Wob, Moore and Phan: What the DeMarcus Cousins Injury Means for the Warriors
Photo credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: DeMarcus Cousins
- On Tuesday afternoon, the Warriors confirmed that DeMarcus Cousins suffered a season-ending quad tear.
- A few of our NBA experts -- Rob Perez (@WorldWideWob), Matt Moore and Justin Phan -- gathered to hash out the impact his absence will have on the Warriors moving forward.
121-104 … and it wasn’t even really all that close, if we’re being completely honest. That was the score the Warriors defeated the Clippers by in Game 1 of their playoff series a mere 2.5 days ago — but now, it feels like an eternity.
Cruising once again to an emasculating laugh-out-loud victory in Game 2, the tides turned on Golden State as quick as when Draymond Green got his Game 5 suspension and all the momentum the Warriors dynasty built throughout their 73-win 2016 campaign went out to sea.
DeMarcus Cousins, the franchise’s prized free agent acquisition from this summer, went down with a significant non-contact injury. The Warriors took a comfortable 23-point lead to the locker room, but the dark cloud of his resurgence coming to a devastating, screeching halt hovered above the team and clearly had real estate in the team’s minds in the second half — as noted by Steve Kerr during his scheduled interview at the end of the third quarter. What transpired there was historic — both literally and figuratively — as the Clippers completed the largest comeback in NBA playoff history: 31 points.
The joke was supposed to be dead. I mean buried in a coffin, funeral, tombstone and everything. The Warriors took the “they blew a 3-1 lead,” poured some baby powder in their hands and open-hand slapped the Cavs with 3-1 Larry O’Brien trophies. The ONLY thing that could resurrect insecurities of 2016 was if the stars aligned to form an eclipse of the biggest lead blown ever and it landing EXACTLY on 31.
DeMarcus Cousins is out for an indefinite period of time…
The series is tied at 1-1, and the Clippers now have home-court advantage in the same arena that Kevin Durant and Draymond Green declared war on each other just six months ago.
Until Game 3 tips off, the once invincible Warriors will be perceived as anything but as they drown in memes, jokes and blue-flame hot takes across multiple media platforms. So where do we actually stand? Do the Clippers actually have a chance here or is this just a one-night-stand with hope who’s going to call an Uber for us before we even wake up?
Let’s get some things straight right now (with help from my colleagues Justin Phan and Matt Moore)…
1) Kevon Looney and Andrew Bogut can seamlessly replace DeMarcus Cousins
…on paper, that is.
When you look at the regular season on/off Net Ratings for the main rotation Warriors centers, they are even more eye-popping than you might think:
- Looney: +10.1 on-court, +4.8 off-court
- Cousins: +4.6 on-court, +7.0 off-court
Looney may have the verticality of a walrus flopping on the sand, but he has proven to be without a doubt the most efficient big man on the roster.
Why? — World Wide Wob
Justin Phan: This isn’t as much about Cousins as it is about what the likes of Andre Iguodala, Looney and Andrew Bogut offer. Cousins is a gifted scorer in his own right and one of the best passers in the league at his position. Context matters, though, and Cousins’ scoring ability matters less for a team that’s led the league in offensive efficiency for four years running. What elevates the Warriors from title favorites to historically great is their defense.
When Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green were on the floor together during the regular season, they’ve fared well whether it’s been with Looney, Cousins or Bogut.
- With Looney: +17.1 Net Rating
- With Cousins: +15.0 Net Rating
- With Bogut: +11.5 Net Rating
The five-man unit with Cousins hasn’t fared well at all in the playoffs (-14.8). In fact, it’s the only one of their five most-used lineups that’s had a negative Net Rating. That has a lot to do with how coach Doc Rivers specifically schemed against Cousins (more on that later).
Matt Moore: Look, the requirements for “insert Warriors center here” are really low. They didn’t need a talent as great as DeMarcus Cousins, just like they didn’t need a talent as great as Kevin Durant. They just need a dude who can finish plays. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist or a supremely-skilled big man to do this:
Looney’s got good touch around the rim, and because of his familiarity with the offense, he knows the mechanisms the team needs. He can also jump, which DeMarcus Cousins cannot, so he can execute this very basic sequence that is a huge part of the Warriors offense:
Let me put it this way: Looney has 25 points on 15 shots through two games. That’s in the 100th percentile, the very top of all players in the playoffs on points per possession. Looney’s not special. The Warriors have enough special. They’re fine with him.
2) Boogie’s injury could mean more minutes for the Hamptons 5
Phan: Cousins’ injury will necessitate that Kerr leans more on the Hamptons 5 lineup, which outscored opponents by a ridiculous 29.1 points per 100 possessions this season. That was the highest Net Rating among all five-man units that played at least 150 minutes.
As previously mentioned, it’s the defense that sets this lineup apart — namely the trio of Thompson, Iguodala and Green. Over the past two regular seasons, the Warriors have held opponents to a 99.9 Offensive Rating when those three have been on the court together. That would have ranked as the top defensive mark by a significant margin in each of the past two seasons.
3) Cousins was ball-stopping the offense
Phan: The Warriors offense was actually 4.2 points per 100 possessions worse with Cousins on the floor during the regular season. They created far fewer second-chance opportunities, got to the line less and turned the ball over more. Cousins averaged more touches per second than Durant, which isn’t ideal given Durant ranked eighth in the league in points per touch.
Cousins’ role within the offense was most problematic when Doc Rivers specifically schemed against him and gave him the Draymond treatment, choosing to sag way off him and using that extra defender on Durant, Curry or Thompson.
Cousins’ jumper remains a major work in progress; he shot just 31.3% from 16-24 feet and 27.4% on 3s during the regular season. And while Green and Looney have learned how to counter these schemes, mostly by setting well-timed screens, Cousins isn’t quite there yet. He instead repeatedly fell into the trap and either jacked up jumpers or forced passes that resulted in turnovers.
Moore: Cousins’ inability to shoot comes into play here. Watch this sequence just gum up into sadness as the Clippers completely ignore Cousins and send help elsewhere. They can’t do that with Looney because he’s in the dunker spot ready to get an easy bucket:
4) Cousins was TERRIBLE at defense and a major liability
Moore: The really crazy part is it’s not just Cousins’ complete inability to stay with guys, like here…
… it’s that his effort was poor. This is Lou Williams, who Cousins has played something like 30 times in his career and yet he sags off him coming off a screen with no contest?
Same deal here; there’s just no closeout:
The Warriors just aren’t going to miss him on sequences like this.
5) Cousins’ resurgence was an amazing story and should be celebrated, but it won’t affect the team’s morale — in fact it might make them rally and perform even better than ever
"Our resiliency has to be there."
— NBA TV (@NBATV) April 16, 2019
Wob: There is no game film for this, and the only people on Earth who can truly confirm or deny the hypothesis are the Warriors players themselves. But I know one thing is for certain: every time we make our jokey jokes about Golden State, whether it’s 3-1, Durant and Draymond’s bench altercation, Steve Kerr getting caught complaining about being “tired of Draymond’s shit” behind his back, now DeMarcus Cousins going down with an injury, or any of the other viral moments the team has experienced — they come out and lay waste to civilization just to flex. This is just more bulletin board material for a dynasty that’s proven, more times than I can count, they will harvest any sort of public adversity and liquidate it into jet fuel.
A team this good can often struggle to find motivation to keep up the effort that made them unbeatable in the first place. It’s only natural — agendas change, businesses pivot, priorities shift and, in Golden State’s case, locker rooms can fracture, too.
However, when something drastic like an injured brother occurs in the game of basketball, something in which all parties on all sides of the room can unify around, those agendas go out the window and emotion supersedes all. If harnessed properly, it becomes more powerful than any combination of X’s and O’s.
Warriors' Andrew Bogut on the locker room mood after 31-point collapse in Game 2 loss to Clippers: "The mood’s s—. And that’s actually a positive sign in my opinion. It wasn’t something where we were like, ‘Oh, we’ll get them next time.’ We’re genuinely pissed off about it."
— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) April 16, 2019
Did the Warriors need to ‘wake up’? Probably not. But I was always told to let sleeping dogs lie, and now that they have a reason to get out of bed and a martyr to fight for — I fear we are about to witness the firepower of this fully-armed and operational battle station.