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Boogie Back: Four Questions About DeMarcus Cousins’s Return

Will Cousins be able to keep up with the Warriors’ pace? Can Golden State handle a fifth All-Star starter?

Elias Stein/Getty Images

Golden State is good at making history. They’re efficient, one might say. They lead the league in leading the league. The Warriors never go too long without a new landmark, be it Klay Thompson’s 14 3-pointers in one game, or the record for most points scored in an opening quarter, which they set Tuesday against Denver. The Warriors dropped 51 points in 12 regulation minutes, went on to win 142-111, then chased the victory by talking about their next bit of history-making: The Warriors will be the first team to play five All-Stars from the previous season since the 1975-76 Celtics when DeMarcus Cousins logs his first minutes as a Warrior on Friday against the Clippers.

“Hopefully,” Draymond Green said after the game, “it’s devastating for everybody else.” What is a 51-point quarter against the former top seed in the West, if not devastation? Yet the Warriors have never cared much for considering what it means to go too far. This is the team, after all, that signed Kevin Durant one year removed from a championship. On Friday, the super in super team will carry even more weight. The four All-Stars—Steph Curry, Durant, Thompson, and Green—will become five. Boogie’s back.

Cousins was averaging 25.2 points and a career-high 12.9 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game with New Orleans when he tore his left Achilles tendon—an especially worrisome injury for big men. Come the offseason, the Pelicans didn’t offer Cousins a long-term contract, not wanting to give a huge guarantee to a player with a red flag hanging over him. So the Warriors swooped in and used their $5.3 million taxpayer mid-level exception to sign him to a deal both knew wouldn’t be revisited after this season. Golden State won’t have the budget for Boogie next year, but also had nothing to lose (except pace and perhaps chemistry); he has four months to prove himself and 29 teams to prove himself to.

Here are four questions going into his return:

How will Cousins’s game fit with the Warriors?

For the first time in his career, Cousins won’t be a first, second, or even third option on offense. “I won’t be taking as many shots as I have in the past,” he said in anticipation of the game. In his first year with Golden State, Durant averaged his fewest points per game since his rookie season. Cousins will likely see an even greater drop-off—especially considering his injury—but he can maximize his proficiency in the post in an offense as spread out as Golden State’s.

Cousins is one of the game’s elite centers, with the ability to be an inside-out threat. He can score inside, he’s a post threat, he shoots a 33.8 percent mark from 3, and he can act as a ball handler. If everything goes right, Boogie could help the Warriors unlock another level, putting five floor-spacers on the court at once. “We haven’t had a player like him before, so it will be new,” Steve Kerr said. “It won’t be a simple ‘plug him in and he’ll fit right in.’ We’ll play through him some, so there will be a period where we have to adapt. Fortunately, we’re halfway through the year. We have a lot of games to figure this out.”

How will the Warriors change to fit Cousins?

When Durant came to the Bay, he replaced Harrison Barnes’s role in the lineup. But this era of the Warriors has never had a center as capable as peak Cousins, and they’ll have to adjust some to fit around him.

The most dramatic change to expect from the Warriors will be game speed—Golden State is currently in the top 10 in pace. “We’re gonna have to slow it down some,” Durant said in November. “That’s what makes us unique and great players on this team. We got guys that can adapt to any situation. So if we gotta slow it down for a quarter and throw it to DeMarcus and let him work and move off of him and play off of him, then why not? All of us can do it.”

The five-spot has been an annual afterthought. (RIP, Andrew Bogut, Zaza Pachulia, Festus Ezeli, and JaVale McGee.) Kerr is fielding two of the greatest shooters and one of the greatest scorers in history in Curry, Thompson, and Durant. Because of this, an insignificant amount of their possessions end with a big. Kerr doesn’t need a center to be hyperinvolved as a scorer; he needs spacing and passing. Cousins can do both of those things, but his presence will require some adjustment.

How much will Cousins play?

Kerr told reporters that Cousins will start on Friday, but hasn’t specified a minutes limit. “Everything’s on the table. We have to figure out what the rotations will look like, how many minutes he can play,” Kerr said. “We’ll have to play around with the minutes, the combinations, the sets.”

What are the concerns around Cousins?

Health is the most looming question. Achilles tears can ruin careers (Chauncey Billups and Anderson Varejao come to mind), especially for someone Boogie’s size. He may never return to the Cousins of old, and even if he does, it likely won’t happen overnight. How in shape he is will also determine how playable he is, especially considering the other Warriors could’ve run laps around him even before the injury. A clear counterattack for other teams would be using Golden State’s OG medicine against them: Go small. Match Cousins against someone more limber and agile than the average center. Cousins has a spotty record as a defender, and if he’s exploitable on that end of the floor, it may not matter what he brings on offense.