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Warriors vs. Cavs NBA summer league preview: Searching for a role for Kevon Looney, Jordan Bell cleared to play

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The Warriors face the Cavs tonight at 5:30 p.m. PST on NBA TV.

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Kevon Looney sits in an awkward position as a young player with a guaranteed contract participating in the 2017 Las Vegas Summer League.

As Sleepy Freud wrote the other day, there are plenty of reasons to remain hopeful about Looney’s ability to develop into a contributor as he prepares for thired NBA season with the Golden State Warriors. He has had lingering issues that have no doubt hampered his development, but was drafted into a situation where he wasn't needed so it was easy to remain patient. And even though we can’t see how he’s performing in practices, it’s easy to have faith that just practicing against a championship roster will aid his development.

Yet hope quickly gives way to doubt when you see a player with approximately two years of NBA experience — in a highly-touted championship environment, no less — take the court in summer league and struggle to make an impression.

It’s not that Looney looks like a bad basketball player — during that loss to the Philadelphia 76ers in the Warriors’ summer league, he showed off all the skills that had people excited about him when the Warriors drafted him 30th overall in 2015. He scored off the dribble on a nice crossover move and drive. He hit an open three when the ball was rotated to him. He got a block. He recorded four offensive rebounds.

Looney is a lanky big who appears to be comfortable dribbling, passing and shooting. He arguably has a smoother 3-point shot than Draymond Green did when he entered the league. Defensively, he seems to have all the physical tools to become the switchy small ball five that would be a perfect fit for the Warriors.

The problem, which was particularly pronounced in the summer league opener against the Sixers, is that he does nothing exceptionally well and often seems to just blend in to the point of being largely unnoticeable. And that wouldn’t be problematic if he wasn't a guy entering his third year in the NBA playing against guys who will never see a single minute in a NBA game.

Yes, he showed some nice things offensively, but he didn’t score at all after the first 12 minutes of the game. He did have a game-high tying four offensive rebounds in his 18+ minutes, which is promising. But two of those were recorded after blocked shots and the final offensive recorded was a tip that he missed at the buzzer that would’ve tied the game and sent it into overtime (and perhaps he deserves our gratitude for that because nobody really wants to see overtime in summer league).

So he’s a big guy who hasn’t shown he can be an especially strong rebounder against NBA competition. Although people would love to imagine him as that rangey, switchy defender, he hasn’t really shown the ability to do that with any consistency. He was never the more traditional big with a low post/rim-protecting game, but hasn’t really shown the quickness to be a big wing.

And all that begs the question, “What exactly is Looney’s role with this Warriors team?”

Anthony Slater of the Bay Area News Group summed up the somewhat paradoxical situation the Warriors are in with Looney after the loss to the Sixers.

The drafting of Jordan Bell is a bad sign for Looney’s future on the Warriors and it wouldn’t be a surprise if they try to ship his contract elsewhere before the season. But for any other team to be interested, he’s got to impress in settings like this.

As Slater alludes to in his article, it seems that Looney is closest to becoming something of a stretch four — he can shoot it comfortably enough from three and he has high post ball skills that are good enough to imagine him as a threat from the top of the key. But he really has to make an impact on these games against lower competition to deserve consideration to do that on the next level.

And Jordan Bell looks to be coming for that role.

Bell available to play

Bell left Saturday’s game early after a promising outing — nothing spectacular, but a promising foundation for a first game — and is expected to play today.

The big question for Bell is how to get him more involved so he can show the full range of what he’s capable of. When he plays with the second unit guards, he just looks sort of lost as is naturally when the guards are out there dribbling around trying to hunt for their own points. Hopefully it’s mostly just a matter of getting more practice in.

The Cavs roster

[Insert your own jokes about the Cavs.]

How to watch

What: Golden State Warriors vs. Cleveland Cavaliers

Where: Thomas & Mack Center — Las Vegas, NV

When: 5:30 p.m. PST

TV: NBA TV

Buddy Blog: Fear the Sword