I’ve always been a huge X-Men fan, and one of the defining traits of the franchise’s classic characters is a fatal flaw connected to their power. Xavier has the most powerful mind in the world but cannot walk. Wolverine can heal from any wound but will outlive everyone he loves. Cyclops’ immense power brings leadership and focus when controlled but chaos and destruction when not.
The same could be said for DeMarcus Cousins.
Cousins is a player of exceptional talent known for his passion. That passion brings great basketball as well as remarkable charity work off the court. But it can also lead to foul trouble. He has led the league in technical fouls the past two seasons (and already notched another in Game 1 of this season–though later rescinded) and often finds himself in foul trouble relatively early. This profoundly affects his productivity in crunch time.
Tonight’s game in Sacramento — Cousins’ first in his former city since being traded to the Pelicans during the 2017 All Star game — could be particularly problematic. In August, he told The Undefeated that he was looking forward to his first game in Sacramento as a Pelican. “I just got a lot to get off my chest,” he told Marc Spears, “I can’t wait.”
That is hardly reassuring if you are concerned about Cousins avoiding foul trouble. And make no mistake; his team needs him. Between the left knee injury Anthony Davis sustained against Portland on Tuesday night, Omer Asik out indefinitely with Crohn’s disease, Alexis Ajinca out for four to six weeks with a knee injury, Dante Cunningham spending most of his time on the wing, and,prior to Portland, Cheick Diallo logging all of one minute this season (spoiler alert: he didn’t get any points, rebounds, assists, steals, or blocks in that minute), the Pelicans need every minute of Cousins they could get.
The Pelicans cannot take any possession — let alone game — for granted, and this season’s small sample size shows that the team is dramatically worse when Cousins is on the bench. The team’s current starting lineup of Holiday, Moore, Cunningham, Davis, Cousins posted a plus 7.3 on the back of 33.7 points and 16 rebounds over an average of 13.8 minutes. Every lineup without Cousins posts negative numbers, with points and rebounds falling to less than half. Even a lineup of Davis and Holiday surrounded by shooters (Clark, Crawford, and Miller) posted a minus 3.0. This team was clearly built to maximize the talent of Davis and Cousins together, and Cousins missing more minutes than usual due to foul trouble has an immense effect on the outcome of a game.
Like any great superhero, Cousins’ strength and weakness are two sides of the same coin. And just as we love to see heroes overcome their weaknesses to save mankind (or, as it were, mutantkind), we need Cousins to harness his passion and direct it toward inspired play and not costly fouls.