Something was up with DeMarcus Cousins when he logged only two minutes in the NBA All-Star Game on Sunday night. He told the coaching staff he was dinged up and didn’t want to play much, but then it became apparent that the Sacramento Kings had decided to deal the big man and didn’t want to risk (further) injury. Now the Pelicans are putting their faith in Cousins to make the playoffs this season.
While the Kings got an awful return for, who some consider, the best big man in the game, the Pelicans now have the best front-court in the NBA. New Orleans will send Tyreke Evans, Buddy Hield, Langston Galloway, their 2017 first round pick and their 2017 second round pick to Sacramento for Cousins and Omri Casspi.
The Kings now have no elite players and will once again have to try and rebuild. The Pelicans, on the other hand, now will be looking to compete for a playoff spot in a very difficult Western Conference.
The Team Impact
Like Chris Bosh in Toronto, Anthony Davis has admirably played the five position, even though he is more of a four. He has publicly stated that he feels like more of a four (He even lobbied to play shooting guard in college at Kentucky). The Pelicans have listened to their star player and acquired a center for Davis to play alongside.
While Cousins isn’t known as a great defensive stopper, he is right outside of the top 20 in defensive rating (how many points allowed per 100 possessions) and 15th in the NBA in defensive win shares (how many wins Cousins is responsible for defensively). With him and Davis roaming around the middle, it will be hard for a lot of teams to score in the paint.
Offensively, the Pelicans are going to have to work from the inside-out. They have Cousins and Davis who are both averaging roughly 28 points per game. Passing out of the post will be the key, as teams will likely pack it in on defense and try to stop these stars.
The Pelicans lost about 26 points per game from the back-court in this trade. In order to give some threat of scoring from the guard/wing position, Tim Frazier, Solomon Hill, E’Twaun Moore or Quincy Pondexter have to step up. E’Twaun Moore has led this group in scoring with 9.8 points per game.
The good news for the New Orleans is that they have Jrue Holiday. Holiday missed games early in the season to take care of his wife, but has come on strong. The point guard is almost playing as well as he did in 2012-2013, when he went to the All-Star Game as a representative of the Philadelphia 76ers. A lot of responsibility now falls on him to not only feed Davis and Cousins, but to also carry the scoring punch from the guard position.
The Playoff Push
The Western Conference is very tough, but the eighth seed is likely going to have a record that is below .500. New Orleans currently sits 2.5 games outside of the final playoff spot. With this trade, they should be the favorites to clinch the eighth seed in the West.
New Orleans has 25 games left this season, 15 of which are against teams with losing records. With two dominant players like Davis and Cousins, they should be able to win the majority of their games down the stretch.
Possible Playoff Match-up
With the eight seed seeming like the most likely scenario for the Pelicans, they could get a first round series with the Golden State Warriors. This would be the ultimate test of small-ball vs. dominant inside game. The story-lines from this series would be endless.
If the Warriors go to the “death line-up”, Cousins and Davis (if on the court) would match-up with Draymond Green and Kevin Durant. Golden State would try to run and gun on the Pelicans, while New Orleans would try to bruise their way to the basket.
The Pelicans, with their new big man, will make the play-offs and create one of the most entertaining first round match-ups in the history of the NBA, regardless of who they play.