The Denver Nuggets are biding their time until the playoffs. By that point, reigning MVP Nikola Jokic should have the help necessary to go after the team’s first title in franchise history. But until then, DeMarcus Cousins is here for the assist.
Cousins’ career arc has seen him go from perennial All-Star to 10-day contract journeyman. But for now, the big man has found a home in Denver. And in just a few minutes of every game, Boogie makes an impact that Jokic and company need to remain in contention.
DeMarcus Cousins is making the most of his limited opportunities with the Denver Nuggets
Cousins has built a very solid career since entering the NBA in 2010. The 6-foot-10 center is a four-time All-Star and two-time All-NBA selection who averaged over 22 points for five straight seasons with the Sacramento Kings and New Orleans Pelicans. However, devastating injuries to his ACL and Achilles have turned the 31-year-old into a deep reserve.
Boogie is not going to steal much playing time from Jokic. But the former All-Star is making his minutes count on the Nuggets, his fourth team in two seasons.
On Jan. 21, 15 days after he was waived by the Milwaukee Bucks, Denver inked Cousins to a 10-day contract. In 10 games since, he’s averaging 7.7 points and 6.6 rebounds in only 13.6 minutes per game. That gives him a Per-36 of 20.4 points and 17.5 rebounds, which ranks third and first on Denver, respectfully. Not to mention, the Nuggets are a perfect 10-0 when Cousins plays.
Cousins is coming off his two best games as a Nugget. Saturday against his old Kings squad, the 11-year veteran finished with nine points and eight boards through 13:36, finishing with a +10 plus-minus. The following night against the Portland Trail Blazers, the big man had 19 points, eight rebounds, and six assists in only 17:37. He also had an astounding +27 rating.
The center’s breakthrough couldn’t have come at a better time. After three 10-days, Cousins signed a rest-of-season contract with Denver last Friday. He will now make $683K for the rest of this year as he provides valuable backup for Jokic and the rest of the Nuggets’ A-team.
Cousins’ play should help the Nuggets get by until Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. return
Clearly, the Cousins signing has worked out well for Denver. But unless Jokic suffers a significant injury, he’s only going to be a backup.
Don’t get us wrong, Boogie’s play off the bench has been huge. Though Denver won’t start talking championship unless he’s also backing up Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr.
Murray has been out since last April as he continues to recover from a torn ACL. Meanwhile, Porter Jr. underwent back surgery last November after only appearing in nine games. Neither has been able to move the needle for the 36-25 Nuggets, but that should change in the near future.
According to The Athletic, both Murray and Porter Jr. are on track to return for the playoffs. They could even be back a little sooner, with Porter closer to returning in mid to late March.
In 2020, the last time Denver had a playoff run with all three players on the court together, it made the Western Conference Finals. Now, the Nuggets can have their stars back along with critical depth pieces like Cousins, Bryn Forbes, and Bones Hyland.
The Nuggets are a dark horse championship contender
Despite injuries to two of their three best players, the Nuggets are holding their own in a tough Western Conference. And they’re getting hot at the right time, winning six in a row to place them in a tie with the Dallas Mavericks for the five-seed.
Though once all the pieces are back in place, it will be hard to ignore the mile-high potential in Denver.
Jokic has been as brilliant as ever, putting together a strong case to win his second straight MVP. Before Murray tore his ACL, he was averaging a career-high 21.2 points. Porter Jr. also had a career-best season in 2020-21, averaging 19.0 points with 7.3 rebounds. Those three will join Aaron Gordon and Will Barton in forming one of the league’s top starting fives.
Then on the bench, Cousins has already proven himself as an unstoppable force in small quantities. Between him, Monte Morris, and Jeff Green, plus Forbes, Hyland, and JaMychal Green, few teams boast a bench as strong as Denver’s.
Jokic and the Nuggets are going to be a nightmare once the playoffs arrive. But thanks to Cousins, opponents won’t get a break when the first unit leaves the court.