The Warriors haven’t struggled often over the past two and a half years, but there’s a common thread connecting the few times they have.
When the Grizzlies had Golden State against the ropes in 2015, a big reason was Marc Gasol playing the role of immovable object in the paint. Their offensive rating dropped 7.5 points from 114.5 in the regular season to 107 in the series.
Fast forward to the Finals that same year. Tristan Thompson and Timofey Mozgov combined for 50 offensive rebounds in the series. The entire Warriors team had 63. The Cavs almost bullied the Warriors out of a championship.
When the Thunder nearly beat the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals last season, they out rebounded Golden State by 35 for the series. Kevin Love’s 15 rebounds in Game 7 of the Finals alone is a major reason they lost that series.
As a general rule, when bad things do happen to the Warriors, a big man is usually involved. Their supposed kryptonite was a superstar center.
Now the Pelicans have two of them. And they fit about as well together as you could ever ask out of two big men.
Both Davis and Cousins are highly efficient near the basket. They both shoot over 60 percent within three feet of the hoop. But neither is a one-dimensional post scorer. Cousins takes only 32.6 percent of his shots within three feet of the hoop. Davis is even lower at 26.3 percent. Cousins is even turning himself into a legitimate three-point shooter: he makes over 35 percent on over five attempts per game. Davis isn’t quite as dangerous from long range yet, but he’s developed a dangerous mid-range game. His 46.6 percent field goal percentage on shots between 10-16 feet of the basket is higher than any single season in LaMarcus Aldridge’s career.
The defensive match is even better. Cousins is, at his core, a rim-protector. The Kings were just so bad defensively that they asked him to do more. That won’t be the case in New Orleans. Davis is the rangy super athlete who can chase down stretch-4s so Boogie doesn’t have to. And Cousins is one of the few defensive partners for Davis that makes that strategy viable. Had they traded for, say, Jahlil Okafor, it would’ve completely eliminated New Orleans’s advantage of having a shot-blocker at the rim. Cousins is already one of the top-20 shot blockers in the league, and now he’ll get to do it without focusing on as many other things defensively.
And the rebounding is going to be flat out ridiculous. Individually, neither Davis nor Cousins has ever averaged fewer than 10 rebounds per game in a season. That’s not even true of Cleveland’s two-headed rebounding dragon of Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson. Their combined rebound rate is lower than the Cleveland duo’s, but Cousins has led the league in defensive rebounding rate and Davis is always in the discussion. They’re going to beat just about everyone on the boards.
If you were to pick any two players not named LeBron James you’d want in a series against Golden State, the answer is probably Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins. Now they’re inexplicably on the same team.
The roster isn’t done by any stretch of the imagination. If they faced the Warriors in a series right now the Pelicans would lose. Badly. They need to lock Jrue Holiday up to a long-term contract extension. They need to find two wings that can shoot three-pointers, a daunting task considering they have almost no draft capital or financial flexibility to use in doing so and the shooting guard that was supposed to play that role is now a Sacramento King. And, they might even need to find to a new coach.
But the bones are there. Golden State has no answer for one star center, let alone two. Draymond Green is 6’7” on a good day. He’s not defending Boogie Cousins for an entire series. The over/under on points for Anthony Davis with Zaza Pachulia guarding him would start in the 40s. And like the Pelicans, the Warriors don’t exactly have much in the way of trade assets left to find a defensive center. What they have is likely the best it’ll ever get.
The job of knocking off the Warriors likely still falls to Cleveland or the Spurs this season. But the Pelicans are coming. Once they’ve built the rest of their roster around their two big men, no team in basketball will be better equipped to take down the Golden State juggernaut.