On the surface, the Warriors’ lineup with Cousins on the floor would be overwhelming. Stephen Curry is a five-time all star and three-time scoring champ, earning back-to-back MVP awards in 2015 and 2016. Kevin Durant, the 2014 MVP, is a four-time scoring champ and an eight-time All-NBA team member. Draymond Green was the 2017 defensive player of the year and has been named to four All-Defense teams. Klay Thompson, the least decorated of the group, is a four-time all star and two-time All-NBA team member. When Cousins joins them on the court in 2018-19, Golden State will have five players who were All-Stars last season on the court together, which has not been done since the 1975-76 Boston Celtics did it with a lineup of Jo Jo White, Charlie Scott, Dave Cowens, Paul Silas and John Havlicek.
Cousins is an obvious upgrade over center Jordan Bell, who as a rookie split time with Zaza Pachulia last season, in almost every meaningful category. Cousins averaged 25 points, 13 rebounds and over five assists per game at the time of his injury while also shooting 35 percent from beyond the three-point line. He was also worth more wins above replacement (8.9) than Bell (3.2) and Pachulia (1.9) combined. A healthy Cousins in the lineup would almost certainly mean the Warriors improve on last year’s performance, too, which included 58 regular-season wins and their second straight title that was capped with a sweep of LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
On paper, it will be tough to find a better lineup at any point in the NBA’s history. The 1975-76 Celtics boasted players who combined for 33 wins above what we could expect from replacement players. The Miami Heat super teams that featured a big three of James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade were worth between 16 and 19 wins above replacement from 2010-11 to 2013-14. The 2016-17 Warriors, the first with Durant in the fold, were credited with close to 24 wins above replacement, but then declined to 17 wins above replacement last season. That slide should end with Durant, Curry, Green, Thompson, Andre Iguodala and Cousins potentially worth that many wins above replacement themselves (17) by themselves based on last year’s performance — and that was with Curry missing 31 games due to injury and Cousins missing 34.
Yet how much Cousins helps will depend on how well he adapts his game to fit in with the Warriors offense.
For example, Cousins was responsible for 32 percent of the field goal attempts, free throws and turnovers when he was on the court during his stint with the New Orleans Pelicans last season, second only to Joel Embiid (33 percent) among centers playing at least 1,5000 minutes in 2017-18. Cousins also hasn’t seen his usage dip below 30 percent since 2012-13, his third year in the NBA. Pachulia and Bell, however, used 17 and 14 percent of possessions for Golden State, respectively, last season. With Curry, Durant and Thompson all more efficient with the ball in their hands, it makes sense for Cousins to defer to them more often than he has other teammates in the past.
Not only will Cousins likely have the ball less, he likely has to get used to cutting to the rim, which is how Golden State typically uses its centers. For example, Bell and Pachulia were asked to cut to the basket more than a quarter of the time, whereas Cousins cut to the rim on just 53 of his 1,277 (4 percent). Cousins also wasn’t as proficient, scoring 1.2 points per possession compared to 1.4 points per possession for Golden State’s centers. He can’t hold on to the ball as long as he has with other teams, either — his average time of possession is 2.6 seconds, almost double the time of Bell (1.7) and Pachulia (1.5) in 2017-18.
However, with such a strong supporting cast around him he won’t have to. Nor will he face as many double (or triple) teams when creating with or without the ball. For example, in 2017-18, Cousins was forced to take 55 percent of his catch-and-shoot attempts with a defender close by. Bell and Pachulia had unguarded catch-and-shoot opportunities 96 percent of the time, albeit on a much smaller sample size: 33 attempts compared to 243 for Cousins. Still, there are just too many weapons on the court for Golden State for Cousins not to see a higher quality of shot. Even Durant saw his share of unguarded catch-and-shoot attempts jump from 33 percent during his last year with the Oklahoma City Thunder to 37 percent since joining the Warriors in 2016.
One area of concern is Cousins high turnover rate. He had the 13th highest turnover rate among bigs last season (19 percent) and Golden State’s turnovers were a thorn in Coach Steve Kerr’s side all year, with Kerr saying he should have “broken a clipboard” after seeing his team commit seven turnovers midway through the first quarter in Game 4 against the San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the 2018 NBA playoffs. Perhaps those turnover issues subside if Cousins isn’t handling the ball as much and doesn’t have to force situations to make a play.
The bottom line is the Warriors were already the title favorites before this move — the Westgate Superbook had Golden State as the odds-on favorite (10-to-11 odds, implied probability of approximately 53 percent) when LeBron James announced he signed with the Los Angeles Lakers — and have only bolstered their claim as the top team in the league (4-to-7 odds as of Tuesday morning, 64 percent). The next best team per the oddsmakers in Vegas, the Boston Celtics, are being given a mere 18 percent chance. In order words, the Warriors went from a very likely championship team before adding Cousins to nearly a slam dunk after.
Warriors fans can obviously rejoice, but the rest of the league, and its fan base, are probably left wondering why even bother going through the motions at all.
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