Ever since the blockbuster trade for DeMarcus Cousins the Pelicans have been struggling, going 3-6 over the last 9 games. The fit has been awkward, and all three Pelican wins have come with Cousins either absent (due to a suspension he served while the Pelicans bested the Pistons) or sitting during a significant part of the game, as he did when he fouled out late in New Orleans win over the Lakers. However, it all came to a head last night, in the Pelicans thrilling win against the Hornets in overtime.
Anthony Davis, on his 24th birthday, put on quite a show against Charlotte. He poured in 46 points and piled up 21 rebounds in a whopping 45 minutes of playing time and was the go-to guy throughout the course of the game, especially late in the fourth quarter and overtime. However, his frontcourt mate DeMarcus Cousins only played 25 points, and didn’t reenter the game once he was subbed out for Davis with 9:25 left in the fourth. He finished with only 11 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, and 5 fouls.
Is there something wrong with the Cousins/Davis tandem?
At first glance (and second, and possibly third) it would be easy to chalk up the Pelicans struggles to the mismatched pairing of Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins. With Cousins on the Pelicans they are outscored by almost 11 points per 100 possessions. With him off the floor they zoom ahead to outscore opponents by almost 5 points per 100 possessions. When Cousins and Anthony Davis are matched up together it gets worse; The Pelicans barely manage to scrap up 91 points per 100 possessions with the two sharing time and they convert at an utterly miserable 41% from the field.
Oftentimes the floor seems cramped with the two on the floor (more on that in a bit). In their very first game together Cousins and Davis executed a perfect 4-5 pick and roll for an alley-oop, showcasing the versatility and danger of this twin duo working in sync. However since then the two have settled for a “your turn my turn” canter, looking seemingly uncomfortable sharing the ball around the pinch post area and below. Both can stretch the floor from three, but that is more of a tool to set up their more dominant offensive qualities; Davis being his killer mid-range game, Cousins with his ability to attack bigs off the dribble. The silver lining in this is that both Demarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis are used to being the sole offensive fulcrum for their team; sharing the ball with another dominant presence is a change for both of them, especially in mid-season. While the goal of making the playoffs may not be realized this year, the Pelicans will have a whole off-season and training camp to get more accustomed to Cousins and how to better integrate him into the Pelicans offense. However, New Orleans biggest weakness doesn’t lie on the twin towers..it’s the rest of the team.
The Pelicans supporting trash….I mean cast
Let’s face it, this Pelicans roster just isn’t a playoff lineup. Outside of Anthony, Cousins, and Jrue Holiday, New Orleans trots out… 76er castaway Hollis Thompson? The fearsome 9 points a game from E’twaun Moore? Dante Cunningham? $48 million dollar man Solomon Hill? (who is averaging 6.5 points and 3.7 rebounds). Jordan Crawford has been playing well for New Orleans (averaging 16 points and 4 assists in the 3 games he’s played this season). However that is an extremely small sample size and this is his first time back in the association in 3 years, so don’t take too much stock in that.
This supporting cast couldn’t anchor my college basketball team, much less an NBA team trying to climb the ladder to get into a hotly contested race for 8th in the playoffs. There is almost no outside shooting (The Pelicans as a whole shoot 32% from three) and next to no playmaking and creating off the dribble, which puts extra pressure on Holiday to manufacture points for almost everyone on the team not named Cousins and Davis. Because of this there really isn’t a spaced floor to help Cousins and Davis go to work in the post and play off of that. This has been an unspoken issue that has led to a lot of New Orleans issues, especially down the stretch in close games.
The Pelicans front office have their work cut out for them this offseason. They have to decide whether or not they want to keep Jrue Holiday (all indications suggest that they do). Alvin Gentry and Dell Demps have to wonder if they will still have their jobs at the end of this campaign. The Pelicans have GOT to secure some decent perimeter shooting to surround Davis and Cousins with for next season. Most importantly though, next year is the last year DeMarcus Cousins has under contract, and that leads to a looming financial decision for the Pelicans to make. Will they make the changes necessary to be able to invest $100 million in Cousins long-term? Will the all NBA twin towers team last more than a season and a half? It is still too soon to tell. But never too soon to think about. If I were New Orleans I’d start churning my gears, before this pairing turns into one of the greatest failures in NBA history.