COLLEGE PARK, Maryland — DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis will take the court Thursday night for their first game as teammates, bringing together two young, high-scoring big men in the prime of their careers.
In past decades, when the NBA focused more on paint play, teams frequently fielded two talented big men; think Amar’e Stoudemire and Shaquille O’Neal on the 2008-2009 Phoenix Suns or Washington Bullets greats Elvin Hayes and Mitch Kupchak in 1978-79. But Cousins and Davis have the potential to become the highest-scoring big-men combo in NBA history, at a time when a “twin towers” approach has become less common.
If Davis and Cousins can maintain the points-per-game numbers they put up on the Sacramento Kings (Cousins) and the Pelicans (Davis) before joining forces, they will combine for 55 points per game on average, the most by any front-court duo in NBA history, a Capital News Service analysis found.
The duo’s offensive prowess could also help them post one of the highest win-share totals for a pair of big men.
Will Davis and Cousins both be able to maintain their elevated scoring levels on the Pelicans? Perhaps not. Both Davis and Cousins have scored a lot of points this season in part because they have high usage rates, indicative of a player who puts the team on his back offensively instead of stepping back to let his teammates score.
Cousins’ and Davis’ usage rates this season are both in the top 10 for all players, and in the top 10 all-time for big men. With Cousins on the floor for the Sacramento Kings this season, nearly four in 10 plays ended with him shooting or losing the ball. For Davis and the Pelicans, the usage rate was closer to three in 10.
If the trends continue, the duo’s combined usage rate would be 70 percent, and it may not be possible for both men to continue to post high numbers. To put their play into perspective, big men Marcin Gortat and Hilario Nene had a combined 44.2 percent usage rate for the Wizards in 2013. Only by adding superstar point guard John Wall’s 2013 production does the combined usage rate approach 70 percent.
If Cousins’ and Davis’ usage rate remains high, it’s possible they will become the highest-scoring big-men duo of all time. But will they win? Cousins’ career history suggests a reason for caution.
His usage rate has steadily climbed each year. For the last three seasons, he has posted a usage rate higher than any big man in NBA history at the same age. This includes players like Shaquille O’Neal, who set usage rate records while winning four NBA championships.
But for Cousins, a high usage rate has not translated into wins for his team. Cousins has three of the top five usage seasons for big men in NBA history, while playing on one of the league’s least successful teams.
Yes, Cousins has been on a bad team for his entire career, so perhaps it’s not his fault for failing to push his team to the playoffs while putting up superstar numbers. But other top players have done more with less. Will teaming up with Davis help correct his losing ways? Only time will tell.