DeMarcus Cousins is on the New Orleans Pelicans. It’s been a couple weeks since it happened, but the sentence still feels weird coming out of your mouth, or off your typing fingers. The league’s most dominant offensive big man since Shaquille O’Neal has a new home, and it’s not where anyone expected it to be, even as rumours about his future constantly swirled, lo these past two seasons.
At 26 years old, and the height of his powers, he’s been paired with the Brow, Anthony Davis, who is set to turn 24 years old just next week. It’s the type of big man pairing — in terms of pure talent — the league hasn’t seen since David Robinson and Tim Duncan in the late 90’s.
And even then, Robinson was in his early 30’s and past his peak. These two superstars are arguably both right smack dab in the middle of their primes.
Can Alvin Gentry and the Pelicans staff figure out a way to make it work?
So far the answer isn't ‘no’ it’s just ‘not yet’. The Pelicans are 2-5 since Cousins joined the team, and just 1-5 with him on the floor. Point guard Jrue Holiday gives them a decent tertiary option, but beyond him the well runs almost completely dry. New Orleans is still fighting for the eighth seed in the Western Conference, and with Cousins and Davis, could give any top seed a physical load to handle in the first round, even if they don’t win a game. It’s not like they have nothing to play for. But it’s increasingly feeling like they’ll be players in free agency over the summer, looking to surround their twin towers with talent before trying to convince Cousins to stay put as a free agent.
But wait, this is a Raptors blog.
Toronto heads to New Orleans tonight to take on this Pelicans squad, which is talented, but in flux. Here are your keys to the game.
The Twin Towers
While the Pelicans have struggled as a team since Cousins joined, both he and Davis have been getting their numbers.
Cousins: 44.8%/29.6%/83.7%, 21.7 points, 14.2 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.8 blocks
Davis: 50.0%/30.1%/80.0%, 28.1 points, 11.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.2 steals, 2.3 blocks
As you can see, Cousins has adjusted his game back inside, and his rebound numbers have spiked massively since his arrival in Louisiana. He was averaging just 10.7 rebounds per game with the Sacramento Kings this season, his lowest per game mark since 2012-13. His scoring has taken a bit of a hit as well, as he’s dipped significantly from the 27.8 points per game he was averaging prior; it’s worth noting that his field goal attempts are down from 20.3 to 16.0 per game.
So how will Toronto answer this? Their best lineups of late have featured Serge Ibaka at the centre position, which doesn’t seem like an ideal match-up against the size and versatility of the Pelicans front-court. The Raptors ability to win this game will lean heavily on their ability to stop or slow one, if not both of these behemoths.
That brings us to our next point.
Is His Name Still Jonas?
The Raptors starting centre has shot 65.7% from the field since the acquisitions of Ibaka and P.J. Tucker. He’s playing even more efficiently than his normal self, (which is usually extremely efficient). He’s also seen his minutes droop to only 19 per game, while Tucker has played 24.5 minutes. I think most Raptors fans thought those numbers would be reversed, with Tucker providing situational play off the bench as a tenth man, and JV getting to play more minutes next to Ibaka.
The problem though, is this:
Raptors w/ Ibaka at PF (w/ JV, LN or JP): -15.1 NetRtg in 103 min.— John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) March 5, 2017
Raptors w/ Ibaka at C: +22.7 NetRtg in 108 min: https://t.co/BWjWaGXHew
It’s a small sample size to be sure, and I’m not saying Valanciunas should be kept in his current reduced role. But I am saying that playing Ibaka a lot of minutes at centre makes sense (clearly).
With that said, tonight is a match-up where JV needs to earn his money, even if Cousins has previously stolen it from him on the playground.
Since the trade with the Kings, the Pelicans have somehow become a worse defensive rebounding team, allowing 13.1 offensive rebounds per game, the second worst mark in the league. It’s time for Jonas and his 3.9 offensive rebounds (per 36 minutes) to eat.
Shoot Your Shot
With DeMarre Carroll still listed as a day to day with the ankle sprain he suffered last week, the Raptors are looking mighty thin, in terms of three point shooting, at least on paper. But if you look a little closer you’ll see something encouraging:
Serge Ibaka: 2.2/4.8, 44.8%
P.J. Tucker: 0.5/1.3, 42.9%
DeMar DeRozan: 0.8/2.0 41.7%
Patrick Patterson has still struggled, shooting just 28% from deep since the roster re-set, but the rest of the Raptors squad is picking up the slack. The Pelicans have been a good defensive team all season, with a top-6 defense against both opponent field goal percentage and three point percentage — that hasn’t changed yet since the Cousins trade. However, they do give up 10.3 three point makes per game, a bottom six mark, meaning the three point shot is there if you want it.
To sum up: stop one of the big guys, big game from Jonas and shoot a bunch of (open) three’s.
Get it done fellas, there’s a big back-to-back looming this weekend and it’d be nice to go in 1-0.
Where to Watch: Sportsnet One, 8pm EST