Since Bob Myers took the reins of the Warriors in 2012, he hasn’t been shy about using all of his resources to remake the roster.
With all his different moves, the one he’s seemed reluctant to dip into is the midseason trade. In the seven years he’s been in charge, Myers has executed just two regular season trades. Both came in 2014, dealing separately for Jordan Crawford and Steve Blake. Neither moved the needle.
While it seems unlikely the Warriors will make a trade before the deadline, they will still be adding a major piece mid-season—DeMarcus Cousins. The big man hasn’t seen game action since he tore his Achilles last January but appears ready to debut with Golden State this week.
Internally, his signing has taken on a different view from when the season began. Damian Jones had been penciled in as the starter, with Jordan Bell and Kevon Looney as rotational pieces and Draymond Green taking over for crunch time. But after a season-ending injury to Jones, Bell’s constant presence in Steve Kerr’s doghouse, and Green’s injury troubles, Golden State’s options at the five have become alarmingly thin.
Looney has been pressed into starter duty, which on its face isn’t necessarily a bad thing. He has been playing the best basketball of his career, averaging 7.0 points, 6.0 rebounds and 2.1 assists in 20 starts. With his slighter frame though, he’s better suited to limited minutes banging bodies against the cavalcade of 7-footers the NBA has to offer.
And the same could be said for Green. Without a true center, the 6-foot-9 Looney and generously-listed 6-foot-7 Green are forced to absorb all 48 minutes against the NBA behemoths. And for two players who have had problems staying healthy, it’s a big risk, especially in mostly meaningless regular season games.
With Cousins on board, those minutes will likely be cut in half at least to start, since he will almost assuredly have his minutes strictly monitored. Yet any shaved off of Green’s workload, the more beneficial it will be come June. That’s a very big payoff, as a healthy Warriors squad even without Cousins are still far and away the best team in the association. And that is assuming Cousins is a net zero on the court. If he is anything close to half the player he was pre-injury, he will still be the best offensive center Stephen Curry has ever played with.
According to NBA.com’s stats on five-man lineups, the two best Warriors lineups in offensive ratings are: Curry, Green, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant and Looney, and Curry, Green, Thompson, Durant and Jones, both of which sit above the “death lineup.” Both of those feature bigs who can’t stretch the floor, and, with Green struggling with his shot, it has two non-shooters the defense can just ignore.
But replace one of them with Cousins — who has made more than 100 3’s in each of the last two seasons — and the offense opens up in ways Golden State hasn’t seen since Green shot 38 percent on 3’s in 2015-16. The last three seasons, Cousins has hit 33, 36 and 35 percent from deep, which is better than Green or Andre Iguodala over the same span.
Add in Cousins’ above-average passing, rebounding ability and low block scoring, and it’s easy to see why every other team in the NBA cried foul when he signed with the Warriors.
Then, there is the issue of his defense. Cousins has never been a willing defender and even in short spans when he was, his lack of speed and athleticism exposed him on that end of the court. Cousins is unlikely to be a rim protector, at least not in the way most centers are. His 1.2 career blocks is mediocre for a 6-foot-11 player. And that’s before he suffered the most devastating injury for explosiveness.
Cousins’ offensive potential, though, helps with the more pressing issue for the Warriors. He gives Kerr someone else to jump start the bench unit at the start of second and fourth quarters. Kerr has tried Curry there recently, which has created a stagger with him and Durant and drawn the ire of Warriors Twitter. Cousins could be plugged in alongside Iguodala, Green and Thompson and take over the offense with both Curry and Durant resting.
Whatever role Cousins takes on, it will be something this Warriors dynasty has never had. What was once icing on the cake of the Warriors roster, has now become a necessary ingredient in their chase of a three-peat.