The Kings are more talented this season. But when DeMarcus Cousins is unavailable, no grouping of teammates can fill the void.
After missing four games because of a strained right Achilles’ tendon, Cousins returned to the starting lineup Monday night against the San Antonio Spurs at Sleep Train Arena.
Cousins played in the season’s first three games, and the Kings averaged 115 points and beat the Los Angeles Lakers for their only win. During the center’s absence, their point production dipped to 97.5 per game.
Without Cousins, the offense stagnated, especially in the halfcourt. Defenses crowded the Kings’ No. 2 offensive weapon, Rudy Gay, because they didn’t fear Sacramento’s other options. The Kings’ defense also lacked the edge Cousins brings.
“There’s no question your biggest and most talented player is powerful,” Kings coach George Karl said.
The team’s field-goal percentage went from 45.9 percent to 43.5 percent without Cousins. Rebounds per game fell from 51.3 to 39.0, and the rebounding differential dropped from plus-11.3 to minus-7.5.
97.5 Kings’ scoring average during DeMarcus Cousins’ four-game absence, a 17.5-point drop
Entering Monday, Cousins led the Kings in usage rate – the percentage of a team’s possessions used by a player – at 35.3 percent. The metric uses statistics such as field-goal and free-throw attempts and turnovers. Cousins makes 27.6 percent of the Kings’ shots and draws 48.8 percent of their fouls when he’s on the floor.
“Cuz plays both inside and outside,” Karl said. “He plays at the elbows. We have a lot of options where we delegate him as our playmaker. I don’t think I have any trust in any of the other guys to get the ball to them as much as we get it to DeMarcus.”
The Kings did score 110 points Friday against the Houston Rockets, but the points were much tougher to come by. When Gay is in the post, for example, defenses collapse on him, making him work even harder to try to score.
Even during Cousins’ four-game absence, Sacramento found some easy looks, thanks partly to Rajon Rondo getting in the lane to score or set up teammates. But with Cousins back, the offense should function better.
“We’re doing a good job of still scoring in the paint, but (we miss Cousins in) controlling the paint and getting a little more flow,” Karl said. “I think we miss his passing, too. We miss his rebounding and his passing.”
There’s no question your biggest and most talented player is powerful.
Kings coach George Karl, on center DeMarcus Cousins
When Cousins is in the paint, the Kings aren’t as easy to push around inside. He grabs 40.2 percent of the Kings’ rebounds and blocks 60 percent of their shots when he’s on the court.
Karl said defensive rebounding and outlet passing are two of Cousins’ greatest strengths and allow the center to help initiate the offense. But as soon as it was confirmed the injury would sideline Cousins more than one game, Karl expressed concern about the defense regressing.
Cousins isn’t a prolific shot blocker, but he is adept at being in the right spot and drawing charges by beating opponents to their spots on the floor.
“I think the influence of his defense (is missed), just because he has a knack of controlling the paint,” Karl said. “I think Kosta (Koufos) and Willie (Cauley-Stein) have done a good job. With (Cousins), I think we’ll be a lot better. And defensive concepts, I think our pick-and-roll defense will go up a slot or two with his experience.”