For DeMarcus Cousins to Thrive with Pels, Anthony Davis Must Realize Potential

Kevin Ding@@KevinDingNBA Senior WriterMarch 7, 2017

NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 23:  DeMarcus Cousins #0 of the New Orleans Pelicans and Anthony Davis #23 react during the first half of a game against the Houston Rockets at the Smoothie King Center on February 23, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

LOS ANGELES — In their 19th quarter of playing basketball together as New Orleans Pelicans during a honeymoon period that saw the chill one wear black sunglasses on his face and the wild one wear yellow panties on his head on a Mardi Gras parade float, Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins (you can guess who was who) shared another first together.

On Sunday night, Davis finally assisted on a Cousins basket in a game that also marked their first win as teammates.

For all the attention paid to the temperamental Cousins and how a step toward maturity would offer hope for the franchise's future, there is another way for the Pelicans to become more than annual also-rans:

Davis, with Cousins now by his side, could re-establish himself as the greatest rising star in all of basketball.

Focusing on what more Davis could do (including improving the quality and quantity of his assists) is the far more realistic option because Cousins' weaknesses run so deep. Even during this afterglow since Cousins' trade from Sacramento, while he tries more than ever to control his emotions and give consistent effort, Cousins has not been dependable, especially on defense.

But he is so talented and passionate that his strengths offer Davis an opportunity he has never had before—to live up to expectations that his team should win.

Davis was voted the player with whom NBA general managers would most trust to start a franchise in NBA.com's 2015 poll. It was by no small margin either, as Davis grabbed 86.2 percent of the votes; Kevin Durant and LeBron James each got 6.9 percent.

NEW ORLEANS, LA - MARCH 03:  Anthony Davis #23 of the New Orleans Pelicans drives against LaMarcus Aldridge #12 of the San Antonio Spurs during the second half of a game at the Smoothie King Center on March 3, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER:
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Since then, however, Davis has been an abject disappointment, showing inconsistent personal improvement (which saw him fail to make any All-NBA teams last season) while his Pelicans have lost a combined 91 games over the past two seasons.

He turns 24 Saturday, more aware than ever that the only way to make that leap from hypothetical franchise player to historic one is via winning. His positivity regarding the Pelicans franchise despite poor personnel work by management and the uninspired hiring of Alvin Gentry has now been rewarded with Cousins' arrival, so the window for excuses is starting to close.

Rough road still lies ahead, to be sure. GM Dell Demps hasn't helped by talking himself into overpaying glue guys such as Solomon Hill. And Gentry's current mindset sadly remains outright defeatist despite now having this jealousy-inducing threesome of Cousins, Davis and Jrue Holiday.

"It's not something that happens overnight," Gentry said. While that may be true, the Pelicans don't have time. Holiday is a free agent in 2017 and Cousins in 2018. What they do have is a big infusion of talent.

"It's going to be tough for anybody," the Lakers' Nick Young said on behalf of opponents of Cousins and Davis, "because those guys can do it all."

It's uncertain if Gentry is creative enough or commanding enough to be the torchbearer for a twin-towers format in today's NBA.

The two big men played together for only 19 minutes of their combined 67:29 in that first victory Sunday over the Los Angeles Lakers. In the time they did share on the court, New Orleans outscored L.A. by one point despite winning the game by eight. On Monday night in Utah, the Pelicans barely surpassed their 79-point season-low offensive output (with or without Cousins) in an 88-83 loss to the Jazz.

Yes, there will be complexities of spacing, and Cousins' No. 2 NBA usage rate is sure to conflict with Davis', which was No. 6, but the basic concept of having this powerhouse on the strong side and this powerhouse on the weak side with proper ball reversals is an unstoppable premise.

NEW ORLEANS, LA - MARCH 03: DeMarcus Cousins #0 of the New Orleans Pelicans and Anthony Davis #23 reacts during the second half of a game against the San Antonio Spurs at the Smoothie King Center on March 3, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: U
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

That takes familiarity and coaching, and that was apparent in just how much effort was needed for that first Davis assist to Cousins.

"Before that, he told me what he was going to do," Davis said, adding that Cousins was also yelling, "A.D.! A.D.! A.D.!" with his eyes wide to the point they were almost as big as those under Davis' famous unibrow. From the left elbow, Davis made a simple, on-time, two-handed pass from high over his head to Cousins, who had bullied the Lakers' Julius Randle from the right post all the way under the basket.

However much help he gets or doesn't get in meshing with Cousins, though, Davis has to be the one who owns this.

It's part of the job profile of a true franchise player. It's the leadership Davis said before the season he's aspiring to reach, even though teammates refer to him as "a goofball" or "a big kid."

Close friend Tim Frazier can see Davis is more aware that he must be accountable to everyone else. But Frazier also acknowledged a clear discrepancy between Davis' leadership and how Damian Lillard managed or even manipulated guys toward their best selves when Frazier was in Portland last season.

"Dame…" Frazier said. "He had pretty much figured everybody out."

Lillard faces his own challenges in building a winner or even a playoff qualifier this season in Portland, but there's no doubt about his leadership.

Either Davis uses Cousins' arrival as a moment to get even more serious about leadership—or the Pelicans will most surely become as lame and inconsistent as Cousins made the Sacramento Kings.

NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 22:  DeMarcus Cousins #0 and Anthony Davis #23 of the New Orleans Pelicans work out together during practice on February 22, 2017 at the New Orleans Pelicans practice facility in Metairie, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly
Layne Murdoch Jr./Getty Images

That's why these last 18 games are so critical. There's a potential match in the way Cousins will be the life of the party in the locker room—his voice bounced off all the walls late Sunday night at Staples Center, bringing in those of his teammates—and Davis' dry, sometimes childish style of humor.

But Davis has to be clear in every way that he stands above Cousins as the incumbent star, as the superior player and as the man best positioned to guide the franchise stably toward a much-needed better future.

No matter how Cousins acts—or acts out—Davis has something real with which to work.

It's fair that we put more on him too.

Kevin Ding is an NBA senior writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @KevinDing.

Related

    Tobias Harris Says 76ers 'For Sure at the Top in the East'

    NBA logo
    NBA

    Tobias Harris Says 76ers 'For Sure at the Top in the East'

    Paul Kasabian
    via Bleacher Report

    3 Takeaways from 2019 NBA Summer League

    New Orleans Pelicans logo
    New Orleans Pelicans

    3 Takeaways from 2019 NBA Summer League

    Hoops Habit
    via Hoops Habit

    1 FA Target for Each Team Next Offseason

    Who is your team's top target next summer?

    NBA logo
    NBA

    1 FA Target for Each Team Next Offseason

    Who is your team's top target next summer?

    Andy Bailey
    via Bleacher Report

    NBA Superstar Duos Voting Results

    You voted LeBron and AD as the top duo 🏆

    NBA logo
    NBA

    NBA Superstar Duos Voting Results

    You voted LeBron and AD as the top duo 🏆

    Straw Poll
    via Straw Poll