DeMarcus Cousins has progressed through his rehab with little to no setbacks and is expected to take the court for the first time as a Golden State Warrior shortly after Christmas. Prior to the season, the Warriors’ signing of Cousins had the NBA community in an uproar. Warriors fans were thrilled and others were giving up on their favorite team before the season even started. It’s safe to say that the other teams still have hope as the Warriors have fought through injuries and drama, landing them in the second spot in the West with a 15 and 7 overall record.
With a starting lineup boasting four current NBA stars, there have been lots of questions about what DeMarcus Cousins’ role will be in the lineup. To try and understand Cousins’ role and effectiveness with his new team, I decided to take a look at other players who have gone through serious ACL injuries. For this analysis, I decided to compare player stats from the year of their injury to their first and second seasons back playing after recovering (seasons only counted if the players played 20 games or more). The stats I chose to look at for this analysis were field goal percentage, assists, rebounds, and turnovers. Some of the main stats we see such as steals and blocks were not included because they typically have a small year to year variance and it would be hard to attribute minor changes to the injury.
With the use of Kaggle.com, I was able to acquire a dataset of all NBA injuries between 2010 and 2018. From there I sorted through the data to leave only the players with torn Achilles/ACL injuries. With these filters applied only 38 players remained. Of those 38 players, 9 stopped playing directly after the injury or only attempted one more season (these players were removed from the dataset for lack of relevance). 5 players are currently recovering or haven’t played at least two seasons of 20 games or more since their ACL injury so they were removed from the dataset as well. This left me with 24 players with recent Achilles tears to examine.
In most cases, players returning from serious injuries are eased back into action. For that reason, I chose to take player stats per 36 minutes of playing time so decreased minutes per game wouldn’t skew player efficiency. A common mistake sports analysts seem to make is looking at totals without thinking about why they are the way they are.
When the dataset was finally put together, it lead me to some surprising findings. Regardless of player age we see that players do seem to take a step backwards in their first season back from a serious ACL injury. In the second year, there are still less productive stat lines, but many players start getting back to their output prior to injury. The most surprising observation had to be how close the post injury hustle stats were to their pre-injury output. In most cases, assists and rebounds dropped less than one per game in the averages.
Field goal percentage is a different story. All but four of the 24 players in the study dropped in overall field goal percentage their first year back and for the most part the drops were significant. Even in the second year back we see almost half of the players shooting worse than they were prior to injury.
Shooting appears to the area most significantly affected by ACL injuries and for that reason I think DeMarcus Cousins will actually do well in the Golden State. In fact, this may have been the ideal place for him to land this season. The Warriors certainly have enough scoring and outside shooting. If Cousins comes back and starts shooting like Andre Drummond from the three-point line, he can still be a beneficial part of the Warriors starting lineup. No offense to Jordan Bell, Damian Jones and Jonas Jerebko, but DeMarcus Cousins brings something to the team that the Warriors haven’t had in the splash brother’s era. He is a dominant NBA center and a powerful offensive presence under the basket. Even if Cousins isn’t playing at the level he was prior to injury, he will still be a more effective scorer in the paint than the Warriors’ current options and he will likely be a better defender, rebounder, and passer.
Cousins may have found the best place to get back up to speed. He won’t be forced into a lead offensive role he isn’t ready to take on and he will be a valuable addition to a team that just might bring home a third straight NBA Championship.