These days, I experience a lot of basketball secondhand: via boxscores, The Starters, and other podcasts and websites. I check out my fair share of bits and pieces of college basketball games, but the NBA is rarely appointment viewing. I decided to sit and watch the new New Orleans Pelicans at my first opportunity on Friday against the San Antonio Spurs. I don’t know that I’ve seen DeMarcus Cousins since he has been in the NBA (particularly for an entire game), but I was curious to see how he would team with Anthony Davis.
One of my common refrains through my years of Manifesto writing has been to look past empty numbers put up on losing teams. For whatever reason, I never let that feeling sink in with Cousins. He put up excellent numbers in his six plus years with the Kings, but the team topped out at 33 wins in 2015-16. There were rumbles about his attitude when he was at Kentucky, but I thought those concerns were overblown. I knew he racked up technical after technical and the Kings situation always seemed unsettled. I still considered myself a Cousins fan because his game seemed to improve each season (despite the lack of team success).
I was excited when the Pelicans traded for Boogie and wondered how it would work. The team lost its first three games after the Cousins trade against Houston, Dallas, and Oklahoma City. Cousins averaged 23.3 points and 12.7 rebounds, while Davis provided 35.7 points and 10.0 rebounds in the three-game span. Statistically on an individual basis, it was working, but the Pelicans lost the three games by an average of 17.0 points.
Both teams got out to a good offensive start in New Orleans. In the first quarter, Cousins scored five points and owned the defensive glass, while Davis scored 10 points and the Pelicans led by three points. The offense flowed and it didn’t feel like the two superstars were taking turns. Davis injured his finger on the backboard in the second quarter, but was able to return.
Cousins is super talented. He has great rebounding skills, can drive and shoot, and had some really nifty passes for easy baskets for his teammates. Despite all of these positives, it looks like Cousins sucks any joy out of the game. He is obsessed with the referees and loses his mind whenever he is called for a foul or traveling violation. Cousins’s new teammates were able to keep him from getting called for a technical against the Spurs, but he is clearly looking for a reason to get upset.
The bigger problem for New Orleans is that Cousins could adversely affect Davis. Late in the game, Davis got called for a foul on Pau Gasol and complained in a Cousins-like way. Davis had appeared to be quietly competitive and could have an outburst in the past. I worry that Cousins’s constant referee turmoil could spill over to his fellow Kentucky one-and-doner. New Orleans should be able to beat a good number of teams on talent alone, but they have a lot of work to do to get into the playoffs. Basketball Reference has their playoff odds at 0.9%.
Per their usual, San Antonio was not the story of the game despite the win. While New Orleans melted down, San Antonio kept things together and gutted out another win. Over the previous three seasons, the Spurs averaged 61.3 wins while Kawhi Leonard developed into a superstar. They are amazing and they have never lost to the Warriors in the playoffs in their current iteration. Last year, they were knocked out by the Thunder and the year before by the Clippers. Hopefully, Kevin Durant is healthy for the playoffs so that we can see the Western Conference’s top two teams face off in the playoffs at full strength.