The Golden State Warriors were a good basketball team. They boasted three home-grown All-Stars, a bonafide superstar in Stephen Curry, and a system that shared the ball unselfishly. By 2016, two straight trips to the Finals and a championship seemed like a dream run for a team that was in the NBA’s basement for the better part of the past two decades.
But then the Warriors did the unthinkable. They signed former MVP Kevin Durant, making many believe they were unbeatable. Add KD to the Warriors’ ball movement and player movement system? It would be disastrous for the rest of the league. Two years and two championships later, the Warriors stood at the top of the basketball world.
And yet, they accomplished the unthinkable once again this past summer. They signed four-time All-Star DeMarcus Cousins. Albeit, off of an Achilles injury, where a player rarely comes back the same. But should he prove to be even a shell of his former self, the Warriors were thought to be absolutely unguardable.
And here we are. A few games into the DeMarcus Cousins era in Golden State, which may last just half a season. But Cousins acts like he’s been on this team for ages, and some plays during his first two games as a Warrior will prove why, once he really gets his legs under him again, the Warriors really may be unguardable.
The Warriors’ system utilizes a lot of passing from the post. When he first arrived, Steve Kerr took advantage of Draymond Green’s and Andrew Bogut’s deft passing ability and court vision. When Bogut left, David West provided excellent passing out of the post, consistently finding cutters to the basket.
But this season, the Warriors have struggled partly due to their instability at center. Kevon Looney and Jordan Bell both weren’t amazing passers in the post, and the Warriors’ offense would stall at times, waiting for a post pass that never came.
But DeMarcus Cousins is a one-of-a-kind talent. And one of his invaluable intangibles is his court vision. From the post, with their back to the basket, centers typically look to back down their man and score. On the Warriors, however, the post is where many of their assists come from. Draymond Green has countless assists with his back to the basket, while Curry or Klay Thompson springs free for Draymond to find them.
And Boogie has shown his excellent court vision from the post in consistently finding cutters to the rim. In this play, the ball is entered into the post, and as Jonas Jerebko cuts, Cousins notices that the Lakers’ Michael Beasley has his head turned. Cousins then zips a pass to the cutting Jerebko for the easy lay-in:
In this play, Draymond throws the ball to DeMarcus in the high post. Klay Thompson starts to come around Draymond in what looks something like the Warriors’ famous post split action. The defense gets preoccupied with all of the potential things that could happen on the strong side, and Andre Iguodala is left wide open. Cousins spots him and lasers a cross-court pass for an open Iguodala triple:
The gravity of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson often creates spacing and opens up the floor for their teammates. Having Kevin Durant makes the Warriors especially tough to guard when any of combination of the three screen for each other. But having DeMarcus Cousins starts to take the Warriors to another level.
As a stretch five, DeMarcus Cousins knocked down 2.2 three’s per game last season on 35% shooting with the New Orleans Pelicans. Currently, only Curry and Thompson make more than that per game on the Warriors. In recent years, no Warriors’ center has been able to step outside to the three-point line and launch it with confidence. But Steve Kerr will definitely utilize the stretch five ability of Cousins, as seen in his first game back.
In this play, Draymond surveys the floor, looking for a cutter. Klay Thompson wraps around Cousins and dives to the basket, taking his defender, Draymond’s defender, and Cousins’ defender with him. The collapsing defense, so afraid of a pass to Klay for a drive or pull-up jumper, completely forgets about the four-time All-Star center on the wing. Draymond passes the ball to DeMarcus, who has no defender even remotely close to him, to launch the open three:
On the very next possession, the Warriors run very similar action. Draymond holds the ball and surveys. This time, Klay curls around Draymond and dives to the rim. Again, the Clippers defend it in a similar fashion: DeMarcus’ defender, Draymond’s defender, and Klay’s defender all collapse to the paint to stop Klay Thompson. Clippers’ center Boban Marjanovic is too far away, and even though he’s able to futilely throw up a hand to contest, DeMarcus still gets an open look at a three:
This kind of action would never work with Looney, Jordan Bell, or Damian Jones. Defenders would gladly leave them open on the wing. But with a center who can take, and make, long-distance shots, the gravity of Curry, Thompson, and Durant may give DeMarcus more open looks than he’s ever had in his career.