DeMarcus Cousins is heating up, but he’s a completely different player

Four-time NBA All-Star big man DeMarcus Cousins has recently moved into the starting lineup for the Houston Rockets and the results have been fascinating.

Cousins is coming off a torn left Achilles (January 2018), a torn left quad (April 2019) and a torn ACL (August 2019). At times, he said, he thought that his career may have been over. After the immense challenges that he has faced over the last three years, Cousins is now finally back in the mix as a contributor for an NBA team.

One thing to understand about Cousins is that before this season, according to Cleaning the Glass, his usage rate has ranked in the 98th percentile or higher among big men during each season of his career. That means that when Cousins has been on the court, regardless of the team, the offense has run through him.

This season, his usage rate (26.3 percent) is a career-low from the 30-year-old center. But despite the injuries, that mark still ranks in the 91st percentile among players at his position, even higher than the likes of Anthony Davis, Pascal Siakam, Domantas Sabonis and Zion Williamson.

As he adjusts back to the pace of an NBA offense, though, this has been the least efficient version of Cousins that we have ever seen from him thus far. For example, his field goal percentage (34.0 percent) since joining Houston is significantly below his career average (45.9 percent) from the floor.

This has been most apparent when he has attempted to make an impact near the basket. He is currently just 16-for-48 (33.0 percent) within five feet of the basket, which is currently the worst mark of any player who has recorded at least 25 attempts in that zone.

Cousins, whose shot has been blocked at the rim more often than he had in any previous season, has been no match for his opposing defenders when he meets them down low. He knows he still has plenty of ways he can get back to his previous style.

The most glaring example of his shortcomings came on January 22 against the Detroit Pistons.

This was one of the first games that Victor Oladipo played with Houston and it was just the second time Cousins appeared in the starting lineup after the recent injury to Christian Wood.

Cousins rolled to the basket on five pick-and-roll possessions during that match, via Synergy, though he missed all five attempts. Overall, he was 2-for-16 from the floor.

Clearly, as he continues his recovery, there are still some kinks that Cousins needs to work out as he and Houston become more familiar with one another. So how was the big man able to 47 points over his most recent two games for the Rockets?

When they faced in-state rival Dallas Mavericks on Saturday, he scored 28 points. It tied the most amount of points that Cousins had scored in a single game since January 22, 2018.

The first thing you need to know is that he connected on four attempts from beyond the arc, including pick-and-pops with John Wall and Eric Gordon. The big also had a couple of spot-up possessions for some catch-and-shoot jumpers.

Aside from being in the right position for a few putbacks, which weren’t drawn for him, the only score that he had near the rim was a post-up from the left block.

Then against the Wizards on Tuesday, his scoring mostly came when shooting on screening actions. He received multiple screen assists from PJ Tucker, who put Cousins in the position to get more open looks. Most folks will remember the beautiful step-back he hit for three when they think about this game.

Near the end of the game against Washington, he got an easy bucket by spotting up in the corner by spotting up in the right corner and connected after a drive-and-kick from Oladipo. He finished with 19 points and only one bucket coming in the paint.

Cousins, a draft lottery selection in 2010, didn’t become a threat from the three-point range until 2015. We knew he could shoot, as he averaged more than two connections per game on his three-pointers during his time with the New Orleans Pelicans.

After 13 games so far this season, however, it has ultimately turned into the primary source of his offense. Approximately half of his attempts have come from beyond the arc, per Cleaning the Glass. His previous career-high was 30 percent in 2017-18.

While he was slow out of the gates for the Rockets, he has looked a lot more comfortable over the last few games. The main reason for this is he has started to change the way he plays, which could be good long-term news for the trajectory and longevity of his career.

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