2016-17 Pelicans Season Review: DeMarcus Cousins

by Jim Eichenhofer

USA Today had no hesitation giving New Orleans an “A” grade. Divergent media sources ranging from the bombastic Stephen A. Smith to the significantly more reserved New York Times were equally profuse in their praise.

When the Pelicans shook up their roster and future outlook in a stunning way Feb. 20 by dealing for three-time All-Star DeMarcus Cousins, 26, positive reaction came from everywhere, with some even wondering if New Orleans might be a dangerous playoff participant. It’s not often an NBA team is able to land one of the game’s premier scorers and rebounders while he’s still in his prime, but that’s exactly what the Pelicans did by adding Cousins, in exchange for Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway and a top-three protected first-round pick.

The Pelicans ultimately couldn’t recover from a 2-6 start after the trade, as they tried to incorporate a major piece into their attack, but they later showed significant promise. Cousins joined forces with four-time All-Star Anthony Davis to power New Orleans to an 8-3 stretch from March 11-31, with both players consistently producing eye-popping statistics.

“I’m proud of the steps we’ve taken as a team,” Cousins said of the late-season progress by the Pelicans. “Under the circumstances of how this team came about (with a midseason trade), I think we improved greatly. Do we have a lot to work on? Yes. But I’m extremely excited for the future. I think this team has a bright future, full of potential. It’s just a matter of time before everything comes together. We can look forward to the offseason and training camp coming up. I’m excited.”

NBA experience: 7 seasons (one with Pelicans) || Games played/started: 17/17 (72/72 total) || Age: 26

Other than Memphis center Marc Gasol, perhaps no NBA big has so dramatically embraced the recent change in philosophy in which frontcourt players can suddenly evolve into dangerous three-point threats. Just two seasons ago, Cousins only attempted eight three-pointers (making two of them), but he’s launched a total of 574 combined over the past two campaigns. He took his three-point game to a new level after joining New Orleans, firing six per game and hitting on 37.5 percent of his tries. During his first five NBA seasons, Cousins made a total of 11 treys, but this season alone, he drilled a career-best five trifectas in five separate games.

During the Pelicans’ Feb. 23 home game vs. Houston, they briefly suited up the two active NBA players who’ve gone the longest in their careers without ever appearing in the playoffs, Cousins and forward Omri Casspi (injured in that game and later waived by New Orleans, Casspi has played in 499 career NBA games). Cousins has appeared in 487 regular season games without reaching the postseason, a drought everyone in New Orleans would love to see come to an end in the spring of 2018. In league history, only one player has scored more career points than Cousins without a playoff berth, Tom Van Arsdale (14,232 points, roughly 400 more than Cousins’ tally of 10,308). Coincidentally, former Sacramento GM Geoff Petrie – who drafted Cousins in 2010 – is third on that all-time list.

It seemed reasonable to predict that upon Cousins’ arrival to the Big Easy, he and Davis’ counting statistics would decrease slightly, because each player was no longer the sole focal point of an offense. Cousins’ scoring average did drop a bit in New Orleans (24.4 points in his 17 games) compared to Sacramento (27.8 in 55 games, including a 55-pointer vs. Portland), but his percentages and efficiency was nearly a carbon copy, while his rebounding average increased (12.5 here vs. 10.6 with the Kings). The seventh-year pro shot 45.1 percent from the field with Sacramento and 45.2 in New Orleans; his rate at the foul line went from 77.0 to 77.7. His three-point percentage jumped from 35.4 to 37.5, with him perhaps benefiting from the extra space created by defensive attention devoted to Davis. According to Basketball-Reference.com’s play-by-play data, Cousins played much more at center in New Orleans, with 97 percent of his minutes coming at the “five” spot. In Sacramento prior to the All-Star break, that share was 60 percent.

March 5: New Orleans 105, L.A. Lakers 97
In New Orleans’ first win with Cousins in uniform, he helped the Pelicans quickly erase a small halftime deficit and take control at Staples Center. Cousins posted 26 points and 15 rebounds, one of 12 times he accumulated double-digit boards with his new team. || HIGHLIGHTS

March 31: New Orleans 117, Sacramento 89
Although he consistently downplayed the importance of the matchup with his former team – both before and after he dominated the Kings – it had to be at least somewhat satisfying to play so well in his first game vs. Sacramento. Cousins erupted for 37 points, 13 rebounds, four assists and three steals, while tying a career high by shooting 5/8 on three-pointers. || HIGHLIGHTS

March 21: New Orleans 95, Memphis 82
For fans who may not have watched Cousins play much when he was with Sacramento, this was an excellent demonstration of the big man’s multi-dimensional skills. Facing a Memphis frontcourt that features Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, Cousins was simply too much to handle, posting 41 points, 16 rebounds, two steals and two blocks in 37 minutes. He was 5/9 on treys and 8/9 on free throws. || HIGHLIGHTS