DeMarcus Cousins is done for the season with a ruptured Achilles tendon, an injury that seems unfair for a young man in the midst of the best season of his career and on pace to play in his first NBA postseason. Unfortunately, he’ll have to wait at least one more season to make his postseason debut, and he has a long offseason of rehab and work ahead of him. Condolences to the man known as Boogie.
How does Cousins’ absence affect the fantasy basketball landscape moving forward? To answer that question, let’s take a look at what Cousins was providing for the Pelicans and what their options might be for trying to replace those contributions.
Cousins’ production is at or near the top of every statistical category for the Pelicans. He’s second on the team with 25.4 points per game (Anthony Davis, 26.5 PPG), first in rebounds with 12.9 RPG, second in assists with 5.2 APG (Rajon Rondo, 7.4 RPG), second with 1.6 blocks per game (Davis 2.0 BPG), and first with 1.6 steals per game.
He also took the most shots (18.1 FGA) and averaged 46.9 FG%, which ranks fourth among Pelicans starters — Davis is first at 55.6 FG%. Cousins also shot the most free throws (8.3 FTA) and averaged 74.8 FT% (fourth among starters, Davis is first at 82.0 FT%). And, by far, he led the team in turnovers (5.0 TO) with almost twice as many as second place (Jrue Holiday, 2.6 TO).
Thus, the Pelicans will need several players to step up in order to try to fill this huge hole in their lineup. Do they have the personnel to do this?
To get some insight into what the team can do without Cousins in the lineup, let’s take a look at what they’ve done during the six games Davis has missed, since they have similar roles and Boogie had yet to miss a game this season.
Davis missed full games on October 26, Dec 2, Dec 4, Dec 6, Dec 11 and Jan 10. In those six games, these were the counting stat averages for the other primary rotation players for the Pelicans:
DeMarcus Cousins (six games): 31.8 PPG, 14.4 RPG, 4.7 APG, 1.2 SPG, 1.9 RPG, 4.7 TO, 2.8 3PG
Jrue Holiday (six games): 24.5 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 6.0 APG, 1.4 SPG, 0.5 RPG, 2.0 TO, 2.0 3PG
Rajon Rondo (five games): 12.0 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 8.6 APG, 0.8 SPG, 0.0 RPG, 2.6 TO, 2.0 3PG
E’Twaun Moore (six games): 20.7 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 2.2 APG, 0.5 SPG, 0.2 RPG, 2.5 TO, 3.8 3PG
Dante Cunningham (five games): 8.2 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 0.8 APG, 0.8 SPG, 0.4 RPG, 3.2 TO, 1.2 3PG
Darius Miller (last five games): 8.6 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 2.2 APG, 0.6 SPG, 0.2 RPG, 0.6 TO, 1.8 3PG
I take away a few things from this data:
1. Davis and Cousins operate on similar usage when both are healthy, but Cousins’ usage (32.3 USG%) was actually a bit higher than Davis’ (27.7 USG%) because Cousins does more distributing and Davis is more of a finisher. But since both alternate between the same two positions and operate out of similar areas of the court, we should be able to make good, if slightly conservative, models for what will happen with Cousins sidelined, based on Davis’ absences.
2. All four other starters lifted their production significantly in the games that Davis sat. Cousins went from fantasy “All-NBA” level to “fantasy MVP” level, Holiday moved into fantasy “All-Star” level, and both Rondo and Moore became very legitimate fantasy starters in Davis’ absences.
3. Cunningham (25.4 minutes per game) and Miller (32.2 minutes per game) both got more minutes when Davis sat. Cunningham stepped up his game, but still only to fringe roster-able level. Miller played starter minutes off the bench, but his overall production didn’t change much from his season averages.
I’ve had many people ask me on Twitter (follow me @ProfessorDrz) who I expect to take Cousins’ spot in the lineup for the Pelicans, or who I think will step up in his absence. The results here help indicate that those are two different questions, with two different answers.
My expectation is that Cunningham (available in 98.1 percent of leagues) may be the one to move into the starting lineup, because defensively, his length and mobility are necessary for the Pelicans. Miller (available in 97.4 percent of leagues) is the better shooter/scorer, though, and thus is the more likely to get more run overall and likely put up better numbers than Cunningham. Neither project to post big fantasy stats, and they should be considered only as speculation adds in deep league.
However, the big fantasy beneficiaries on the Pelicans appear to be the other four starters. As long as he stays healthy, Davis projects as very arguably the best fantasy producer in the game moving forward. I suspect that he may vault into the top spot on my rest-of-season points-based rankings on Tuesday, because the ceiling has come off of his potential production.
I would absolutely trade for Holiday right now if I could get him at the value level that he has established on the season, because all indications are that he has more production capacity, and he has shown an ability since moving to the shooting guard slot to play tremendously well off of a dominant big. Now that Cousins’ shots are available, Holiday looks like a heavy-volume scorer himself moving forward.
Rondo (available in 50.3 percent of leagues) is always the enigma, because he just hasn’t gotten consistent opportunity on the court. However, he has shown this season that he can produce when called upon, and with Cousins out, the Pelicans likely will need Rondo’s volume and ability to run the team to take pressure off of Holiday, so that he can be the second primary scorer and also help Davis on the glass. Rondo also is a veteran with a championship pedigree and gives the Pelicans a third strong veteran to help them keep the ship moving in the right direction as they try for the postseason.
Finally, Moore (available in 85.6 percent of leagues) has shown that he can score 20 points consistently and knock down the deep ball at a solid clip when given the shots. With Rondo and Cunningham getting more minutes for their non-scoring contributions, it opens things up for Moore (and to a lesser extent Miller) to fill in as the third shooter/scorer on the court with the main unit.
All told, Cousins’ absence is a shame for him and the Pelicans as a team. However, it serves as an opportunity that likely improves the fantasy stock of each of the main rotation players on the team — especially the starters — moving forward. Barring the Pelicans making a big trade, which their strapped salary cap status makes unlikely, I now have all four of their other regular starters solidly in the “trade for/acquire” column on my player-values ledger.