Should The Heat Take a Flier on DeMarcus Cousins?
Commentary // 6 months ago
By: Nekias Duncan
If you stay up for West Coast playoff games, you’re being treated –– and I use that term loosely — to the Kevin Durant Revenge Tour. Following the largest single-game collapse in playoff history, Durant has led the Golden State Warriors to back-to-back double digit wins. He went for an efficient 38-4-7 in Game 3, then followed that up with 33-7-6 in Game 4. Noticeably missing from those wins was DeMarcus Cousins.
The former All-Star is likely done for the postseason after tearing his quad. It’s a disappointing end to a season that was trending upwards. Cousins took a (financial) gamble on himself by accepting the mid-level exception in hopes of setting himself up for a big payday this summer. The injury obviously compromises that goal. Enter the Miami Heat. Well, maybe. As of now, the Heat aren’t expected to have cap space. That could change, depending on what Hassan Whiteside and Goran Dragic decide to do with their player options. If both players opt out, the Heat could have roughly $15 million in cap space to play with. It’s not quite enough to get in the room for superstars like Kevin Durant or Kyrie Irving, but that could put them in the room for guys that fall a couple of tiers below that level.
It’s hard to envision anyone throwing a long-term, high-dollar deal at Cousins at this point. He’s suffered a torn Achilles and a torn quad in consecutive seasons. Hitching your wagon to Cousins without proof that he’ll be a high level player — or that he can hold up — would essentially be malpractice. A one-year flier, however, is an interesting scenario to think about. If the price range falls between $5-8 million (mid-level exception range), the Heat could be an intriguing option for Cousins. If the Heat have any edge right now, it’s the reputation of getting reclamation projects paid.
WHY IT MAKES SENSE
Quick — who is Miami’s best scorer? Did you answer Dion Waiters, the bulky guard with the quick first step and even quicker trigger? Is it Goran Dragic, equipped with his Iron Shoulder and fancy footwork? How about Josh Richardson, the Heat’s leading scorer with a budding pull-up game? Regardless of who you chose, did you feel good about your answer? I would imagine the answer is no. This is where the flier begins to make sense. For a team that lacks a reliable go-to option, Cousins could possibly provide that. As a glorified 4th option, Cousins averaged 16.2 points in a little under 26 minutes a night this season. Much like the year before, Cousins flashed the ability to dictate games from the mid-post and in. He’s able to devastate weaker defenders with his brute strength on the low block. If he doesn’t put defenders underneath the hoop, he has an array of fakes and impressive footwork at his disposal to get to his spots.
What makes him more dangerous is his passing ability. The Warriors liked to station him at the elbow — and sometimes here — to get into their post split action. Cousins was able to showcase the nice touch he has on bounce passes and lobs.
If Cousins simply returns to the form he showed this season, he’d be Miami’s most dynamic scorer and, at worst, their third best passer. It’s easy to envision him drawing help on the low block, then kicking it out to either Josh Richardson or Justise Winslow for them to attack a scrambling defense. For a Heat team that struggled to score, they need someone that can force defenses to rotate on a whim. Cousins can be that guy. A lineup of Winslow,Waiters, Richardson, Bam Adebayo, and Cousins would feature five players that can pass and attack bent defenses. You would have to bank on Cousins regaining form as a shooter (27.4 percent on 3.2 attempts last year), but I’d argue that giving him more interior touches would allow him to establish a rhythm easier. Cousins wouldn’t make the Heat a top-ten offense on his own, but pushing the Heat towards the middle of the pack would be a massive win.
WHY IT DOESN’T MAKE SENSE
For a lot of folks, I imagine what Cousins could bring to the offense would outweigh any concerns they may have about his impact on the other end of the floor. I can’t pretend to be that guy. Cousins was mostly fine as an interior defender. Via Synergy, opponents scored 0.541 points per post-up possession against Cousins, a mark that placed him in the 98th percentile. Opponents shot a shade over 45.1 percent at the basket (non-post ups) against Cousins, a stat that also comes courtesy of Synergy.
But this is when I remind you that Cousins spent 457 of his 771 minutes (nearly 60 percent) with Draymond Green and Klay Thompson on the floor with him. The Warriors had a 104.3 defensive rating in those minutes; that number ballooned to 115.4 with those two off the floor. It’s much easier for big men to protect the rim when driving opportunities are limited, and the lanes are cramped when they get there.
Still, Cousins is insanely strong and has quick hands in his own right. He’s averaged at least 1.0 steals and 1.0 blocks in seven of his nine seasons. But if you’re looking for the Heat to return to the playoffs and make legitimate noise, you have to think about who can be effective in a playoff setting. Cousins’ inability to defend in space leaves him susceptible to high pick-and-roll attacks. He isn’t nimble enough to hang with guards on switches, nor does he recover out to stretch bigs in a timely manner. With the torn quad, it’s possible he looks even worse on that end next year. What would that look like in a series against, say, the Boston Celtics if they retain Kyrie Irving and Al Horford?
The Heat have a host of fine defenders; the Winslow-Richardson-Adebayo trio is incredibly rangy. But it may be pretty difficult to cover for him enough to make his offensive talents worth it. Even that portion of the fit is questionable, depending on what your view of #TheKids are. If you feel like Adebayo could have a trajectory similar to Toronto’s Pascal Siakam, or if there’s another level for Winslow to reach, prioritizing (cheaper) spacers so they can soak up more on-ball reps may be a better long-term play.