In February, the New Orleans Pelicans sent shockwaves through the NBA by acquiring the talented but moody Cousins from the Sacramento Kings. Pairing Cousins with Davis meant New Orleans featured two of the game's most talented big men in its frontcourt. Still, some questioned the fit. Would there be enough room for both to operate?
The results weren't great last year, as the Pelicans only outscored opponents by 2.8 points per 100 possessions when the two shared the court. New Orleans went 7-10 in the 17 games they played together.
This season has been a different story. Cousins and Davis have started to learn how to play off each other. The Pelicans (8-7) are outscoring opponents by 8.3 points per 100 possessions with Boogie and The Brow both out there.
"Scary," Nuggets coach Michael Malone said.
Denver will have its hands full starting at 8:30 p.m. tonight. Nikola Jokic and Paul Millsap face one of the few frontcourts in the NBA that has the upper hand against them.
Cousins is the bigger of the two, but curiously he's the one who's taken on more of a perimeter-oriented role. Cousins is jacking up 7.6 three-pointers per game, more than deep-ball specialists such as Damian Lillard, Kyle Lowry and JJ Redick.
"Hopefully tomorrow night he shoots 15 of them and makes maybe five," Malone said Thursday.
"I never envisioned him being a guy who took seven threes a game, eight threes a game. It’s funny, my first year there (Sacramento), when I got there the previous coaches never posted him up. When I saw him, I saw a great opportunity to establish him in the post. He kicked ass. By posting up, that created for everyone else. … As he’s continued to add to his game, he’s added the three-point shot."
Cousins' numbers so far this season jump off the page. He's averaging 28 points, 13.7 rebounds, 5.7 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.6 blocks. He's second in ESPN's Real-Plus Minus metric, a statistic that attempts to gauge a player's overall impact on the game.
Davis' numbers — 25.6 points, 11.4 rebounds, 2.9 assists — are similarly impressive. He's also a player who's given the Nuggets fits in the past. He scored 50 points in the Pelicans' season opener against the Nuggets last season and went for 41, 31 and 25 in the other three contests.
"When you watch them play, they do a really good job of playing with each other and off of each other," Malone said. "They’ll go big-big pick and roll with DeMarcus handling and Anthony Davis rolling. They’re both very skilled, very unselfish. It’s going to be a great challenge trying to stop those two tonight."
Expect Gary Harris to return to the starting lineup tonight barring the unforeseen. The third-year shooting guard has missed the last two games with a sore right shoulder. Harris practiced Wednesday and Thursday, and went through shootaround today.
"Gary’s gonna go unless they tell me something crazy," Malone said.
Also, look for Juancho Hernangomez to return to the rotation as early as tonight. Hernangomez was diagnosed with mononucleosis, Denver announced Oct. 24. He did not travel with the team on a four-game East Coast road trip. He played two minutes vs. the Orlando Magic on Saturday.
"I think he’s really close," Malone said. "Obviously, having a couple practice days, going through contact, playing five on five. So I think Juancho is right there on the cusp of getting back and getting out there and playing meaningful minutes. It could be tonight or when we go on this road trip."