Nice piece. Agree Cousins is worth the (very real) risks of trading for him. To me the key is that the lack of assets beyond '17 in the deal means you can live with it not working out. It would be a set back no question, but not necessarily an unrecoverable one.
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Boogie and the Brow: Offense
New Orleans’s anemic offense may have just found its solution – by adding DeMarcus Cousins (referred to in this article as “Boogie”), the Pels have instantly gone from a bottom of the barrel offense to one featuring the two most talented scoring bigs in the NBA. It is a drastic change for a team whose sputtering offense demanded it, and it puts ample pressure on Alvin Gentry, as he finally has the offensive pieces to construct an elite offense.
There is some question as to whether the Boogie-Davis frontcourt is synergistic. However, the combination doesn’t have to meet, much less exceed, the sum of its parts to become a formidable offense. In this article, I will attempt to address what we should see in this newfangled offense as I drool all over my keyboard — because if this duo does iron out some of its skill overlap, it could be unstoppable.
The first and most prominent question revolves around usage, as neither Davis nor Boogie is bashful about taking shots. There is one ball and someone is giving up shots, and most likely, that person will be Davis. Davis’s national championship run with Kentucky attests that a drop in usage will not bother him, and everything he says, and has said, to the media will back this notion; however, there is always an adjustment to be made when a front office adds more hungry mouths to the table. This is unequivocally true of Boogie, whose usage rate this season exceeds every other NBA player’s besides Russell Westbrook.
With that said, both of these players have had to carry an enormous load for a long period of time. It is reasonable to expect that, at the least, the players will appreciate playing alongside each other, because life is much easier when a teammate has the gravity to attract other defenders. Neither player can be stopped without help defenders, and suddenly, defenders have to make a no-win choice. This is not a luxury either player has had for quite some time.
Another factor that will affect this frontcourt’s offensive production is what I call the psychology of conscience, which is the adjustment high volume scorers on teams have to make once the pecking order is suddenly less clear. I think this was a large factor in Steph Curry’s “trouble” adjusting to Kevin Durant’s presence in his offense this season. Neither player has any problems sharing the ball and their skill sets, in a vacuum, are perfectly aligned. But it’s not just about the willingness to share — it’s about knowing when to share and when not to, and that clarity does not come overnight.
When Boogie was in Sacramento, he took the shots he wanted to when he wanted to. A similar thing can be said of Davis this season, though to a less extreme degree. Now, with the superfluous offensive talent in the Pelicans offensive unit, the opportunity cost of heat-checks is a solid look by a superstar teammate. This means both players have a moral imperative to, at the least, sometimes give up shots they would have taken before. Even if there is a clear delineation of offensive priority, figuring out new teammates takes time, and the Pelicans are under pressure to figure it out quickly enough to win the 8th seed out West.
I asked Aaron Bruski, who has covered Cousins for years, to give a high-level review of his offense.
Cousins plays like a guard or small forward trapped in a near 300-pound body. Rather than use his muscle and size to simply power through opponents — which he can do — he chooses an array of up and unders, hesitations and crossover dribbles from the perimeter to dribble drive against opponents. Part of that is George Karl’s influence and the Kings’ influence in wanting the next great dynamic big man, but a lot of it is also Cousins not wanting to be pigeon-holed into one style of play. It could also be the lack of a go-to post move that he can get without fail such as a jump hook. He has passing vision but it often leads to turnovers. Rebounding-wise his sheer size and good hands prove to be good enough to dominate even on nights he doesn’t bring the energy. He shows flashes of intuition chased by several more moments of scattered, unfocused offensive strategy. All bets are off when Boogie’s temperature rises, but it’s also when you see some of his best moments. He’s a riddle wrapped in an enigma that’s strapped to a roller coaster every night. The key to his value is in reaching an agreement with him on how the game is played and making sure that he takes two steps forward for every one step back.
As I mentioned earlier, Boogie has ridiculous usage, and he is the highest scoring big in the league. Boogie’s true shooting percentage of 56.2% is good, especially when combined with his usage, but not elite. Shot location data (see below) clearly reveals that Boogie’s biggest impediment to higher, elite efficiency is his unhealthy love of midrange shots. Boogie hits only 36% of these looks, but they account for 19% of his field goal attempts. These sort of looks also do not generate FTs as often as shots closer to the rim. Holding all else equal this season (out of curiosity, as this is not feasible), Boogie would post a 60% TS if he eliminated these shots. A more reasonable question — with AD next to him, can he eliminate one or two of the midrange dribble pull ups he takes 3 times a game and limit most of his midrange shots to catch-and-shoot opportunities?
Contained in the chart above is also one of Boogie’s greatest strengths: he draws a lot of free throws. Some of this is linked to the amount of shots he takes, but Boogie is simply a load to deal with and earns 10 free throws a game. This is crucial, as the Pelicans rank near the bottom of the league in free throw rate. Between Davis and Boogie, this should no longer be a concern.
Boogie is also a high-risk, high-reward passer, which is easy to see in his raw assist volume and turnover numbers. He’s capable of putting the ball on the deck and dumping off to Davis or another Pelicans big, as you can see below.
He is the kind of passer who can deliver from multiple angles and on the move. This Cunningham front is easily beaten, as Boogie looks off the double for a second, spins baseline and Euro-steps to a wraparound bounce pass. It’s the kind of stuff that is very rare to see in bigs, much less those who are pushing 280 pounds. Combine this with Davis’s ability to cut and there is a lot to like.
But there is also a lot to be frustrated about, shown here in this telegraphed pass vs the Blazers, followed up by Boogie slouching and not getting back on defense. This is why someone of his talent gets traded. If he didn’t have this tendency, among others, he wouldn’t be a Pelican, so it’s hard to lament it until it becomes a problem here.
On a team level, there will likely be a radical shift in the way that the Pelicans run the offense. Boogie provides them with a capable fulcrum for their offense. Davis is a more efficient scorer than Boogie (and offensive player, when you factor in Boogie’s very high turnover rate), but Boogie is better at handling doubles, has a more natural arsenal to create offense for others, and is a better passer; he also has a hungrier appetite, which is why I expect Davis’s usage to drop more than Boogie’s. That said, Davis’s efficiency could skyrocket playing next to someone who can demand doubles the way Boogie does. Davis was a phenomenal off-ball scorer from the get-go, long before he was money from midrange and long before he had an advanced handle or a ridiculous floater. The addition of Boogie, should Davis choose to do his work outside the offensive spotlight, could unleash the most terrifying version of Davis we’ve seen since he turned pro.
Boogie is also provided with a unique opportunity to just demolish opponents on the offensive glass. There are so few bigs who can hold their positions against him on the boards. The challenge, of course, is to get him to exercise this ability more frequently.
- Free throws, shots at the rim, etc. — these are not additive statistics. As of right now, no NBA two-man pairing generates as many FTs or shots in the Restricted Area as Boogie and Davis. However, the way they create their offense will have to be tweaked, at least a little, in order to avoid over-crowding each other. This could, and probably will, result in some decrease in their combined looks near the basket, and consequently, they will probably register fewer combined free throws.
- Jake Madison mentioned this the other day: the Pelicans are horrible at entry passes. This is something that could be frustrating, because Boogie can seal his man easily.
- I mentioned this soon after the Pels grabbed Boogie: this addition should do wonders for Jrue Holiday, who finally can assume the third option role that his Swiss Army skills fit perfectly.
- To again touch on the topic of synergy — which is anything but a certainty — this Pels team now has 2 guys who could go for 50 any given night. There are maybe 3, 4 teams in the NBA who can say that.
- As for chemistry, which was also briefly mentioned: it has never been a secret that Davis prefers playing PF. He is friends with Boogie (a Center), has shown in the past that he doesn’t care if he doesn’t get shots, and has never played with someone of Boogie’s talent. There is no indication that his likely drop in usage will upset him.
- It is at least worth mentioning that, a few years ago, Davis was picked for the All Star game and there was a legitimate case that it could’ve been Boogie’s spot, and he was pretty unhappy about it. There is at least some competitiveness there. I acknowledge this as context to be remembered, not a certain predictor of turmoil.
- Boogie’s defensive rebounding could also allow Davis the freedom to leak out in transition, as he is no longer tasked with the lion’s share of defensive boards. But the Pels don’t have great transition guards, which may prevent them from fully capitalizing on this.
I have laid out some really optimistic viewpoints in this article. I don’t think the Boogie-AD combo has to fit perfectly to create a great offense. However, the Pelicans are playing with fire, because there is no guarantee that Boogie cuts down on the technicals or isn’t a problem in the locker room. This is the risk the Pelicans are taking, and it could absolutely blow up in their faces. But this is a small market team who now has two top 10 NBA players, and that is an opportunity they could not afford to pass up. Kudos to Dell and the front office for this acquisition, because shifting from Jahlil Okafor to Boogie in a matter of days, and giving up little in return, has radically altered the course of this franchise.