It’s not a failed experiment, but enough data is in to make a firm case: DeMarcus Cousins just isn’t working like this. And Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr needs to make some adjustments.
As soon as Cousins takes the floor, the opposing team isolates a player on him and attacks. The guards are easily sliding by the lumbering center, which is causing a chain reaction of overhelping and lost coverage. After the loss to the Celtics, coach Steve Kerr said, “We’re probably throwing a little too much at these guys and we want to simplify things and take care of the basics.”
But it isn’t the defense. Draymond Green was quick to point out that their defense has been horse “poop” regardless of if Cousins is in or not. And he’s right. The Warriors are essentially the same with Cousins as they are without him - Cousins drops the teams defensive rating of 108.6 down to 108.9, nothing major.
The real problem is on the offensive end. As per NBA.com data, the Warriors offensive rating drops from a league-leading 115.6 all the way down to 107.7, which is right around the 22nd place in the NBA right now, just barely better than LeBron James’ Los Angeles Lakers.
Regardless of what you ascribe it to, the overall effect of Cousins 428 minutes of Warriors action has just flatly not been a positive. Take a gander at how our key rotation players’ performance is affected.
Over the last 15 games, the difference in the Warriors' play with DeMarcus Cousins on vs off has been astounding. Take a look and the on/off numbers for their most important rotation players pic.twitter.com/wHK6FmZyrj— Mike Zavagno (@MZavagno11) March 6, 2019
So... what to do?
As Buckminster Fuller said, “Every time man makes a new experiment he always learns more. He cannot learn less.” So honestly, this isn’t a bad thing. Cousins has exceeded expectations in his return from an achilles injury - exactly the sort of damage that has ended careers. So just having him on the court and getting used to the team as quickly as possible has been helpful.
That said, we can’t keep starting games like this. If Cousins is going to be polishing the rust off, he doesn’t need to do so in a featured starting role. The newly arriving Andrew Bogut will offer up a new option, but even a return to Kevon Looney would seem like an improvement.
Another change: his usage has to be a lot lower. In his previous life, Cousins was a high usage initiator on offense - mostly on bad teams. As Kevin Durant and the Warriors wrestled with last season though, there’s an inherent advantage to playing within the flow of our existing offense. Feeding the ball into the post isn’t a bad option, but it shouldn’t be our number one option for the first five minutes of every game.
Finally, Draymond Green is right. If we want Cousins to look as good as possible, and the team to play as well as it can, the entire defensive effort needs to be resurrected. Maybe the return of feisty Andrew Bogut and the impending playoffs can energize the team?
To succeed, DeMarcus Cousins will need to do less here, which is supposed to be one of the selling points in coming to this team. We’ve got him back, he’s working his way into game shape, but everyone needs to step back and reconsider how to best fit Cousins into the team as he continues to recover from his injury. There’s time for it, but we’ve seen enough now to know we should go about this whole thing a little bit differently.