DeMarcus Cousins’ first basket came on a made three-point field goal assisted by John Wall. The basket was his first of 14 points en route to a 125-104 preseason victory for the Houston Rockets. Cousins shot 75 percent and contributed to three of Houston’s 24 triples to showcase his versatility as a stretch big.
His offensive production against the Chicago Bulls was the prototypical play from a big man in 2020. But Cousins’ most significant impact on Houston’s offense took place four days later.
Late in the third quarter against the Spurs, Cousins collected a rebound off a miss by Eric Gordon. Instead of passing the ball to an open teammate out on the perimeter, Cousins took one dribble to score on the low block over two defenders.
A big man scoring from the low-post has become foreign for the Rockets in recent years. But Cousins will give the Rockets a chance to utilize the low block under new head coach Stephen Silas. He’s a true center who can make an impact from the inside amid a three-point shooting team.
“We will post-up with Cousins. Obviously, he is very effective down there. I am not afraid to get to the post-up game. When we get in the paint — closer to the basket — we don’t want post-ups off the lane line in the mid-range area. We want them two feet in the paint with the catch. If not, relativity close.” — Silas
Scoring from the low-post has always been Cousins’ forte since his rookie season in 2010. He evolved into a stretch big as the game moved further away from the basket, but maintained his expertise as a back-to-the-basket center.
In 2016, Cousins averaged 9.3 post-up touches, en route to averaging a career-best 26.9 points in Sacramento. At his best, Cousins was able to use his 6’11” body frame to bully his way past defenders. But since injuries may have hampered his athleticism, Silas can use Cousins’ scoring and basketball IQ as an inside threat.
This offensive possession below exhibits how Silas likely intends to implement post-up plays for Cousins.
Cousins received the entry pass from Jrue Holiday with Harrison Barnes sealed on the low-block. It took him two dribbles to convert a hook shot over Barnes. But what made this shot possible was the floor spacing of the Pelicans.
New Orleans had three long-range snipers standing around the arc. Anthony Davis arrived in the play late as a trailing big for the Pelicans. With Cousins’ teammates standing around the perimeter, the Mavericks did not commit a double-team until late. The extra spacing allowed Cousins to use the paint for an easy bucket.
Had Dallas committed to Cousins early, the four-time All-Star possesses the playmaking attributes to find a teammate for an open three-point basket. This type of spacing should be a nightly experience for Cousins in Houston.
In the clip above, Cousins’ passing was on full display. He failed to get past Andray Blatche and could have committed a turnover with C.J. Watson’s help. Instead of an empty possession, Cousins found Marcus Thornton for a three-point field goal for the Kings.
“He is very versatile. He can score from the block and is more comfortable with his three-ball. He has so many different dynamics to his game on the offensive end, which allows us more spacing.” James Harden
The last big man the Rockets had to operate from the low-post was Dwight Howard. Since his departure in 2016, Houston has all but omitted the low-block. Over the past four seasons, the Rockets have averaged 3.7 post-ups with 374.5 touches. In 2020, Houston registered 2.2 post-ups per game — their lowest in the post-Howard era.
But Houston’s playstyle reflects how the game has changed since Cousins entered the league over a decade ago. The league average post-up rate was 10.8 percent in 2010. This past season, the league’s post-up rate fell to 4.7 percent — according to The Ringer.
The 76ers, Lakers, Nuggets and Timberwolves used the low-post more than any team in recent years. And they will continue to place atop of the league with the contributions coming from their All-Star centers.
The Rockets once dominated the post with Hakeem Olajuwon, Moses Malone and Yao Ming. Houston will revert to utilizing the low-block with Cousins this coming season. On nights where Houston cannot buy a basket from beyond the arc, the Rockets can now go to the low-post with Cousins to give their offense a jumpstart.
“I feel like I can be a threat from anywhere on the floor. I pick and choose my spots where I am able to make plays, and I think I am a great fit for the system we have here in place. I’ve evolved my game with the evolution of the game.” — Cousins