By Paris Felder
With the third selection in my fantasy basketball draft this season I picked up DeMarcus Cousins with quite a bit of confidence. Over the last couple of seasons he’s been the dream fantasy player given the lack of talent surrounding him and the innate fact that he causes problems for coaches, teammates and referees when he isn’t dropping 30 & 15 so it’s best just to give him the ball and get out of the way. He’s been leading my team the entire season with his outstanding statistical play and along with the excitement I had when hearing the news of the New Orleans trade (imagining what the combination of Cousins and Davis could do). I also feared that my team leaders numbers would take a hit.
Although that assumption might be wrong considering Cousins has averaged 23 points, 13 rebounds and 4 assists while Davis is still putting up over 25 points per game, the sexy numbers haven’t seemed to translate to wins, starting 1–6. Which is why they brought Boogie in, right?
I’ve had a long-winded theory for some time now regarding duos in the modern NBA (last 20 years or so) that may or may not have contributed to this fear of mine. When two or three, or in the Warriors case four highly talented players are on the same team the same question always arises… “How will they make it work?” There are a bunch of factors that go into this simple yet deceptive question. Which role-players are supporting the stars, the coaching staff and even sometimes what conference or division they are playing in but the overwhelming question that always pops in my head is “How do the stars score their points?” This recurring theme crept its way into headlines in a roundabout way for just about the entire time the Westbrook/Durant duo was together. Whether it was Westbrook is shooting way too much or that Durant needs the ball more in crunch time, more and more people questioned the two stars ability to play together considering they never won it all. Frankly, I thought all of that was BS. That’s really easy to say now that Westbrook is averaging a triple double but I still would argue them to be the “scariest” duo to lace it up.
For a duo such as Shaq and Kobe there were other agendas that I feel fed into the way things worked out. While Kobe needed nothing more than a finger wave to clear one side of the court for an isolation, a player like Shaq (or a big man) needed a ball handler to dribble up the court and actually pass him the ball down on the block. What a coincidence that Kobe never had a problem with not getting enough shots while Shaq continuously complained about the team’s shot selection throughout his time in LA. Obviously they still found success, being one the greatest teams of all time but this play style conundrum is what eventually split the duo.
LeBron and D-Wade on the other hand seemed to be a perfect fit not only on paper and in every NBA fans dream but also the fundamental way each player attacks in a game of basketball. The way that both of them were able to create for each other mixed with their elite ability to slash and finish at the rim gave the appearance of a cohesive offense. And it doesn’t hurt that Wade might be the best lob passer ever. There’s a 14 minute video on YouTube of just Wade to James alley oops that I recommend (14 minutes over 4 years averages to 3.5 minutes of alleyoop footage a season which just blows my mind). Simply put, neither LeBron or Dwayne Wade were dependent on the other to get them the ball being the play-making ball handlers they were. Shaq needed Kobe to pass him the ball which proved to be Kobe’s “plan B” for his entire 20 year career, no matter who the teammate was.
At the end of the day, I’m aware I’ve failed to include that these players are people with varying personalities and aren’t just over-sized, physical specimens running around on television for my entertainment. I mean LeBron and Dwaynes children celebrate birthday parties together while the singular reason why Kobe and Shaq can tolerate each other now is because of the shared ounce of regret I’m sure they both feel but would never reveal. Plus I’m sure James & Wade studied and learned from Kobe and Shaq’s mistakes. But anyways, I would still rather have two dominate ball handlers as my duo than a dominant ball handler plus a dominant post player. That’s my theory and you can take it or leave it.
WARNING: If I’ve lost you a couple times already with all the different names then prepare yourself for the following and read slowly.
That all brings me back to my original fear the Boogie to New Orleans trade. There are ball handler + ball handler combos(Splash Bros, Lowry/Derozan, Lillard/McCollum, Wall/Beal) as well as the traditional ball handler + post combos (Paul/Griffin, Leonard/Aldridge, Wiggins/Towns) that teams are built around all over the league. The Pelicans have gone all-in on a post + post duo which has seemed to be a rarity in the recent NBA. Between combinations like Griffin/Jordan, Howard/Millsap in Atlanta or Favors/Gobert in Utah, none of these come anywhere close to matching the offensive talent of Cousins/Davis. This being a great problem to have for the Pelicans, but unfortunately there is really no precedent for a pairing like this. Other all-star post duos such as Duncan/Robinson or Olajuwon/Sampson still don’t scratch the surface of the pure, offensive versatility like in New Orleans.
This brings up the “How will they make it work?” question again. Which, you guessed it, sparks the “How do they score?” question in my head. If I’m following the rules of my previously stated theory regarding the process of getting the ball to the big man then a post + post approach wouldn’t be for me… but this duo seems a little different. I’ll save my analysis of everything both Cousins and Davis can do on the court with their guard-like offensive skills for another piece and just say that wielding both of these two players isn’t your vanilla post + post duo. It’s more like a 7 ft. ball handler + 7 ft. ball handler duo which has certainly never been seen before.
Given this position of unknown for Alvin Gentry, he’s done exactly what you or I would probably do and that’s just simply giving them the ball in positions to make plays as often as possible. At somewhat of an alarming rate.
Unless you have logged an unhealthy amount of hours playing NBA 2k, most people pick a team and shoot just about every shot with whatever all-star(s) is on the team they selected. Why wouldn’t you? It’s a lot more entertaining scoring 100+ points with Kyrie & LeBron. And for the novice 2k player, you could go an entire game without the thought of getting Iman Shumpert or Tristan Thompson involved on the offensive end crossing your mind. In fact, one might sub Thompson out to add another shooter. In no way do I consider Gentry to be a “novice” coach but is this the easy way out? I am sensing a ton of similarities between how the new-look Pelicans play style with someone playing a video game with a buddy.
Here is a simple graphic I made to show just how much Cousins and Davis have been used compared to a few other all-time great duos:
All of these numbers are relatively close but they do show that through the first 7 games together, Cousins and Davis’ total usage is trumped by only Shaq and Kobe in the 2002–2003 season. And due to the state of New Orleans’ roster, I don’t see much changing throughout this season unless Jrue Holiday becomes uncharacteristically Kobe-like.
Even with the blockbuster move of getting Cousins, I still think New Orleans had one more move in them before the deadline to do something about their wing players rotation. E’twaun Moore and Solomon Hill… yikes.
It’s going to take more than 7 games to figure this thing out in New Orleans and the beginning of next season will probably be a better gauge of what this team actually is. Judging by the intermediate “pass & screen” offense run by the rest of the team, Boogie probably doesn’t even know half of the Pelicans playbook yet. Plus, for the rest of the Pels roster, I imagine getting used to playing with Boogie is an adjustment in its own right. But let’s assume all things are even… When does Gentry pull the training wheels off and implement his “best foot forward” upon this potentially historic duo? Maybe he has. Again, I have to preface with this, I’m not trying to take any shots at Gentry’s coaching ability because I‘m sure he’s doing his best to win games but knowing the state of general managers and their hurry for success, non playoff teams are as uneasy as ever (because New Orleans doesn’t make this trade if everyone felt comfortable pre-Boogie). If Gentry doesn’t do it, they will find someone who will. Good luck, Alvin.