On Fire | Blame It On the Boogie

“Don’t blame it on the sunshine, don’t blame it on the moonlight, don’t blame it on the good times, blame it on the Boogie.” — Jackson 5

The No. 6 seed New Orleans Pelicans completed their first-round sweep of the No. 3 seed Portland Trail Blazers 131-123 at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans on April 21. And yes, that’s the name of their stadium.

Your On Fire correspondent believes there are many reasons for this surprising sweep. Pelicans center Stretch Armstrong — whoops —  Anthony Davis played like the MVP candidate he is, averaging 33 points and pulling in 12 rebounds per game for the series.  Then there was Pelicans point guard Rajon Rondo, who gave slightly more than minimal effort for the first time since 2008 and dished out 13 assists per game while still being unable to hit a jump shot.

But there was a notable absence from this series: Pelicans four-time all star center DeMarcus Cousins, whose season ended with a torn achilles on Jan. 26. Cousins was in the midst of a fantastic season, averaging 25.2 points, 12.9 rebounds and 5.4 assists with a true shooting percentage of .583. Over the past three seasons, ESPN’s estimated wins added (EWA) had Cousins adding anywhere between 14-17 wins a season, making him (statistically) one of the 10-15 most valuable players in the NBA.

When the Pelicans added Cousins, many thought that the dynamic duo of Boogie and The Brow would be the kind of one-two punch New Orleans needed to compete in the Western Conference. Boogie was the peanut butter to Davis’ Jelly; the socks to his shoes; the John Legend to his Chrissy Teigen.

But with the Pelicans absolutely demoralizing a higher-seeded Portland team, Boogie suddenly seems more like a third wheel than a bride-to-be. Davis don’t need no man — he is the strong, independent superstar Kentucky fans have been telling us since they started recruiting him out of fifth grade. Davis doesn’t need Cousins’ peanut butter because Davis isn’t just some jelly — Davis is Nutella. Davis doesn’t need socks — he’s Crocs. Davis doesn’t need a John Legend — he’s Oprah.

The numbers bear this out. Losing Cousins and adding power forward and Theodor Herzl doppelganger Nikola Mirotic, shouldn’t make a team better. But it did. Seemingly, his gaudy individual numbers don’t translate to team success.

Throughout his six years in Sacramento, the one city in California you couldn’t pay this On Fire correspondent to live in, Cousins never led his team to more than 33 wins. Even without markedly better talent, the Kings’ current dumpster fire team only won six fewer games compared to the Boogie led train-wreck two years ago, Cousins’ last full season with the team — a far cry from his 14-17 EWA.

But how did the Pelicans improve after losing a two-time Second-Team All NBA player?

With Cousins, the Pelicans defensive rating was bottom-10 in the league. Over the last 34 games without him, their defensive rating has been in the top five.

Per the Ringer, without the slow-footed Boogie, the Pelicans have trapped the pick and roll much more aggressively with Holiday and Rondo. The quicker Mirotic can recover to either the shooter or roller in a way that Cousins can’t with cinder blocks for feet.

Ultimately, this should all amount to just a barbershop conversation about Cousins with my hairstylist Katya. Except, Cousins is about to be a free agent this summer. Seeing green (no, not the WEED Stephen A), Cousins expects to receive a max contract. Unfortunately, coming back from a torn achilles is always difficult and unpredictable. Even assuming he is 100 percent healthy, should New Orleans offer a max contract to a player who wins as rarely as Cousins?

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