Philadelphia 76ers: DeMarcus Cousins is the perfect foil for Joel Embiid

(Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
(Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images) /

For a time in the late 2010s, two centers fought for the right to be called the best in the NBA: DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins of the Sacramento Kings/New Orleans Pelicans and Joel “The Process” Embiid of your friendly neighborhood Philadelphia 76ers.

Now granted, some would protest such a generalization. They’d point to KAT over in Minnesota, a burgeoning Coca-Cola aficionado in Denver, or even Cousins’ eventual frontcourt mate Anthony Davis – ya know, when he actually wanted to play the five – as players worthy of that prestigious title, but in an era of NBA basketball where the five spot was arguably the least valued spot on the court, those two Titans rose above the rest.

But now? Some three-ish years I to the future? Well, the career arcs of Boogie and JoJo couldn’t be more different.

Now fully into his own, Embiid is the unquestioned best two-way center in the game and a legitimate MVP candidate. He can score from anywhere, protect the paint with the best of them, and, most crucially of all, at 27-years-old he’s firmly in his prime.

And as for Cousins? Well, the 30-year-old is coming off of a brutal ACL injury that cost him the entirety of the 2019-20 season and part of the 2020-21 season and may never return to his former All-Star form ever again.

But hey, don’t feel too bad for Cousins. While his final prospects may not be what they once were, he can still very much help a good team compete for championships as an offensively versatile second center coming off the bench, as we saw from his abbreviated tenure with the LA Clippers.

Could he fill that role with the Philadelphia 76ers this fall? Yeah, I’d reckon that’d be a fine fit indeed.

DeMarcus Cousins could be the 2021-22 Philadelphia 76ers’ answer to Dwight Howard.

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If we’re being completely honest with ourselves, the Philadelphia 76ers’ biggest deficiency in the 2021 NBA playoffs was their lack of 3-and-D bodies worthy of rotational minutes.

Sure, the team had Dwight Howard, who was the lone backcourt player to appear in every game he was eligible for, but his schematic deficiencies playing alongside Ben Simmons are well documented, and he can barely knock down free throws at an average clip, let alone 3 pointers.

Had Mike Scott reverted back to his 2019 form, maybe the Sixers would have been better equipped to run a more balanced rotation, but with no true bench big options save Howard, that simply wasn’t the case. The Sixers had to roll 10-11 deep with only four players measuring in at 6-foot-8 or higher and were simply ill-equipped to match up when teams like the Hawks opted to go big with a 6-foot-7 shooting guard and a 6-foot-10 small forward.

While the Sixers will undoubtedly attempt to upgrade their starting five from Daryl Morey‘s first season with the team into his second (more on that here), heading into the fall without a legitimate big capable of stretching the floor would be just as big an oversight, maybe more, depending on how the front office feels about Simmons and/or Tobias Harris.

Enter DeMarcus Amir “Boogie” Cousins.

Once upon a time, the idea of pairing Embiid up with Cousins would have felt like borderline malpractice. Both do their best dirty work in the paint, lack the ideal lateral quickness to take on stretch fours on the parameter, and are more supplementary shooters from beyond the arc than your prototypical floor stretch.

But now? My goodness, alternating between Cousins and Embiid, especially with the latter’s well-documented history of missing games, would be an absolutely insane option for the Philadelphia 76ers, especially since Boogie probably won’t cost an arm and a leg to sign.

During the most recent NBA season, Cousins played for two very different teams with very different responsibilities.

In Houston, Cousins was on the wings about as often as he was in the paint. He took an average of 4.6 shots from beyond the arc per game versus 8.6 from the field at large and would very rarely have plays actually called for him in first-time head coach Stephen Silas’ offense, as evidenced by his career-low usage rate of 23.1.

Though Cousins doesn’t quite move with the tenacity of a power forward, he played that role well in his limited run with the Rockets, and it showcased a wrinkle to his game that wasn’t as obvious in, say, Sacramento, where the entire offense ran through the big guy in the paint.

And as for his time in LA? Well, Cousins looked every bit like a traditional backup center who could do a little bit of everything from the five spot. He attacked the basket, played the pick-and-roll game with Reggie Jackson and company, and, curiously enough, averaged a career-low rebounds per game at both ends of the court.

Could Cousins return to the Clippers this fall? Sure, but based on his unusual usage, I kind of doubt it.

No, in this Philly sports fan’s opinion, Cousins would be much better suited in a role similar to that of Dwight Howard last season, albeit with a bit more offensive versatility to play a few extra minutes next to Embiid situationally.

Whether the Sixers opt to keep Simmons or trade him away for a better-fitting 1B alongside Embiid (again, more on that here), having a backup center who has taken an average of 4.3 shots per game from beyond the arc since 2016 is an asset. Cousins is also still an absolute dog who doesn’t take no mess from nobody. While Joel Embiid is certainly one of the more passionate players the Sixers have had in a red, white, and blue uniform in some time, it’s never a good idea to have a star player.

And the best part? Cousins played the 2020-21 season on a pair of veteran minimum contracts and could potentially be folded into the Sixers’ cap situation without having to use any of their mid-level exceptions.

dark. Next. Daryl Morey’s spotted history of landing second stars

Whether the Philadelphia 76ers opt to make a massive trade for a legit superstar, make a marginal mid-level upgrade, or simply opt to fill out their roster with better-fitting roleplayers, Daryl Morey will surely be on the lookout to sign at least a few potential contributors on either rookie contracts or the mid-level exception. DeMarcus Cousins fits that bill. If some team doesn’t swoop in and offer the former four-time All-Star a contract for his past achievements, not his current status, the potential to play in place of and alongside Joel Embiid – especially since he only plays an average of 57.25 games per season since 2017 – could be enough to inspire Boogie’s first trip over to the Eastern Conference in his 11 year NBA career.