trip to the Louvre for those enamored with basketball minutiae. The fit is dynamic: A big man who can bully in the post, set army tank screens, and pass with the finesse of a point guard, and a shooter who is happiest when relentlessly zig-zagging through defenders and screeners like a snake on Adderall.
Thompson is not as athletic as the average NBA shooting guard, but he can pull the trigger on a jump shot quicker than perhaps any player to ever lace up a pair of sneakers. We talk often about the gravity that Curry and Durant create from the perimeter, but the gravity Cousins creates inside-out is a death sentence for defenses seeking to close out on Thompson. If you have to close out on Klay, it’s already too late.
The way that Steve Kerr will use Thompson and Cousins together will take time to develop, as will the chemistry of the duo, but the Warriors’ coach is surely salivating at the notion of running them together in bench units. Give Boogie the ball, let Thompson shift into third, and something good is bound to happen. Defenses can’t contain Cousins without shifting the help, and if the help is shifted Thompson will find an opening. If Thompson finds an opening, Cousins will find Thompson, and the offense will fire.
With time, Cousins - a four-time All-Star - will begin to fill up the box score the way you or I may fill up our stomach with beer and popcorn while watching him. But in the interim, he’s already found a way to fit in nearly seamlessly - something many people questioned he’d ever be able to do. He’s played a mere 36 minutes in the Warriors colors, yet Golden State has outscored the duo of LA teams by 45 points during that span.
It’s safe to say that Cousins and the Warriors are ready for a third date.