Usually when the word “freaky” is used to describe an NBA player, it refers to traits like leaping ability, athleticism or wingspan. On Thursday, when New Orleans All-Star big DeMarcus Cousins uttered that term regarding point guard Rajon Rondo, it was from an entirely non-physical perspective.
“He’s so smart sometimes it’s actually kind of scary,” Cousins said during a conference call from South Africa, where he’s participating in a Basketball Without Borders trip. “It’s like you might think he’s psychic – it’s kind of freaky.
“Something that’s going to stand out right away to a lot of the New Orleans media, the fan base and the city, is his intelligence. His IQ is through the roof.”
Cousins was instrumental in helping to convince Rondo – a Sacramento teammate in 2015-16 – to come to the Crescent City as a free agent, but the NBA’s seventh-leading scorer said he isn’t done there, vowing to continue recruiting efforts around the league. When asked why he believes it’s important to go all-in on trying to get other players to become Pelicans, he responded, “for one, we want to win, so we needed as much talent and as many pieces as we can get. I’ve reached out to everybody. I mean, I don’t want to throw names out there, but some of the biggest names on the block right now, I’ve reached out to.”
In an effort to return to the playoffs after a two-year absence, New Orleans is facing stiff competition in the Western Conference, headlined by Golden State, reigning NBA champions and the best West team for three straight seasons. Cousins alluded to the fact that many squads are gearing up to try to compete with the Warriors.
“It’s about being better,” the seven-year veteran said of the Pelicans. “We see where the NBA is going – and we need as much help and as much talent as we can get, just to match up with the reigning champs. We’re just trying to better the situation. We’re fully invested in this and we want to win.”
Another piece of the 26-year-old’s efforts to improve the Pelicans has come from his own summer conditioning program, which quickly produced results. As New Orleans’ Alvin Gentry put it in an earlier conference call from South Africa, “anyone who’s seen his Instagram posts, you can see how his body is looking and what he’s done in transforming his body. One thing we talked about is we have to be in great condition and great shape, because we’re not going to be a walk-it-up, play-slow team. We’re going to continue to run and attack.”
Cousins echoed Gentry’s sentiments, explaining that playing at a lower weight will help him continue to adjust as the league moves toward a style that requires quickness and versatility on defense.
“Being able to move easier (and having) less stress on your joints, knees and feet,” Cousins listed of the benefits of being lighter. “Also being able to keep up with the pace at all times. The game has changed in this so-called, small-ball era. I have to be able to move where I can guard almost every position. You can’t be a bulky big man anymore, because it’s not just about banging in the post. It’s about switching basically every position. There are some nights where I might have to end up guarding a point guard. So I have to prepare myself for those situations.
“I really wanted to focus on my body this summer. I kind of let myself go in the second half of the season last year. I got in a place where I didn’t really want to be, so my main focus (this offseason) was to get in tip-top shape. I really wanted to transform my body to fit our offense, and I felt this would better myself and my team.”
In addition to personnel changes on the floor, New Orleans added assistant coach Chris Finch, who brings his offensive philosophy from Denver. The Nuggets were the best team offensively in the NBA from Dec. 15 through the end of last season, behind an unselfish attack with elite-passing center Nikola Jokic as a hub. Cousins projects that his specific role in the offense will change a bit, perhaps capitalizing even more on his distributing skills.
“It will be different, but I think a lot of the offense will be run through me in the high-post area, because of my passing ability,” said Cousins, who averaged a career-high 4.6 assists in ’16-17. “That’s something (Finch) brought to me. Some of the ideas he brought up will work and help our team. He has some good ideas. I’m excited.”