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Warriors season review: What does the future hold for Kevon Looney?

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Just before the Finals there was a discussion in the comments about whether the Warriors should be moving on from Kevon Looney. But it’s too soon to pass final judgments.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Golden State Warriors Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

With two intriguing new Ducks on the GSW pond in Jordan Bell and Chris “Two-Way” Boucher, is there still hope for the Loon?

It must be said that so far things haven’t panned out for Bob Myers’ young Bruin Kevon Looney as hoped. By the end of last season, he had regressed from budding rotation player to arguably the team’s 15th man, or at best 14a-14b with Damian Jones. Still: barring an insurmountable medical issue (which is always a possibility) I think it’s too soon to write him off.

It’s important to remember that he’s still a young 21 — three months younger than Patrick McCaw, six months younger than Damian Jones, thirteen months younger than Jordan Bell, three years and three months younger than last year’s ROY Malcolm Brogdon. No one has written off Jones, who’s shown even less as a pro than Looney. At Looney’s current age, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green were all still college kids.

Despite a combo of chronic, worrisome hip/labrum issues, major surgery on both labra, and an awkward 30-35 pound bulk-up during the 2016 offseason — all of which seemed to sap his athleticism — Looney has to date put up these numbers as a pro (per 36 minutes):

11.1 pts on .558 true shooting

10.3 rebounds

2.3 assists

1.1 steals

1.3 blocks

1.4 turnovers

Those are much better numbers than (for example) Tristan Thompson put up in his first two NBA seasons. Yes, even cutting him a fair measure of slack for the weight gain and surgery recovery, Loon will almost certainly always lack the explosive athleticism of TT or Jordan Bell. On the other hand, neither TT nor Bell has Looney’s loony length. Per DraftExpress:

Thompson: 7’-1.25” wingspan, 9’-0.25” standing reach

Bell: 6’-11.75” wingspan, 8’-8.75” standing reach

Looney: 7’-3.75” wingspan, 9’-2.0” standing reach

And heck, throw out the the tape measure: neither Bell nor Thompson — even at age 26 — has Looney’s diverse skillset. As a former high school point guard, Looney can actually dribble, pass, see the floor, and shoot, while Thompson does none of the above, even at age 26.

Note: I say “shoot” since Looney put up an impressive 41.5% from three as an 18-year-old freshman at UCLA. But we should probably temper that number with the understanding that (1) it was in a small sample of 53 attempts; (2) he has yet to flash that same credible three ball as a pro; and (3) he’s a ~63% FT shooter as a collegian and a pro, and FT% in young players actually tends to correlate better with projectable NBA three-point shooting than small-sample college 3FG%.

Overall, though, a pretty rare cocktail of length and skills. I think people tend to forget that early in the season, he showed flashes of being a precocious Kerr-ball big man, in the Draymond mold: high hoops IQ, smooth ball skills, great hands, great length on defense and a fantastic knack for rebounding. There were games like this one against the Lakers, where he went 5-for-5 from the floor with five boards in 13 minutes.

Then, sometime around mid-season, a combo of recurring health issues and the blossoming of McCaw, a surprisingly resurgent James Michael McAdoo (who brought athleticism Looney lacked), and the miracle of JaVale McGee knocked him down in the rotation, and he never really found his way back up.

The main red flag right now is of course health, which again, might be a permanent, insurmountable issue — or might not. Maybe losing some of the weight he gained last offseason and being another year removed from surgery will help him regain some quickness and explosiveness, or maybe it won’t.

Since I’m not a team doctor, I’m not qualified to say. It might be worth noting that a lot of the self-styled physicians on this site and elsewhere thought age-23 Curry had permanent, insurmountable health issues; and that, if possible, we should trade him for a stud like Dwight Howard or a "real point guard " like Deron Williams or Rajon Rondo.

What we do know is that the Warriors have picked up Looney’s $1.47M option for the 2017-18 season; as with Curry, Thompson, Harrison Barnes before him, they can afford to be patient with him. Like them, he’s a first round pick who’s cost-controlled for another 2-3 years. With pricy vet contracts clogging up the cap and pushing the team into luxury tax hell for the foreseeable future, it behooves the Warriors to get contributions from cheap, young players like Looney, McCaw, Jones, and the two new Ducks. If team medical staff deems he’s damaged goods physically, that’s one thing, but for now I think it would be needlessly rash to cut ties with him for any other reason.

In any case, with Las Vegas Summer League starting tomorrow, we should get a nice early glimpse at how Looney’s progressing, in terms of his body, his health, and his game. We’ll also get to see how he stacks up against Jones and Bell, his likely top competitors for rotation minutes. I’m not expecting him to light the world on fire like 2009 Anthony Randolph (who outshone that skinny rookie from Davidson), but if he shows flashes of improved quickness and explosiveness, you may have to put me back in the Looney bin.

Poll

How would you grade Kevon Looney’s 2016-17 season?

This poll is closed

  • 1%
    A
    (26 votes)
  • 4%
    B
    (94 votes)
  • 27%
    C
    (540 votes)
  • 32%
    D
    (652 votes)
  • 13%
    F
    (277 votes)
  • 20%
    Inc.
    (410 votes)
1999 votes total Vote Now