After being sidelined for nearly a year due to an Achilles tear, DeMarcus Cousins finally made his 2018-19 season debut Friday against the Clippers. Cousins finished with 14 points, six rebounds, three assists and a block in 15 minutes of action, showcasing how devastating the Warriors can be if he returns back to All-Star form.
Cousins signed a one-year, $5.3 million deal with Golden State in the offseason in an attempt to rebuild his value following the Achilles injury. The big man was expecting to get a lucrative long-term deal in free agency prior to the setback and saw the Warriors as a chance to get back in form, compete for a championship and re-enter free agency after a strong season.
In his first five seasons in the league, Cousins took just 69 3-point shots. However, he suddenly attempted 210 3s in his sixth season and steadily became an outside threat as the league evolved to prioritize spacing and 3-point shooting across positions. The Warriors were considered part of this evolution, so Cousins’ development as a shooter is partially due to their dominance.
In his Golden State debut, Cousins hit three 3s on four attempts. He’ll continue to get open looks as a floor-spacing big man and the Warriors have enough complementary shooters to keep defenses honest. Cousins also possesses a strong handle for a center and has the mobility to take defenders off the dribble when they attack him at the arc. If he gets back to full strength (and he looked close to it Friday) and is able to push his workload up, the Warriors are going to tear defenses apart.
One thing Cousins will improve on during his time in the Bay Area is his passing skills. He has a fairly decent assist rate across his career, but he should find more success in a system predicated on ball movement. Cousins had three assists in 15 minutes Friday making fairly routine passes. As he continues to up to speed, he’ll be able to see additional passing lanes. Because the Warriors can deploy shooters at will, Cousins will also have the option to kick out to players from the paint. This gives Golden State an additional layer of offense. If the shots aren’t falling, the Warriors can always go back to Cousins in the post. Cousins will also run the floor, giving Golden State plenty of opportunities for easy transition baskets.
Defensively, Cousins will be a force alongside Draymond Green. He’ll be another rim protector while also possessing the mobility to switch onto perimeter players. The Warriors will attempt to avoid that situation, but Cousins will be able to handle a few possessions against an opposing wing player or guard.
If Warriors Head Coach Steve Kerr staggers the team’s minutes well (and he will), Golden State should have at least two All-Star players on the floor at all times. This is nearly impossible for opponents to match from a talent standpoint, especially in the postseason when rotations get shortened. This will give Cousins the opportunity to showcase his skills as a top offensive option on the floor at times, allowing him to rebuild his value.
Golden State’s success has been built on sacrifices. Stephen Curry agreed to a team-friendly extension early in his career, setting the stage. Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Kevin Durant all took discounts to keep the team’s rotation mostly intact. Cousins agreed to a laughably low contract to join the team. The Warriors’ players have routinely sacrificed early to cash in big later.
Cousins is hoping to be the next player to do so.