Boogie and the Brow: Defense

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Published: February 23, 2017

We here at BourbonStreetShots are breaking down the Cousins acquisition in every which way possible, and I am here to talk about some on-the-court ramifications, specifically on the defensive end. Go check out some of the other pieces we have, stay informed and up to date!

But back to the question at hand, how will Cousins affect the Pelicans defense?

The Pelicans have put together a competent defense this season, ranked in the top 10 in defensive rating. The last time New Orleans managed to put together a top 10 defensive unit was all the way back in 2010-11. They do a great job of contesting shots without fouling and, in general, forcing teams to be jump shooting teams. They rank 5th in contested shots/game, 3rd in blocks/game, and 6th in opponent FTA/game. But they still have many areas where they struggle.

From 5 feet out all the way to the 3pt line, the Pelicans are holding opposing teams under 40% shooting, ranking top 10 in every zone for opponent FG%. Even beyond the 3pt-line teams are shooting just 35.1%, 13th in the league. However, the Pels give up the 2nd most 3pt attempts and the 8th most attempts from less than 5ft, where opponents shoot 60.1% (ranked 20th). They are giving up too many looks from 3 and from close up for a team that wants to force teams into jump shots.

Why is this? Well there are many factors. For one thing, they rank toward the bottom of the league in preventing offensive rebounds, as the team has given up the 11th most putback attempts to opponents. They also fall victim to live-ball turnovers, which result in easy baskets for opponents (we’ve heard Alvin Gentry harp on this in basically every post-game interview this season). But mainly they have too many breakdowns in rotations and help defense. The team is forced to play Davis at the 5 because of personnel, and when Davis gets dragged out of the paint in their small-ball lineups, the interior becomes very thin.

DeMarcus Cousins can actually help with a lot of these issues. With one of the longest and biggest front courts in the league, the Pels at the very least should no longer rank among the worst rebounding teams in history. Cousins has a Reb% of 18.5, ranked 31st in the league. His addition means the Pels now have two players in the top 50 of Reb%. That alone could make a big impact.

Neither Davis nor Cousins has played with another big talented enough to keep each in his natural position. Davis is a 4 who has played next bad 5’s and some ok 4’s. Boogie is a 5 who has played next to bad 5’s and make shift 4’s. Here’s some of those names:

  • Omer Asik, Alexis Ajinca, Donatas Motiejunas, Jason Smith, Robin Lopez, Jeff Withey and Greg Stiemsma
  • Ryan Anderson and Dante Cunningham
  • Kosta Koufas, Willie Cauley-Stein, Jason Thompson, and Reggie Evans
  • Omri Casspi, Matt Barnes, Rudy Gay, Anthony Tolliver, Quincy Acy, and Derrick Williams

Cousins has been an enigma his entire almost 7 year NBA career, with questions surrounding everything he does on the court. Statistically the Kings have been better defensively with him on the the court than off throughout his time in Sacramento, though this doesn’t hold true for the ’16-’17 season. The 104.7 Drtg the Pelicans currently boast is better than any defense he has been a part of. Many have assumed that the acquisition of Cousins could mean the death of the switchy defense that has been a big part of this success, but I’m not so sure. The switching-scheme didn’t go away when Motiejunas was paired with Anthony Davis and was rather used as a tool to stagnate opposing offenses, and I expect we could see the same with Cousins, who is much more capable than DMo.

The 4-man lineup of Holiday-Moore-Hill-Davis (whom Cousins will be starting with) has a Drtg of 105.0 this season, and Cousins can bring something to add to this unit. He has wonderfully quick hands for a big (in addition to his 7’6″ wingspan), which help him get plenty of deflections. He is 11th in the league this season in deflections/game at 3.3, just ahead of Jrue Holiday (3.2). The only “big” ahead of him is Draymond Green. He doesn’t offer too much in the way of shot blocking and rim protection, holding opponents to 50.1% at the rim (the same number as Davis), but he is capable, more capable than Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas, or Dante Cunningham. Despite not being a great shot blocker or “rim protecter,” Cousins has improved over the years as a help defender and reading opposing offenses, that is, when he is focused on it. He might not go for the block, but he is in the top 5 in the league in charges drawn.

What it will come down to is what everyone has talked about with Boogie since he came into the league: can the coaches keep him focused and tuned in on the game, the next play, and not the refs or the previous play. Darren Erman deserves credit for what he has done with the defense, and I’ve written about his coaching successes before, but he will have a new animal to deal with in Boogie. Erman has put a focus on fundamentals, simplifying the defense, and emphasizing things like proper technique on closeouts and maintaining a defensive stance. If he can get the improvement out of Boogie that he has gotten out of the rest of this Pelicans’ squad, the core of this team could be more than just a top 10 “statistical” defense, and more of a force.

Boogie’s bad habits could also compound the issues with the defense. He has a knack for taking plays off, not maintaining his stance, and being late on rotations. If the negatives start to crop up enough, the defense will undoubtedly see some regression.

But this is the NBA. When you get a chance at top level talent (especially at the price the Pels paid), you take it, and figure out the rest later. The Pels have some things to figure out, but they definitely have the talent. The process is going to be exciting to watch.

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