That DeMarcus Cousins was unlikely to finish his career in Sacramento has been obvious to anyone with even a cursory interest in the NBA in recent years. Despite protestations on all sides recently that he was happy in Sacramento and was interested in signing a contract extension, the possibility of a trade to finally end what has been one of the league’s unhappiest marriages always seemed pretty real.
That doesn’t make Sunday’s trade any less shocking, of course. Mere hours after the All-Star game ended in New Orleans, the Kings completed a trade to send Cousins to the Pelicans. The deal pushes the Kings into the next chapter in their franchise history, while pairing two of the most uniquely talented big men in NBA history together in New Orleans’ quest to get back to the playoffs.
With two of the top-10 players in all of Fantasy joining forces, this move is going to have a huge impact on the Pelicans’ rotation. And, with the Kings losing one of the league’s most dominant high-usage hubs, they’ve got a lot to figure out on their own. This is a trade that could have huge real-world implications -- imagine the undersized Warriors trying to keep Anthony Davis and Cousins off the boards in a potential 1-8 playoff matchup -- and the Fantasy ramifications promise to be far ranging as well.
Let’s look at it from both teams’ angles, with the Pelicans up first:
Pelicans acquire DeMarcus Cousins and Omri Casspi
You probably have to go back to the late-90’s Spurs to find a big man duo like the one we’re about to see in New Orleans. There are only three players in the NBA currently averaging 25 points and 10 rebounds per game, and the Pelicans now have two of them in Cousins and Anthony Davis. Both are uniquely skilled big men, capable of wearing opposing defense down in the post, or scoring from the perimeter, either as a spot-up shooter or attacking a closeout. Both are adept ball handlers for big men, and Cousins even joins the Pelicans averaging just shy of 5.0 assists per game.
There are going to be growing pains in New Orleans as they figure things out, but Cousins and Davis have the skill sets to make it work. That shouldn’t be the question. They’ll be a matchup nightmare for every single team in the league, and opposing big men already have to be having nightmares about the prospects of defending a Cousins-Davis pick and roll.
However, we’re likely to see both players’ production take a hit here, even if the fit is perfect. Cousins and Davis are second and sixth in the NBA in usage rate, so something has to give. Even with the Pelicans’ depth taking a hit, we’re likely to see both players take on a smaller role in the offense to accommodate each other.
The good news is, both have a lot of room to fall before they are no longer elite options in Fantasy. Given how well rounded both of their skill sets are, it’s hard to see either falling outside of the top-15 in Fantasy value in either format in the aftermath of this move.
There won’t be much left for anyone else in New Orleans, of course, especially in the frontcourt. Terrence Jones and Donatas Motiejunas have flirted with Fantasy relevance this season, but both can be pretty safely dropped. Jones might be an exception, because the Pelicans are reportedly considering trading him, however with an expiring contract worth the NBA minimum, Jones is more likely to go to a contender than a lottery-bound team, so a second-half breakout seems unlikely at this point.
Jrue Holiday’s numbers could take a small step back, though this feels like a perfect role for him. He gets to be the primary playmaker and third offensive option, when at times he seemed like he might have been stretched a bit as the No. 2 guy. With Holiday, Cousins, and Davis, the Pelicans are investing in three players with pretty serious recent injury issues, however as long as all three are healthy, there probably won’t be much room for anyone else to have much Fantasy appeal here.
A top-six pick from the most recent draft doesn’t seem like a bad place to start when trading away an elite player like Cousins, but this still feels like a stretch. Hield is already 23, and has struggled in his first NBA season, shooting 39.2 percent from the field, while averaging just 8.6 points, 2.9 rebounds, and 1.4 assists per game. He has shot the 3-pointer well enough, hitting 36.9 percent of his shots from long range, but it’s hard to view Hield as a future star at this point, given his advanced age for a rookie.
That is not a good place to start with, in other words, however Fantasy players should be willing to go out and grab Hield where available. He may continue to struggle, but it always makes sense to bet on pedigree, especially when a player is getting a change of scenery. The Kings just traded their franchise centerpiece for Hield, so you have to think he’s going to get every opportunity to develop into a star, and we should see a lot of him down the stretch. He should be owned across the board in Fantasy coming out of the break.
Galloway is expected to be waived, according to Yahoo Sports, and Evans seems like a likely buyout candidate, so in terms of incoming players, this one is all about Hield. However, the trade certainly opens up opportunities for other Kings’ incumbents, specifically in the frontcourt.
Part of the Kings’ madness in recent years has involved them continuing to acquire big men, despite Cousins’ presence. Over the last five years, they have invested first-round picks in Thomas Robinson, Willie Cauley-Stein, Georgios Papagiannis, and Skal Labissiere, the latter of whom have played just 70 combined minutes this season as first-round picks. Robinson is, of course, long gone, while Papagiannis and Labissiere very much remain long-term projects; however, Cauley-Stein is definitely someone Fantasy players should have on their radars.
Cauley-Stein has shown a knack for finishing at the rim, which shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, given his size and athleticism. He has taken a nice step forward, albeit in a smaller role, this season, shooting 56.1 percent from the field and averaging 16.0 points per-36 minutes. He hasn’t played big minutes often, however, though he did have 14 points, five rebounds, and four assists in 25 minutes in a recent game Cousins missed due to a suspension. His role has been largely limited so far, but that is likely to change with Cousins gone, as the Kings look to see what they have in the second-year big man.
His rebounding and defensive numbers haven’t been quite as promising, as Cauley-Stein grabs just 7.5 boards per-36, while adding 1.4 steals and 1.3 blocks. However, with Cousins gone, there should be more rebounds to go around, and he has the potential to provide 3.0 combined blocks and steal per game if he gets close to 30 minutes. Fantasy players have been waiting for someone like Nerlens Noel to be unleashed all season, and Cauley-Stein might have that kind of potential down the stretch. He is well worth an add where available.
All around, the Kings are going to need players across the roster to step up in a big way to replace Cousins. Cauley-Stein and Hield should see their production dramatically improve without Cousins, but they won’t be the only ones. Darren Collison should see an uptick in usage, and Kosta Koufos will likely see more opportunities, even if Cauley-Stein is the more interesting option, all-told. Arron Afflalo might also get more opportunities, though it will be interesting to see if Hield forces his way into the starting five, either taking Afflalo’s spot or pushing him to small forward.
The merits of the package the Kings’ received in return for Cousins will be debated for years, and it doesn’t look great right now. However, shrewd Fantasy players can look at the Kings right now and see opportunities for value. The loss of Cousins should be good for that, if nothing else.