What can Warriors expect from DeMarcus Cousins' debut?

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Before it happened, DeMarcus Cousins was a great basketball player having a great NBA season.

But on Jan. 26, 2018, he tore his left Achilles tendon as a member of the New Orleans Pelicans and hasn’t played since. The five-time All-Star center was having the best season of his career, but the injury was a devastating one — not only for that season, but potentially for his career.

Just short of a year later, Cousins’ career is getting back on track with the two-time defending NBA champion Warriors, starting in earnest Friday night against the Clippers in Los Angeles.

Despite the injury, the Warriors signed Cousins to a one-year, $5.3 million contract, giving Golden State the possibility of having all five starters with All-Star credentials. They signed him knowing that the Achilles injury could take about a year to rehabilitate, and knowing that he would miss about half the season.

Cousins has worked out with the team and spent some time with the Santa Cruz Warriors, the team’s G League affiliate, to get his game legs back. He has passed the tests he needed to pass to get on the floor.

Now, Cousins and the Warriors are at the point where the big man can join the fun and get on the court again.

What can we expect from Cousins as he approaches his Warriors debut?

Everyone in the Warriors’ camp has been nothing short of enthusiastic about the possibility. But what about observers who have watched Cousins play, watched the Warriors play and can provide a sense of the big-picture consequences of the big man joining the team?

Here are former Sacramento Bee columnist Ailene Voisin, who covered Cousins from 2010 to 2017 when he played for the Kings, and current Warriors television analyst Jim Barnett, who has covered Cousins this season. Each answered the same five questions, plus a bonus question.

1. What will Cousins bring to the Warriors that’s positive?

Voisin: “Let’s start with his skill set. He has fabulous hands. Can catch anything. When he doesn’t rush and takes his time, he’s an excellent passer. He finds cutters. He used to score only around the basket and with a mid-range jump shot, but now he’s an excellent 3-point shooter. (Former Kings head coach) George Karl got him shooting deeper and deeper.

“And he is an excellent rebounder. When he’s fully engaged and in shape, he can contest shots and make it difficult to score around the rim. He doesn’t have great leaping ability — not an explosive player — but he’s just so powerful and strong. There is nobody like him in the game and there hasn’t been for a long time. He’s an old-school, throwback center.”

Barnett: “We don’t have a big body. We lost David West, Zaza Pachulia and JaVale McGee. We’re playing Kevon Looney, a power forward, at center. Did you see us get killed inside by (Houston Rockets center) Clint Capela and (Portland Trail Blazers center) Jusuf Nurkic?

“Defensively, we need a big body, particularly in the playoffs when we’re playing the good teams, and Cousins is a big body. Offensively, we know he can score. If he gets double teamed, the Warriors will have a field day shooting the ball from 3. So he will go one-on-one and score at will.”

2. What are Cousins’ negatives?

Voisin: “His reputation. DeMarcus is extremely hot-tempered and moody. He’s an angry person and he plays with his anger, which probably makes him as great as he is. But it also hurts him because he has trouble controlling his temper. He doesn’t treat people well. He wasn’t kind to his teammates. Everyone was on eggshells around DeMarcus. That was partly an issue in New Orleans. That didn’t go away. He can be brutal to teammates. So could Michael Jordan, but he accomplished stuff. DeMarcus hasn’t accomplished jack.

“If you ask people here in Sacramento, they do not miss DeMarcus. They like what they’re doing with this new, young team. They’re having fun. Their attitude is, ‘DeMarcus who?’ There was a heaviness in that locker room every freaking day.

“I talked to George Karl about it. He said, ‘You come in for shootaround, you have to see what his mood is. You come in from practice, you have to see what his mood is. If DeMarcus is in a bad mood, he goes off on everybody, doesn’t practice hard and takes the whole team down. Every day with DeMarcus is hard.’ And I suspect it is with the Warriors, too, if you could get them to open up about it.”

Barnett: “I don’t know whether Cousins has any negatives. I know he’s a fiery guy like Draymond Green. That’s OK, because Steve Kerr knows how to handle that. He wants a fiery guy, and Cousins is a fiery guy who has a hell of an offensive game.”

3. Will Cousins fit the Warriors’ offense?

Voisin: “It’s going to be interesting, because this is a guard-heavy system and DeMarcus has not played in that. He doesn’t like to run. He’s a great outlet passer, so he can trigger the fast break. But a big part of his success depends on being in shape. Then, he’s a different player. There’s a bounce to his step, his lateral quickness is better and he doesn’t get winded. When he starts dragging, that’s when he holds the ball and doesn’t run the floor and takes the offense out of sync.

“The Warriors like to run up and down the court. It’s incumbent upon DeMarcus to fit in and adapt to what they do, as opposed to them adapting to him. He can’t just plop on the left block and hold the ball while everybody stands around. That’s his comfort zone. Coming off a career-threatening injury, he’s going to want to go to his comfort zone down low. There’s a lot of pressure on him. He has to play well for a contract. His best interest is to put up numbers. That will be in the back of his mind.”

Barnett: “You don’t see the Warriors go to a low-post offense. But when Cousins is on the floor, they will have a lot of low-post offense. And I think he will be a willing passer from the post.”

4. Will Cousins play defense?

Voisin: “DeMarcus could be an adequate defender based on his conditioning. I don’t see him switching defensive assignments mid-play like the rest of the Warriors do. There could be some tinkering.”

Barnett: “We do switch a lot, and we may change that a little bit. Cousins doesn’t want to come out of the lane.”

5. Will he be the same player he was before the injury?

Voisin: “You don’t know what you’re going to get until DeMarcus starts playing. If you go back and look at the history of this injury, the players who come back most effectively are stringy players like Dominique Wilkins. The player who was closest to DeMarcus’ body type was Elton Brand. He never was the same player after his Achilles injury. DeMarcus carries around a lot of weight. They list him at 270, but he’s usually heavier. The Warriors will have to play it by ear and see how effective he is.”

Barnett: “I have seen lots of people come off Achilles injuries, and it is tougher for big men.”

Bonus: Will Cousins be a team player?

Voisin: “DeMarcus is going to do and say all the right things because he wants a contract. He also never has played in the playoffs, so that’s motivation to behave. And he is playing with at least three players who are better than him, so he is not the guy anymore. He’ll have to adjust. Plus, he has a coach who won’t take any crap from him, and a front office and ownership that has the coach’s back. If DeMarcus takes one step out of line, he’s gone. The Warriors have all the leverage.

“I think he will be on his best behavior. There’s too much at stake for him. My concern is if he comes back and struggles. Then, he’s going to get moody and down, and then you could have some problems.”

Barnett: “I see Cousins fitting in and having fun. When people come here, there’s leadership, not only from the front office and coaching staff, but from Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant. They’re willing passers. You want to conform because this is basketball at its best.

“When Cousins comes back, it may take a couple games. They may struggle a little bit. Then, they’ll figure it out. I think they’ll go on an incredible run to finish the season. I wish they could sign Cousins for the rest of his career, because he is going to help them win a championship this year.”

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