Houston Rockets: 4 reasons the DeMarcus Cousins experiment failed

Houston Rockets

DeMarcus Cousins #15 of the Houston Rockets (Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)

The Houston Rockets and DeMarcus Cousins, per Shams Charania of The Athletic, have decided to part ways. The news of their breakup came on the heels of Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN report that the Rockets had guaranteed Cousins’ $2.3 million salary for the season.

After 25 games and 11 starts the Rockets have decided to pull the plug on one of their only misfires from this offseason. DeMarcus Cousins’ time in Houston was short-lived and in most respects unproductive.

When people hear Cousins’ name they think back to the player that terrorized defenders for the Sacramento Kings and a brief stint with the New Orleans Pelicans. From 2013-14 to 2017-18 Cousins averaged 25.2 points and 11.9 rebounds per game and earned four All-Star berths and two All-NBA selections.

Where it all started to go wrong for the Houston Rockets and DeMarcus Cousins

Due to an Achilles tendon injury in 2018 and then an ACL tear in 2019 Cousins hardly resembles the player he once was. When the Rockets signed Cousins they were buying a lottery ticket, and like most lottery tickets, they came up empty.

For the season, Cousins is averaging 9.6 points and 7.6 rebounds a game on 37.6-percent shooting from the field and 33.6-percent from 3-point range. Needless to say, the Rockets were hoping for more out of Cousins than he has been able to provide.

The warning signs were always there that this move wouldn’t work. These are the four reasons that the DeMarcus Cousins experiment was doomed from the start.

Why the Houston Rockets/DeMarcus Cousins experiment failed: #4 Injuries

Due to modern sports medicine, the number of career-ending injuries has shrunk dramatically. However, it was not long ago that both Achilles and ACL tears were the grim reaper for athletes.

An ACL injury or an Achilles tear might not be a career-ender nowadays, but they are still career-altering injuries. DeMarcus Cousins suffered both over a 19-month span and to make matters worse, they were both suffered to the same leg.

It’s always sad when a player goes from great to subpar in a blink of an eye because of injury. After multiple serious injuries to his left leg it’s no surprise he has lost a few steps.

Why the Houston Rockets/DeMarcus Cousins experiment failed: #3 The NBA changed

DeMarcus Cousins was always able to put up monster stats for the Sacramento Kings but he was never able to translate that production into wins. Over his six full seasons in Sacramento, the most wins the Kings recorded in a single season were 33.

When Cousins entered the league in 2010-11 the NBA was changing in a way that made players like him less effective. As teams began to spread the floor and bomb away from 3-point range the defensive requirements for centers changed dramatically.

On defense, centers needed to be able to do one of two things to be effective, defend the paint at an elite level or be able to switch onto smaller quicker players on the perimeter. Unfortunately, Cousins is not all that good at either which makes his defense a problem at the most critical defensive position.

Those Kings teams were continuously sunk by their inadequate defense and Cousins was largely to blame. His high usage rates made his stats appear to be All-Star quality but Cousins was closer to average, even at his best.

Why the Houston Rockets/DeMarcus Cousins experiment failed: #2 The fit

When Stephen Silas was hired as the Rockets head coach he talked about running a five-out spread pick and roll system. To effectively play center in this system a player, ideally, can shoot threes, attack from the perimeter, and be dangerous as a rim runner.

Cousins’ lack of mobility and bounce make him a poor rim runner and his attacks from the perimeter are so slow they hurt the flow of the offense. While his 3-point shooting has been better, he has still only hit 33.6-percent of his threes.

When Cousins was last fully healthy for the Pelicans he was used as a point center but since then he has lost a few steps and his inability to be effective off-ball has become more glaring. There’s a way for Cousins to be effective on offense, but it was highly unlikely that it was going to be in Silas’s system.

Why the Houston Rockets/DeMarcus Cousins experiment failed: #1 Not as good as advertised

DeMarcus Cousins’ reputation was bolstered by the fact that he was the best player on some bad teams. This isn’t to say that he was a bad player or even average, but that his pre-injury statistics are inflated beyond his true ability.

As mentioned earlier, during Cousins’ peak-seasons, from 2013-14 to 2017-18, he averaged 25.2 points and 11.9 rebounds a game. On the surface those numbers are incredible but he paired it with more turnovers than assists, only average shooting efficiency, and the greenest of green lights.

Over this period Cousins posted a usage rate of 34.3-percent and finished no lower than fourth in the league in the metric. The Kings and Pelicans gave Cousins the ball and let him put up stats, even if it wasn’t all that effective.

Even at his best, Cousins was more a borderline All-Star talent being given superstar-level touches. After two significant injuries and a reduced role, it should come as a surprise to see Cousins’ production fall off a cliff.