In only his second career playoff game, DeMarcus Cousins injured his quad in a non-contact fall that will see him sidelined for the remainder of the 2019 NBA playoffs.
It will force the Golden State Warriors to reshape their entire playoff roster. NBL MVP and former championship centre Andrew Bogut is likely to assume a larger role. After only playing two minutes in game one, Bogut played 17 minutes in game two following Cousins’ departure.
But there are plenty of further implications to the Cousins injury that may change the course of Golden State’s championship hopes.
Who plays the majority of minutes at centre?
While Cousins hadn’t been finishing games, he still played a large role in their roster, giving them another option to score when a number of their players rested. To finish games, the Warriors will remain with their ‘Hamptons Five‘ lineup which features Draymond Green at the five position. But who will replace the starting centre minutes?
In game two, Bogut played 17 minutes, Kevon Looney played 20 and Green played more than any other starter with 37. Kerr even dusted off Jordan Bell and played him for three minutes.
Looney and Bogut will take on the bulk of Cousins’ minutes. Kerr has favored Looney in the past and started him at the five before Cousins returned from his first injury and after the Damian Jones starting experiment.
The starting lineup with Looney at centre played over 300 minutes together and outscored opponents by 16.9 points per 100 possessions according to basketball reference.
However, that was before the arrival of Bogut, who will start alongside Green in the frontcourt. The Aussie was picked up late in the season by Golden State after his NBL season ended. Only appearing in 11 games and playing just over 12 minutes a game, Bogut didn’t have a key role in the team.
The closing lineup will feature Green as the man in the middle, but a lot of pressure will be put on Bogut’s shoulders to also provide solid minutes with the second unit.
His role will be reminiscent of David West in previous seasons. A sturdy veteran who tried to slow the game down and make good plays.
West’s on-court numbers from last season support this; when he was on the court the Warriors offensive rating dropped from 117 to 106 but opponents offensive rating also dropped from 109.1 to 104.5, per basketball reference.
If Bogut can emulate the role West and other Warriors benches played in previous seasons, he can play a valuable role in the Warriors rotation once again. If he has deteriorated too much since his prime days, then maybe the team will have to look at other options in that time.
How does this affect a potential Rockets series?
Rockets fans worldwide should be smiling this week, not only because they’re taking care of business against Utah. But because their biggest opponent in the West has just dropped a game to the Clippers after being up by over 30 points and their starting centre will miss the rest of the playoffs.
When Cousins was signed by the Warriors, they added another scoring option in their already strong starting lineup, but more importantly, a low-post scorer that could bully smaller players down low.
While not shooting well from three, Cleaning the Glass rates him in the bottom-ten percentile in percentage of all threes made for big men (big men, not all positions) at 26 percent.
Conversely, Cousins was shooting 66 percent at the rim per Cleaning the Glass this season and gave the Warriors an option in the post that wasn’t there in the past. A natural counter to Houston’s ultra-small lineups that they used last playoffs. The lineup with P.J. Tucker at centre played just under an hour total last playoffs.
Forcing Bogut to play more should have James Harden and Chris Paul licking their lips, another big man they can try get switched onto and take for a dance.
The injury to Cousins might not swing the fate of the payoffs by a large margin but it definitely adds at least some favour towards the Rockets. Last time these two played in the playoffs it came down to a game seven in which any little bit of value would’ve helped.
This makes Cousins more likely to re-sign with the Warriors
The entire reason Cousins signed with the Warriors in the first place was because, coming off an Achilles injury his value was vastly deflated and when all the offers were equal, he signed with a team that gave him the best chance to win.
It’s hard to think that following this season, playing only 30 games and then falling victim to another season-ending injury, that he has a list of suitors waiting to sign his next long-term contract.
If there are no other offers on the table and Golden State run it back, title or no title, entering a new stadium, it’s feasible to see that Cousins could return for another minimum contract with the Warriors.
It all might depend on Kevin Durant’s upcoming free agency decision, if he leaves then the plan may be completely different.
Also notable is Looney’s unrestricted free agency this off-season and the decision the Warriors have about whether to pay him. Due to his likely increased exposure these playoffs, he may get quite the overpay for playoff performances (See Hill, Solomon in 2016).
All we have to do now is wait, wait to see how the Warriors react and what they do against Houston. How much can they only play Looney and Green at centre? Will it be enough?