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Golden State Warriors

Biggest questions as DeMarcus Cousins returns for the Golden State Warriors

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DeMarcus Cousins returns [nba.com illustrations]

DeMarcus Cousins makes his debut with the Golden State Warriors on Saturday against the Los Angeles Clippers right as the two-time defending champions are starting to find their groove.

Winners of six straight games while pouring in 133.8 points and winning by an average of 18.5 points per game, the Warriors suddenly look like the overwhelming title favourite most pegged them to be at the start of the season.

Now they add perhaps the single most dominant offensive big man in the game.

And yet while that might not seem totally fair, there's still room for healthy skepticism. Here are five of the biggest questions surrounding Boogie's return.

How will Cousins look right away?

Cousins hasn't played since Jan. 26 of last season.

The last time we saw him on an NBA floor, he was putting the finishing touches on a 15-point, 13-rebound, 11-assist triple-double in a statement win over the Houston Rockets, the twin tower pairing with Anthony Davis starting to take the shape of a real problem out west.

That was 357 days and one torn Achilles ago.

Nobody expects the Boogie of old to come walking through that door from the jump. Coming back from an injury of that nature, especially for someone his size, takes time. Even if he was walking back into a familiar situation with a roster he's played with for a decade, it wouldn't be realistic to hold him to that same All-Star expectation right away.

That he's joining arguably one of the most talented collections of All-Star talent ever assembled on a team and well ... you get the idea.

Will Cousins close games?

For several years now, the Warriors have gone small down the stretch of big games with Andre Iguodala joining Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Kevin Durant (and before that, Harrison Barnes).

Once Cousins is fully back and in the swing of things - which there is no guarantee of happening this season - it will be particularly interesting to see if he works his way into that closing lineup or if Steve Kerr opts to go with his proven battle-tested Hamptons 5.

There's enough time left in the regular season to experiment and tinker with different looks, so this is a question we probably won't know until we actually arrive to the postseason.

How will Cousins impact the offence?

As it stands right now, these Warriors have the single-most efficient offence in modern NBA history.

Better than any of their recent teams and better than last year's Rockets.

Scoring 115.6 points per 100 possessions is simply mind numbing and something that's probably been lost a bit in the shuffle as Golden State has worked out various kinks throughout the first half of the season.

This isn't groundbreaking insight, but Cousins is used to getting his touches. Perhaps he'll adjust into a low-usage role as an incredibly over-qualified role player, but the safer bet is that at times Golden State will look to run its offence through the bruising big man who oh-by-the-way finished fourth in the entire league in usage rate last season behind only James Harden, Joel Embiid and Russell Westbrook.

Shots will need to come from somewhere. Current starting centre Kevon Looney has been taking just over five per game in his role as a starter and I'm guessing it won't be as simple as transferring those over to Cousins with no other moving pieces.

Warriors Leaders in Shots Per Game
Stephen Curry 20.2
Kevin Durant 19.2
Klay Thompson 18.8
Draymond Green 6.8
Quinn Cook 6.4

Cousins also knows how to fit in with high octane systems.

Although these Warriors currently rank just 10th in pace in a league trending faster by the day, they actually play faster than last season's New Orleans Pelicans who led the NBA in pace.

Despite playing quicker whenever Cousins sat, the Pelicans still ran at a league-leading rate whenever Cousins was on the floor. All that is to say don't expect Golden State to stop playing like Golden State as it integrates Cousins into the fold.

Which teams will Cousins help the most against?

Assuming good health, a star of his stature will help against anyone.

But if we're really looking closely at potential opponents, the four teams he helps the most against are the Thunder, Rockets, Nuggets and 76ers.

Oklahoma City has given Golden State fits for a long time. It was the case when Durant played there and it's still the case now.

The Thunder are one of the grittiest teams in the league and Steven Adams is a problem. There's a roadmap that exists for OKC to hang with the Warriors with brute strength as their roster is filled top to bottom with hard-nosed, defensive-minded players. Cousins plays with a nastiness that would help in any tough and physical series like the one they'd likely get with the Thunder.

Houston nearly knocked off the Warriors last season. Though James Harden and that three-point shooting offence gets most of the attention, it's on the other end where the Rockets really messed with the Warriors by switching everything and goading them into more iso-ball that they would have liked.

With Cousins on the floor, that switch everything philosophy flies out the window or at the very least becomes significantly more complicated. He's simply too big, too strong and too gifted to let wings and guards fend for themselves against Boogie on the block.

It seems odd to suggest the Warriors need Cousins against Denver after what they did to the Nuggets earlier in the week. While they likely don't "need" him per se, Cousins certainly increases the margin for error which shouldn't be marginalized given how explosive the Nuggets can be on offence.

MORE: Warriors set records while throttling Nuggets

Nikola Jokic isn't exactly a Defensive Player of the Year candidate. Against Green, Looney, Damian Jones or Jordan Bell, Jokic wouldn't be placed out of his comfort zone too much. Short of getting back in transition with Green or protecting against a few rim runs, there's not much tension on that end.

Cousins is a different animal who for the last half decade has been the single best player in the NBA at getting players into foul trouble. Last season with the Pelicans was the fifth straight year that he led the league in drawn fouls per game.

With Cousins, not only would Jokic likely spend far more time as a primary defender, he'd also have to avoid foul trouble. Given his importance to their offence and reluctance to pick up fouls, it's a matchup Golden State could look to exploit.

Out of any Eastern Conference team that the Warriors could face in the NBA Finals, none presents a challenge like the Philadelphia 76ers. It's not because they're necessarily better than the Raptors, Celtics, Bucks or Pacers, it's that they have Joel Embiid.

For many of the same reasons Cousins would give Houston fits, Embiid has the potential to do the same to Golden State.

Cousins gives the Warriors the option of giving Embiid a taste of his own medicine, something they couldn't do with the other options down low.

What's the downside for the Warriors?

Keeping the focus strictly to on-court fit, this isn't a 100% slam dunk, guaranteed upgrade.

While the allure and potential of adding Cousins to a team already oozing with talent is simply too good to pass up for the Warriors, it doesn't come without risk.

As mentioned at the top, the Warriors finally look like The Warriors again.

Stephen Curry is having his best season since winning MVP. Ditto for Kevin Durant, who is flirting with 50-40-90 while averaging over 28 points per game AND a career-high in assists. Klay Thompson is starting to shoot himself out of a first-half slump. Even Draymond Green, who has not looked the same offensively, remains one of the NBA's top three or four most impactful defenders and is quietly having somewhat of a banner year on that end.

When Golden State has looked vulnerable this season it's largely been a result of a thin bench and lack of perimeter depth. Cousins doesn't solve either of those problems and it's impossible to view the decision to bring him in without considering the opportunity cost of adding another shooter or versatile defender off the bench.

For all of the optimism on how Cousins could fit in, the stark reality is that it's far easier said than done. Just as there is a roadmap for a seamless transition that results in an unstoppable juggernaut, there's also an outcome that results in not enough balls to go around and swelling confusion about changing roles.

There's a reason why "don't upset the apple cart" is a saying.

These are just some of the questions to consider as the already prolific Warriors take the next step towards further cementing themselves as truly a once-in-a-generation team.

Boogie's return is only the beginning.

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