Clippers’ Cousins Excels Despite Being Only ‘Halfway Through’ Playbook

DeMarcus Cousins

Getty DeMarcus Cousins drives to the basket

“Champions do not become champions when they win the event, but in the hours, weeks, months and years they spend preparing for it.” — Alan Armstrong, author of Whittington.

It’s hard to say what books, if any, Los Angeles Clippers center DeMarcus Cousins prefers to read in his spare time, but right now it’s safe to assume he’s devouring the Clippers playbook.

“I’m about halfway through,” Cousins told reporters following Sunday’s 106-100 loss to the Knicks. “I got another half to go so we are making some progress.”

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Playbook the ‘Size of a Dictionary’

Though it’s been more than a month since Cousins signed the first of two 10-day contracts with the Clippers (eventually signing with the team for the long haul on April 26), it’s not surprising that the 11-year veteran, who was cut by the Houston Rockets in February after 26 games, is not yet up to speed on the playbook, which he described as being “the size of a dictionary.”

Between this season’s condensed schedule and the Clippers’ urgent need for help inside due to Serge Ibaka’s prolonged absence from back spasms and Ivica Zubac’s relative inexperience, Cousins has not had the luxury of numerous off days and extensive practice time to learn L.A.’s schemes.

Instead, Cousins has been asked to play mostly on instinct alone, which is not the worst thing in the world given that the four-time All-Star was not long ago considered the best big man in the NBA, but it has nonetheless forced head coach Ty Lue to simplify his gameplan whenever the big man is in the game. Even so, Lue believes the trade-off is a good one.

“[Cousins] is still just trying to learn the defense and offense, but he’s just a player,” Lue told reporters last week. “Forget all the plays and everything, just get him on the floor. He makes things happen.”

In 13 total games with the Clippers, Cousins is averaging 8.3 points and 4.8 rebounds on 53.7% shooting, but as his understanding of the Clippers playbook has grown, so too have his numbers.

Over his last eight games, though averaging just 16 minutes, Cousins has posted 10.8 points and 6.3 rebounds while shooting 58.3% from the floor.

“I’m a lot more comfortable and used to it with the things going on with this team and on the floor — the play calls, defensive schemes, whatever the case may be,” Cousins said on Sunday. “So obviously those things are easier, but just trying to do my part. Be as good at my job as possible, continuing to learn the plays, learn the schemes and just get better with each game.”

‘A High-IQ Play’

It’s a good sign that Cousins is playing so well despite his limited knowledge of the playbook, and the Clippers expect even better results as his familiarity grows. But there are some aspects of his game that don’t need learning, like taking charges.

Despite seeing limited minutes and playing in only nine games throughout April, Cousins’s seven drawn charges were second-most in the league for the month, behind only San Antonio’s Derrick White, who registered eight drawn charges in six more games and 361 more minutes of game time.

When asked recently by a reporter if drawing charges is something he’s doing to add value to his new team, Cousins, who has 10 charges in 38 games for the season, was matter-of-fact in his brief response.

“I’ve always taken charges throughout my entire career,” Cousins said. “I think it’s a high-IQ play. Just something I do. I’ve always done that.”

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