Golden State Warriors

What to look for in DeMarcus Cousins’ return from injury tonight

DeMarcus Cousins will play his first game for the Golden State Warriors tonight. What should we expect to see?

Tonight, DeMarcus Cousins will make his long-awaited debut for the Golden State Warriors, starting at center in place of Kevon Looney. It has been nearly a year since Cousins played an NBA game and, accordingly, there are many questions about what to expect from him and the Warriors as a team both tonight and moving forward. Here are some of the more pressing ones.

What sets will Cousins be deployed in?

Will the Warriors run a Curry/Cousins pick-and-roll or a super-sized Durant/Cousins pick-and-roll, opening up a number of options for everyone on the floor, or will they opt to play in a five-out set freeing up the paint for penetration, or will they let Boogie do work in the low post? Honestly, it seems likely that we’ll see all of these and many more in Boogie’s first few games back, but it will be interesting to see how Kerr decides to primarily use him on offense as time passes.

How well will Cousins move?

NBA players coming back from Achilles injuries don’t have the best track record. It derailed the careers of several players, including Elton Brand, Wesley Matthews, and Brandon Jennings, and was pretty much the final nail in the coffin of the careers of Kobe Bryant and Chauncey Billups. Never before has a player of Boogie’s size and stature successfully returned from such an injury — Anderson Varejao and Mehmet Okur played just a combined 97 games following their respective returns from Achilles tears — and while pretty much every basketball fan wants to be optimistic about Cousins’ chances to fully recover his All-NBA form, it, unfortunately, makes more sense to temper expectations. Hopefully, in his return tonight, Cousins will move with fluidity and a sureness that does not make it clear that it is first NBA game in nearly a full year.

What lineups will Cousins be a part of?

Steve Kerr has already made it clear that Cousins will be starting tonight, but it will be interesting to see both how many minutes he plays and who he plays with apart from the starters. If the game is close in the final minutes, will Kerr go with his starters, including Cousins, or will he opt for Kevon Looney or Andre Iguodala instead? Will Cousins be brought along slowly or will he immediately play 25 or 30 minutes? This will be definitely be something interesting to track over the course of the rest of the season as it makes sense to assume that Kerr will do a bit of experimenting in order to see where Cousins thrives most and which players he develops the best chemistry with, especially considering Kerr’s penchant for experimentation when it comes to lineups.

Will he be able to keep up with the pace?

Despite the Pelicans having the fastest pace in the NBA last season, Cousins has never been known as the speediest player in the NBA. Now, as he recovers from injury it makes some sense to wonder about how quickly he will be able to get up and down the floor from possession to possession. Will the opponents have more fastbreak opportunities or 5 on 4 chances as he tries to get back and will the Warriors have to wait to set up their offense as he recovers from a defensive stand? Also, back to the question of movement, how will he look defensively in general? Will he be hampered by a lack of mobility that will keep him from being effective rotating in the post or staying in front of anyone on the switch out of the pick and roll? The Warriors are a below average defensive team at the moment and if Cousins dramatically hurts them on that end, his offensive firepower may end up being more superfluous than an added bonus.

Where will the shots come from?

This was a question the Warriors faced when Kevin Durant joined the team in 2016 and it’s relevant again now. In the last four seasons, Cousins has never averaged less than 18 field goal attempts per game, but already the Warriors have three players taking more than that. Will Curry, Durant, and Thompson have to sacrifice shots for Cousins or will role players such as Shaun Livingston, Jonas Jerebko, and Alfonzo McKinnie see their scoring opportunities decrease? Most likely, the team will start out trying to immediately establish Cousins’ offensive presence before it turns into a constant negotiation for the next few weeks until some sort of pattern and equilibrium sets in. The problem for Cousins, though, is that he is not only trying to help the Warriors win, but also to show that he is worth a huge contract next summer so he has more reason to want to shoot and to score and to display his value than ever before — about a hundred million reasons in fact.

Next: Inside the state of the Warriors before DeMarcus Cousins’ debut

Will Cousins actually make the Warriors better?

On the surface, this question feels pretty silly. Cousins may be recovering from injury, but he’s still an All-NBA player at his best, and even if he’s just half of what he was last season, that still makes him an above average player. While I think there are some questions about his defense and his fit, I also believe Cousins raises the Warriors’ ceiling higher than it would be without him. While the Warriors already have the league’s best offense, his mere presence should open up more opportunities for everyone else on the team and it would not be surprising to see that offense become even better in the coming weeks. Of course, all of this comes with a massive health-related caveat. We likely won’t know for a few games exactly what Cousins is bringing to the table, but even if he never regains his All-NBA status, it seems certain that, due to his versatility and overall skill set, he will bring more to the table than Kevon Looney or Jordan Bell. However, if all goes well, though, and he makes a Dominique Wilkins-esque return from an Achilles injury, then the rest of the league is truly in deep trouble.

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