The two didn’t run it much, but when they did, it was golden.
There were a lot of reasons to get excited about the New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings deal that sent DeMarcus Cousins to the Big Easy: Cousins finally escapes the post-apocalyptic wasteland that is the Kings organization, the Pelicans seemingly stealing the All-Star big man by only giving up Buddy Hield, a first rounder, and some auxiliary pieces, and the freeing of Sacramento’s young frontcourt talent.
But all of that paled in comparison to the new, awesome reality of an Anthony Davis and Boogie Cousins tag-team duo. Two MVP-caliber players uniting to dominate the paint like a new-age David Robinson and Tim Duncan. How would they adapt? Where would they play in relation to each other? What types of wrinkles would they add to each other’s games?
In particular, the thought of a potential Brow-Boogie pick and roll seemed the most tantalizing. With Davis’s ball-handling chops from his younger (and smaller) days growing up as a guard and Cousins’ understated passing ability, it felt like both would be able to produce in either pick and roll position.
In 17 games, there’s been few pick and rolls between the two, but there have been flashes of what we might be in store for next season.
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Statistically, neither Davis nor Cousins is proficient as the ball handler in the pick and roll. Cousins is more frequently a ball handler and has produced 0.85 points per possession (PPP) in that role in 17 games for the Pelicans, according to stats provided by the NBA. He ranks in the 64th percentile for all ball handlers, which, for a guy who’s 6-11 and 270 lbs., is not half bad. For Davis that points per possession number is lower at 0.74 in 75 games.
As roll men, they are starkly different. Cousins creates 0.89 PPP on a much more regular basis (nearly 15% of all Cousins plays he is the roll man). Davis, on the other hand, is in the 68th percentile as the roll man. He scores 1.11 PPP and in nearly 25% of the plays which involve him he as the roll man.
This bodes well for pick and rolls where Cousins handles the rock and Davis cuts to the basket. And indeed, that has been the most successful pick and roll combo for the two.
I found four instances of Cousins-to-Davis pick and roll assists, and all of them look fairly similar. Each involves a light screen in which Davis slips to the basket, sealing off the defender who just switched onto him.
In one example, Davis’ agility allows him to dart to the basket while Harrison Barnes and Dirk Nowitzki switch on defense. Then, Davis uses his size and positioning to keep Barnes on his back and move towards the front of the rim, where Wesley Matthews was waiting in a help position. But Davis at 6‘10 towers over the 6‘5 Matthews and is able to sky for the well-placed pass and draw a foul on Matthews.
Another nearly identical sequence occurred against the Minnesota Timberwolves in mid-March and again against the Memphis Grizzlies two nights later.
Via Kevin O’Connor/The Ringer
Against the Wolves, we see a similar play as was run against the Mavs. Davis sets another light screen and slips, sealing off the smaller Gorgui Dieng before racing to the rim to easily finish a well-placed lob from Cousins.
Against the Grizzlies, however, there’s more substance. Davis sets “more” of a screen (he makes minimal contact, but considering he doesn’t slip this one, it constitutes as “more”). This gives Cousins more time to read and react. Considering Troy Daniels and Brandan Wright didn’t allow Davis a free path to the basket like in the previous examples, Cousins improvised, driving into the teeth of the defense. This sucked not only Wright, but also Daniels and Zach Randolph into the lane, giving Davis the running room needed to put away another easy lob.
Boogie flexes in celebration as he should. Wright is all over him, giving him nearly no room to make the pass to Davis. Yet Cousins finds just enough room over the outstretched arm of Wright to send the ball into Davis’ orbit.
The pair ran another successful pick and roll against the Denver Nuggets in early April.
Cousins’ soft touch is on full display as he arcs a gorgeous lob to Davis, who again slipped the screen for a free rim run. Denver’s help defense doesn’t get there quick enough and New Orleans made them pay.
In that same game the two reversed roles with Davis as the ball handler and Cousins as the pick setter.
Also via me
Boogie dribbles and hands off to Davis, who is one of the most proficient players in the league off handoffs. He scores a whopping 1.49 PPP (!!) on an effective field goal percentage of 71.8 percent (!!!), ranking him in the 99.6th percentile. He uses the screen from Cousins and turns the corner for an energetic slam. You can also see that Cousins seems to have a lane to the basket as the roll man, but upon seeing Davis drive to the middle stops abruptly to give his teammate more space to work with.
The Boogie and Brow experiment is over for this season. But after the two struggled together to start, the pair of former Kentucky stars have begun to mesh well together. The team went 10-13 since acquiring Cousins, but went 10-9 before a four-game skid. The glimpse we got of the two, especially their tantalizing pick and roll opportunities, was just enough to satisfy this year. With a full offseason ahead, let’s hope the two get more creative in their pick and roll play.
Edited by Joe Sparacio.
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