Early Returns: Observations From DeMarcus Cousins' First 5 Games as a Warrior

DeMarcus Cousins is living up to the worst nightmares of non-Warriors fans through five solid games to start his season in the Bay Area.

The Golden State Warriors managed to sign Kevin Durant thanks to a once-in-a-generation confluence of lucky circumstances, mostly related to the salary cap spike caused by the new national TV contract. Signing DeMarcus Cousins to complete their All-NBA starting lineup/Infinity Gauntlet/basketball Exodia was a similar confluence of luck--and the draw of playing for by far the best team in basketball.

Cousins was primed for his first career playoff run last season with the New Orleans Pelicans before tragically tearing his left Achilles tendon just before the All-Star break. He was in the middle of arguably the best season of his career, averaging 25.2 points, 12.9 rebounds, and 5.4 assists per game while shooting 35.4% from deep on over six attempts per game. However, he had an acrimonious break-up with the Pelicans after they reportedly failed to offer him a contract. DeMarcus gave Bob Myers a call, and the rest was history.

The Warriors were probably the only team in the league that would have been OK with paying for only half of a season of Boogie as a flyer. After all, they were the heavy title favorites without him. Any positive contribution at all was worth it for the chance to pay DeMarcus Cousins the money that went to Nick Young the year before.

DeMarcus Cousins made his triumphant return against the Los Angeles Clippers on January 18th, and has been frighteningly good in his first five games. He is averaging 15.2 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 3.6 assists per game in just 21.8 minutes per game. Cousins has also knocked down six of his 11 attempts from beyond the arc.

The sample size is too small to draw too much meaning from these stats, but the eye test has been even more impressive. As Cousins continues to round into form, the Warriors continue to widen the chasm between themselves and the rest of the league.

Offense: Fitting in Perfectly

DeMarcus Cousins theoretically filled every hole that the Warriors have had at the center position during their title runs, and the fit in practice might be even more impressive. Boogie is still shaking off the rust at this point, but that's showed up almost entirely on the defensive end. On offense? It couldn't be going any better for team or player.

The one part of Cousins' game that was always going to shine was his shooting. He never had much lift on his jumper anyway, so he's basically been able to do nothing but shoot since he got to the point in his rehab when he was able to get on the court. More to the point, he was always going to have acres of space to shoot on this team, and he's delivered:

DeMarcus has been getting looks as the trailer in transition, but he's also been getting looks by setting bone-crushing screens at the top of the arc and staying out there to shoot. The screening was the most underrated part of Boogie's fit with the Warriors. He wasn't always a perfect screener in Sacramento, but he's always been one of the strongest and bulkiest guys in the league. This year, he's been really dedicated to just hammering opponents on those picks--the Warriors haven't had this level of screening since Andrew Bogut, and it's vital to getting open looks for Steph Curry and Klay Thompson in the playoffs.

The other underrated benefit of DeMarcus is his passing touch. Boogie has been one of the best big man passers in the league since his debut, but really developed even more as a playmaker alongside Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday. That passing from the big man spot has also been missing since Andrew Bogut left, and it's already making a huge difference for Golden State's shooters:

The Warriors could have reasonably expected DeMarcus Cousins to be in a lot worse shape after his Achilles injury, both in terms of his conditioning and in his overall play. After all, Dominique Wilkins is really the only other player who's recovered even remotely well from an Achilles tear (although Boogie's former Sacramento Kings teammate Rudy Gay might be making a case too). For Nique, and Rudy to a lesser extent, his athleticism was so spectacular before the injury that he could give up just a little on that front and still be effective.

For Boogie, oddly enough, the same argument might hold but in reverse. DeMarcus Cousins never dominated because of his vertical leap or his speed; he was always a bit slow and never really had even an average vertical, but he made up for it with incredible skill and remarkable strength. Even though he's clearly lost a step or two, he never relied on his athleticism to succeed. Given his success so far as a shooter and passer for the Warriors, that's certainly holding true right now.

Defense: The Elephant in the Room, or just a minor flaw?

It would be an understatement to say that DeMarcus' offense has not lived up to his defense so far this season. Boogie fouled out of his return game in just 15 minutes, and came close to fouling out again in his fourth game in 23 minutes. His pick-and-roll coverage has been bad, and he really struggled to defend in space against a Boston Celtics team that clearly made a point of attacking him on that end. The step that Cousins could afford to lose on offense is really hurting him on defense.

Cousins has partially made up for that lack of speed by being in arguably the best shape of his NBA career. One could argue that he needed the extra 20+ pounds as a post player earlier in his career, but slimming down to extend his career and avoid further damage to his Achilles despite being in rehab is certainly admirable. It's also making his defensive play less disastrous than it could have been.

Boogie is also making up for his flaws as a defender in the rebounding department. Kevon Looney is a master of sneaking through the box-out and positioning himself on the offensive glass, but DeMarcus Cousins is just a force in the interior whenever the ball goes up. It's already become a common refrain in this piece, but the Warriors haven't had this kind of a power rebounder since Andrew Bogut. Cousins is clearly nowhere near as good as Bogut in terms of defense, but he's at least a deterrent at the rim. He's allowing 41.7% on a very small sample of opposing shots within six feet of the basket per NBA.com; the small sample size means that this number alone doesn't say all that much, but he has been above-average in that metric in every season of his career so far. Even if DeMarcus gets torched on switches, his rebounding and rim protection have at least helped to make up for that shortcoming.

Playoff Outlook: No Contest

The most likely outcome for the Warriors to fail to win the championship this season was that Boogie destroyed the Warriors from within. Far too many people out there had managed to convince themselves that Boogie's locker room issues from Sacramento and loud rebukes of the management in New Orleans were indicative of personality flaws that would crumble a dynasty.

The chemistry issues this year instead came out during a Kevin Durant/Draymond Green fight that Boogie was involved in breaking up. While there was definitely smoke coming from DeMarcus Cousins' area of the garbage fire that was the Sacramento Kings during his time there, most of Boogie's conflicts stemmed from his crazy competitiveness and the consistent losing that pervaded the franchise. Suffice it to say that a lack of winning won't be an issue in Golden State.

The Warriors were a virtual title lock even without Boogie. While it hasn't been a perfect fit through his first five games, it's certainly come pretty close to that. DeMarcus Cousins has looked as good in a Golden State Warriors uniform as anyone could have hoped for, and the runway is clear for DeMarcus to start off his postseason career with a title.

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