DeMarcus Is A Band-Aid, Not An Answer

DeMarcus Cousins was a different player three years ago. He averaged 25.2 ppg for the New Orleans Pelicans, and 12.9 rebounds. He was an All-Star. Then came the injuries and Cousins has been a shell of himself, particularly this season. He’s shooting 37% after an ACL injury, but he still has a defensive presence. Boogie’s inability to finish off 50% of shots at the rim is the expected athleticism erosion. It’s familiar. His jump shooting which hovered around 35% in the best of times has descended to 32%. Boogie is 30 years old and is the 53rd best center (Real Plus-Minus). Three years ago, Cousins was the 24th ranked center.

Pragmatists look at the numbers and come to the conclusion that Cousins is at the near end of the near end.  Because his 20 minutes per game bear very little fruit, he is going to get a buyout. But is what we see of him all there is to see of Boogie?

The upside is a no-brainer. He’s a seven-footer who fills the lane. He still has a midrange shot that is effective and his defense is above average. On a team with championship hopes, Boogie has a strong locker room voice and if by some stroke of serendipity he winds up with the Lakers again, everyone will know everyone, no need for name tags.

The Lakers are desperate for help on multiple fronts. Letting both Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee go was a mistake because they don’t have a rim protector. Marc Gasol was old when they signed him in November and he’s older now. He can barely move. Gasol’s three-point offense and passing game helps somewhat but where the Lakers are treading water is where Gasol is useless: offensive rebounding.

Absent Anthony Davis, the Lakers are the team we saw in 2018. A lot of LeBron and a lot of ugh that induced a groin pull. After Anthony Davis, no one on the Lakers is skilled at one particular thing. No one is top 20 in the league at what they do.

Kyle Kuzma has been great as a defensive filler and he plays hard but his game still has limitations. Open shots that were there when AD and LeBron were on the floor together are now contested shots that Wes Matthews, Alex Caruso, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope cannot make. There was trouble brewing when the Lakers needed double overtime to defeat a 5-win Pistons team and consecutive overtimes to beat a young OKC team. The eye-test told a familiar story about one superstar and a bunch of below-average shooters.

The Lakers have lost 3 of their last 4 games, something that hasn’t happened since December of 2019 when they lost four games in a row to Indiana, Milwaukee, Denver, and the Clippers. The Lakers are the champions and get the benefit of the doubt. There isn’t a panic button.  But there are some red flags.

They play slow, 20th in the league in pace. Their offensive rating is 17th. The last time a title was one with that kind of mediocrity on the shot-making end of things was…well let me put it this way. No team has won a title with an offensive rating of 17th since LeBron James entered the league. The lowest offensive rating was the 2010 Los Angeles Lakers whose offensive rating was 11th, and last year’s Laker team copied that number.

Low (OR), Won Title Offensive Rating Scoring Rank
2019-20 Lakers 11th 11th
2009-10 Lakers 11th 12th
2011-12 Heat 8th 7th
2010-11 Mavericks 8th 11th
2004-05 Spurs 8th 18th

   2020-21 Lakers                                      17th                                                              18th

Of LeBron’s 18 years of NBA service, only 5 NBA champions posted an offensive rating lower than 12th and higher than 7th which means 70% of champions have an offensive rating that is close to top-5. The best offensive team in the LeBron era was the Warriors who had the best offensive rating in the 2016-17 season.

No one imagines (unless they are dreaming or drunk) that Boogie Cousins will take the Lakers to that rare air but he can still hit his mid-range shot which no one on the Lakers seems interested in attempting. Anthony Davis is the best mid-range shot-maker on the team and he is out. Because Davis is such a threat inside the perimeter, he changes the defense.

Absent Davis, the coverage is pretty simple. Double LeBron. Contest the three. Make reluctant shooters have to score. It’s been effective. The Lakers have not had an answer because they didn’t anticipate a Davis injury (like hello, Davis has been injured his entire career, except for last season.)

Can Boogie fix the Lakers offensive rebounding problems? They miss a lot of threes but can’t rebound misses. He has a better chance of helping in that area than he does on the defensive perimeter. The Lakers miss Rondo and their lack of steals per game have slowed down their offense. It affects the ability to fast break and finish in the open court.  More half-court sets have evened the playing field so the Lakers athleticism and speed advantage are negated.

A lot will change when Dennis Schröder returns. He sets the tempo, is a scorer that has to be accounted for, and controls the offense to give LeBron a break. He doesn’t have an adequate backup, someone who can manage tempo and create their own shot and assist others. Without him and without Anthony Davis the Lakers are average. LeBron and a bunch of guys.

Rob Pelinka hit some home runs in the off-season. Can he do it again when the pressure is on to fix the Lakers troubles and quickly.   You don’t need a shaman to tell you the Lakers have gotten worse offensively and it matters.