Welcome to our annual Clippers season in review series. Every day until the end of July, we’ll be taking a look back at the players who ended the season with the Clippers (apologies to Malik Fitts and Mfiondu Kabengele). Today, we continue with DeMarcus Cousins.
Name: DeMarcus Cousins
Years in the NBA: 11
Key stats: Cousins averaged 7.8 points and 4.5 rebounds in 12.9 minutes per game as a Clipper during the regular season with an effective field-goal percentage of 57.9. His minutes dropped to 8.3 per game in the playoffs, but he still notched 7.6 points and 2.0 rebounds in seven contests.
Future contract status: Cousins is a free agent.
Cousins played 25 games with Houston, reuniting with his good friend and college teammate John Wall, before being waived so he could join a playoff team. He landed with the Clippers on April 5 and signed two ten-day deals before earning a contract for the remainder of the season. After the first ten days, Cousins rotated with Patrick Patterson as the backup center when Serge Ibaka was hurt for the second half of the season.
During the playoffs, Cousins debuted in the second round when Ty Lue needed to stretch the rotation on short rest, and he played a similar role in the first two games of the conference finals. His minutes extended when Ivica Zubac got injured, but he still topped out at 14:28 in Game 6.
The four-time All-Star remains a talented offensive player. He had the highest effective field-goal percentage of his career with the Clippers (57.9) and was able to score both in the post and as a 3-point shooter. When defenses were forced to send help, Cousins was an effective passer out of doubles. He’s a good offensive rebounder and has active hands for steals, too.
The Clippers were able to deploy him on small backup centers as a bully in the paint, like against Dario Šarić in the playoffs, which worked to great effect. Cousins had his best game of the season in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals when he scored 15 points and added three assists, helping the Clippers avoid elimination. He also forced a steal on Chris Paul at the foul line that led to a fast-break bucket on the other end.
The Clippers were also able to use Cousins against beefier centers like Nikola Jokić during the regular season to provide some physical resistance in the post and also force them to have to defend Cousins on the other end.
The defense is still a problem for Cousins. He gets targeted in the pick-and-roll, as Paul demonstrated late in the conference finals, and he fouls a lot. The Clippers’ best lineups like to switch on defense, which is impossible with Cousins at the 5. The hope with Cousins is that he can outscore the opponent when he’s on the court, because other than drawing charges, he doesn’t offer a ton defensively. Cousins’ history of leg injuries has affected his conditioning, which prevents him from playing extended minutes.
Future with the Clippers:
The Clippers really enjoyed the DeMarcus Cousins experience. He got along with everyone and was a spark plug when he came in off the bench — his best scoring runs hyped up the team in a truly unique Cousins fashion.
With Serge Ibaka’s future in flux (he is coming off back surgery and has a player option), it would make sense for the Clippers to keep Cousins around as a backup big. He fits well with the team’s best players given his ability to operate in the pick-and-roll and make reads on offense; he’s never had this much space to work with, which has made him an even more efficient scorer than in his All-Star days. The Clippers can also scheme to make him playable defensively during the regular season even if his utility on that end diminishes in the playoffs.
There’s also the hope that Cousins continues to get in better shape as he gets healthier, since it’s been two years since his latest leg injury. It makes sense to keep him around if he wants to be in Los Angeles, since this team brought out the best in him and could use his talent going forward.