The game is the game. Its cruelty is not intentional, it is simply woven into the fabric of greatness and joy. It gives and it takes, in equal amounts, but not equal distribution. The worst injury for the Warriors in four years was a knee sprain that caused Steph Curry to miss two weeks. The Pelicans have never been able to get Jrue Holiday, Anthony Davis, or now DeMarcus Cousins through a full season.
So it goes.
DeMarcus Cousins is done for the season, as both ESPN and Yahoo have reported he suffered a ruptured Achilles. It’s the worst-case scenario on every level for New Orleans:
- The Pelicans had just started to get it together and looked like a major challenger for the 5-seed with a chance to disrupt the first round.
- New Orleans’ team was specifically built top-heavy, and has almost no depth in the front court.
- Oh, and Cousins is a free agent this summer
It’s just awful all over. Players just don’t recover after this injury in ways that leave you hopeful for a return to dominance. The list of big men to suffer it is short, but the most concerning comparison is former Clippers big man Elton Brand, whose game was similar and who suffered the same injury at the same age as Cousins (27). Brand was also a free agent that summer, and wound up signing a huge contract with the Sixers that limited them for years when he wasn’t the same.
Medical science has improved since then, and Cousins is not Brand. But the history of players with this injury does not provide many encouraging cases.
If you’re looking for positive signs about the Pelicans going forward, here’s where it starts:
The Pelicans were a +1.7 in net rating with Cousins on the floor, and +0.3 with him on the bench. Just a 1.4 differential is not huge, compared to Jrue Holiday (+16.3) and Anthony Davis (+10.3). Moreover, the AD-Holiday pairing was actually, surprisingly, better with Cousins on the bench. Via NBA.com:
Additionally, eight of the Pelicans’ 10 most-used lineups without Cousins have had a positive net rating. The problem, of course is that 1) None of those lineups have played many minutes together because Cousins was on the floor so much and 2) Once you remove him, the lineup weaknesses become more pronounced and easier to scout for.
Holiday has played at an All-Star level this season, but he’s also worked off-ball around Cousins and Brow. Cousins was the team’s primary facilitator and playmaker. Without him, they lose that dynamic and one of their best floor spacers, not to mention a presence that constantly demanded a double, opening things for players like E’Twaun Moore.
Notably, however, the Pelicans’ assist-rate stays roughly the same with Cousins on the bench. The problems will be about lost production, and the gravity he created.
The Pelicans could have made a run this spring. They were set to be a team in a mix for a mid-tier seed with matchup advantages. The Spurs, Rockets, and Wolves would all have had problems with what the Pelicans bring to the table. That’s out the door.
New Orleans is six games over .500 and three games ahead of the ninth-seeded Clippers. That’s not a healthy-enough margin to make their playoff spot assured. Entering the season they were +150 to make the playoffs, -180 to miss, with an over/under of 39.5. Anyone who grabbed that +150 or the over is now in serious risk of losing what looked like solid bets.
But most importantly, the game loses one of its most dynamic, incredible players, the West loses an All-Star (with Paul George or Lou Williams the likely replacement) and one of the most interesting teams in the league becomes a team much more vulnerable.
The game may not be cruel, but it sure feels like fate is.