The Impact of Adding DeMarcus Cousins (02/21/17)
In a blockbuster trade over the weekend, the Sacremento Kings sent DeMarcus Cousins and Omri Casspi to the New Orleans Pelicans for Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans, and Langston Galloway along with the Pelicans' first and second round pick in the upcoming draft.
Cousins is obviously the key piece here. It will be extremely unlikely the Kings will be able to replace Cousins' impact with the picks they received. They definitely didn't replace Cousins with the players they received in this deal.
They are already mentioning that Galloway may be released. Kings General Manager, Vlade Divac, has explained his admiration for Hield who may end up being the worst player in the deal, including after Sacramento uses their two additional draft picks. Hield currently owns a -4.5 real plus-minus (RPM), per ESPN. There are two players in the league that have as many minutes as Hield with a worse RPM (Brandon Knight and Brandon Ingram).
The Pelicans, though, needed the boost. Cousins will get a ton of valuable minutes and replace minutes from a few minus players. New Orleans currently sits at 11th place in the West, 2.5 games out of a playoff spot.
Previously ranked at 18th, the Pelicans moved all the way up to 10th in this week's rankings. Their offensive ranking improved from 26th to 14th while their defensive ranking moved from 6th to 4th. Along with Anthony Davis, New Orleans now has two players ranked inside the top 17 of ESPN's RPM metric. The only other teams that have two players inside the top 17 are the Cavaliers and Warriors.
Last week's projections showed the Pelicans reaching about 33 wins by season's end. After adding Cousins, that projection now exceeds 36 wins. The three teams currently ahead of the Pelicans for the 8th seed in the West are the Nuggets (ranked 20th), Kings (29th), and Blazers (25th). The Kings should quickly drop out of the race, and the Pelicans trail the Blazers by just 0.5 games. Expect the Pelicans to make a push towards the playoffs with a revived rotation but they are still large underdogs to make any kind of splash in the West.
In 50,000 simulations of the remainder of the NBA season, the Pelicans make it to the Western Conference finals just over 300 times (0.6%). They advance to the NBA Finals in only 31 total simulations (0.1%), winning it all just ten times.
If the Pelicans do make the playoffs, it is extremely unlikely that they finish in any seed other than the eighth seed. They are currently a full nine games back of the seventh-seeded Thunder, making a first round matchup with the Golden State Warriors a very realistic possibility. In that potential matchup, the Pelicans would be expected to upset the Warriors just 3.9% of the time. So, while the addition of Cousins may be a big deal down the road, it's unlikely to make much of a difference this season due to the Pelicanas poor start to the year.