Predicting the NBA awards during the offseason is always tough to get right, but everyone loves whacking together a few bold predictions to see how wrong they are this time next year.
Yesterday in Minnesota, DeMarcus Cousins was equal parts mesmerising and brutal, the improbable mix of his balletic footwork and towering, rampaging physicality shining through.
He gets the ball in semi-transition, strides up court modestly but with the vague hint of almost boyish excitement, and then goes to work, barrelling his way to the rim with momentous twirls, laying the ball in over Gorgui Dieng, made to look and surely feel utterly powerless.
And yet, there is the other Cousins, the Cousins that looks completely uninterested and detached, emotionally removed from the game after Aaron Brooks of all people has managed to get in his head. He doesn’t box out and he never runs back in transition, floating in a useless nowhere region of the court, as his man Karl-Anthony Towns charges unimpeded towards the offensive glass for the easiest put-back dunk of his life.
Cousins’ apathy is infectious. When someone is that good, and that much of a focal point, their personality becomes the team’s personality.
And right now, the Pelicans are Cousins’ team. He takes the most shots, uses the most possessions and has the majority of the offence run through him. His reactions are the ones that the crowd and the commentators react to. Anthony Davis is the best player on the Pelicans, but this is not Anthony Davis’ team.
But then again, even before Cousins got there it never really felt like Davis’ team. What does an Anthony Davis team look or feel like aside from Anthony Davis scoring a tonne of points?
Davis has never found a way to elevate his teammates. His supporting casts have always been weak, but at the same time, he’s shared the court in recent years with Tyreke Evans, Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson, James Ennis, Ish Smith and Austin Rivers – all competent, ranging to excellent, NBA players who all got better when they left Davis.
AD is a superstar, but one who exists in his own universe on the court. He does what he does, and makes his teams better by the sheer force of his brilliance. But teammates are only left in awe of his talents, not made greater by them.
Yesterday’s game in Minnesota was, or should have been, a statement game for New Orleans. They’d had two days rest, coming up against a battered Timberwolves team on a back-to-back and their fifth game in seven nights. It was the Wolves, though, who came out energised, with plenty of life and plenty to prove.
Anthony Davis took the first shot of the game then didn’t register another stat for almost six minutes. No points, shots, free throws, assists, blocks, rebounds or turnovers. Statistical silence. A superstar made completely anonymous for half a quarter. By the time Davis had woken up, the Pelicans were down eight. They would never get closer than six, a 21-point halftime lead blowing out to 34 before settling at 18.
The game was lost in the first quarter, though, and when the tone was being set, Davis was hushed, taking a backseat to Cousins and Cousins’ scowls, the preface to another abject defeat for a franchise and a once hopeful era now defined by them.