The Pelicans’ new Davis-Cousins frontcourt should have the Golden State Warriors worried
It’s unlikely that the New Orleans Pelicans considered the full ramifications of the deal they made Sunday night.
That’s because it’s unlikely that the Pelicans thought the deal would go through. Why think three or four steps down the line of something no logical person would think could happen.
But it did happen — the Sacramento Kings really did accept a package that boils down to Buddy Hield and a first-round pick in exchange for DeMarcus Cousins.
Cousins is a generational talent at center — his athleticism and versatility is matched by only two big men in the NBA right now.
One of those players is Minnesota Timberwolves wunderkind Karl-Anthony Towns, who is 20.
The other is Anthony Davis.
So now that the Pelicans have two truly generational big men, the question that New Orleans probably didn’t think about asking before must be answered:
How are they going to play together?
After all, the era of a true front court is over — teams are not only stretching their power forwards (which is more appropriately referred to as the four), there’s a league-wide trend to stretch the 5 in smallball lineups.
But for that exact reason, playing Boogie and the Brow together won’t be all that stressful.
At least for the Pelicans.
The rest of the NBA, and particularly the Golden State Warriors, should be stressed.
Despite the fact that the Pelicans will likely start and end games with a 6-foot-11, 270-pound Cousins and a 6-foot-10, 255-pound Davis on the court, New Orleans can run a five-out system — that’s what team like to run when playing smallball. That’s how talented both big men are.
Teams stretch the center with players like Draymond Green (6-foot-7) to space the floor — both Cousins and Davis can do just that without sacrificing a thing with size, hence their generational status.
So how will the two play off each other?
It’ll be fascinating to see just how Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry — who was an assistant coach in charge of offense on the Warriors’ 2015 championship team — will utilize his two star big men, but the core play should be a high 1-5 pick and roll with point guard Jrue Holiday (the 1) and Cousins (the 5).
That alone is a great play, despite the simplicity, but it doesn’t exclude Davis, who can roam the baseline — perhaps even working off a back screen — as an outlet for a jumper or a dunk.
The two big men might want to win at the hoop — they’ll both get plenty of chances to do that — but their favorite spots on the floor fit together like a puzzle, even if they’re both playing what most would consider the same position.
That simple offense alone is enough to help the Pelicans move into the top eight in the Western Conference — who can guard two players that can go inside and outside like Cousins and Davis?
We haven’t even explored the possibilities of how two favorite Gentry sets — Horns, where the 4 and the 5 set up on both sides of the free throw line, the elbow cyclone, and the full arsenal of drags — would come into play.
And Holiday, one of the most underrated players in the league, is more than capable of distributing the ball to make it all work.
There is one big reason for concern: how are two big men who have been primary scorers their entire NBA careers going to share the load?
Cousins touched the ball 82 times a game for the Kings — the same amount as Holiday — while Davis averaged 76 touches a game this season.
Furthermore, Cousins operated out of isolation for roughly 15 percent of his possessions this season — roughly the same frequency as DeMar DeRozan. Ten percent of Davis’ touches came in isolation.
Both of those numbers are going to come down.
How Cousins and Davis respond to not touching the ball as much will determine the success of the partnership.
Perhaps all the bad things we’ve heard about Boogie manifest themselves on the court with the notoriously even-keeled Davis; Cousins tries to establish himself as the alpha of his new team — Davis’ team — and the Pelicans never find on-court cohesion.
Or Cousins and Davis’ games complement each other perfectly — as they should — and being on a team that has a real shot lifts both players into new stratospheres.
The latter is the far more likely option — Cousins might be emotionally volatile, but one has to imagine he’ll mellow outside of the cesspool that is the Sacramento Kings organization.
The Pelicans are almost certainly going to make the playoffs — sorry Nuggets — as they’re 2.5 games out of the 8 seed.
New Orleans could go higher than that, but not by much — maybe the 7 seed is in play. They might want to stop at No. 8, because the tag team of Cousins and Davis could give the Warriors’ fits.
In the span of a week, the Eastern Conference has opened considerably with Kevin Love’s injury and Serge Ibaka’s move to Toronto, and the Warriors might have found their top opponent in the Western Conference (Green can’t guard both Davis and Boogie at the same time, and is Steve Kerr really going to leave one of the two to Kevin Durant, Zaza Pachulia, David West or Javale McGee?)
Let’s have some fun.