How the DeMarcus Cousins Trade Impacts the Pelicans and the Playoff Race
Sources: Kings agree to trade DeMarcus Cousins to Pelicans. @WojVerticalNBA report. https://t.co/PFbgwlmnLx pic.twitter.com/O2VqBwyyFM
— The Vertical (@TheVertical) February 20, 2017
At the cost of giving up just Tyreke Evans, Buddy Hield and Langston Galloway from their current roster (plus their first- and second-round picks in 2017), the Pelicans have added Cousins, a player who currently ranks 23rd in nERD. Cousins will join Davis to form perhaps the top frontcourt in the NBA as they make up two of the five players who are currently averaging at least 20 points and 10 rebounds per game.
The Pelicans now undoubtedly have two star players around which to build, but things are never that easy. How will this impact New Orleans going forward, and can the Pels -- who sit at 23-34, 2.5 games out of the 8 spot in the Western Conference -- make the playoffs?
How Will Davis and Cousins Fit?
Perhaps the biggest adjustment both players will have to make is learning how to play with each other.
Davis currently leads the Pelicans with a 32.5% usage rate, while Cousins is second in the NBA with an astounding 37.5% usage rate. Playing together, both guys will likely see less of the ball than they're used to, but Cousins currently has an assist rate of 28.0% this season, which is nearly 11% higher than his career average, so he's a willing passer.
It's worth noting that by trading Evans, New Orleans rid themselves of the only other player on their roster with a usage rate of more than 25% on the year. This certainly shows the team’s heavy reliance on Davis and point guard Jrue Holiday to initiate a lot of the offense for a team that averages just 103.4 points per game and ranks 27th with a 104.75 offensive rating.
A potential issue here could be the fact that Davis and Cousins like to work in the same area of the floor. On the season Davis is attempting 49.1% of his field goals from within 10 feet of the hoop, while Cousins takes 55.3% of his shots from the same area.
With that said, Cousins is actually taking 23.9% of his shots from the three-point arc and is shooting a respectable 35.6% from deep on the season, although Cousins will likely assume a more traditional center role with Davis -- who is shooting 30.6% from three-point land on 1.6 tries per night -- playing most of his minutes at power forward.
Seeing that New Orleans had one of the worst offenses in the league pre-Cousins, adding another supremely talented player is going to be a positive, even if it takes Davis and Cousins time to work out the kinks.
Defense May Also Improve
The Pelicans have been solid on defense this season as they are ninth in defensive efficiency with a rating of 107.3. Unsurprisingly, Davis leads the way there with a team-best 101 defensive rating, and AD ranks third among qualified power forwards in defensive real plus-minus.
Cousins isn't known for his defensive prowess, but he hasn't been too bad on the defensive end this season. Cousins led the Kings with a 105 defensive rating, and he ranks 54th among power forwards in defensive real plus-minus.
Boogie stands to be an upgrade defensively for New Orleans. Dante Cunningham and Terrence Jones, the Pelicans' other bigs who had been seeing significant minutes, sit 61st and 81st, respectively, in defensive real plus-minus among the 95 qualified power forwards.
It remains to be seen how the Pelicans' defense will change with both Davis and Cousins on the floor. Davis is one of the NBA's top rim protectors and is tied for the league lead (with Rudy Gobert) with 2.5 blocks per game, but he may have to defend away from the basket more with Cousins in tow.
What it all means
As of the All-Star break, the Pelicans sat 20th in the our team rankings, which are sorted by nERD. At 23-34, 2.5 games out of the 8 spot in the West, they faced an uphill climb to reach the playoffs, with our models giving them just a 3% chance of reaching the postseason.
However, with Cousins added to the equation, the Pelicans' odds have been significantly increased, although they still look like a longshot to make the playoffs.
The math is in: Boogie trade nets Pelicans +2 for the season, moves playoff odds from 3% to 18%. @WojVerticalNBA pic.twitter.com/45O2YS1nJK
— numberFire (@numberFire) February 20, 2017
Don't be surprised if New Orleans keeps dealing as the team is reportedly shopping Jones. The Pelicans just traded away two of the three players on their roster making over 1.1 three-pointers per game in Galloway and Hield. Three-point shooting is a necessity in today’s NBA, and in dangling Jones, the team may be able to add another strong role player who can knock down jumpers.
While this trade wasn't done with just this season in mind -- Cousins is signed through next year, and New Orleans will surely try to ink him to an extension -- the move does give the Pelicans a fighting chance at the playoffs this season.