Kevon Looney’s first two years in the league were uneventful. He had injuries in both hips, was out of shape, and looked like he was on his way out of the league. After all, the success rate of late-first rounders is fairly low, and missing on them is no big deal.
The Warriors declined his team option for the 2018-2019 season last October, signaling they had little trust in his development. But since then, Looney has emerged as a consistent bench player on a team that at times really lacked depth. Though his minutes throughout the regular season were inconsistent, he showed noticeable improvement from years past.
Looney is not a good scorer, only an average rebounder, and a poor passer. But defensively, he offers skills few big men can: he can protect the rim and play perimeter defense. That combination is especially important in today’s NBA. Being so versatile defensively helped Looney stay on the court during the playoffs: of all the centers on Golden State’s roster, Kevon Looney played the most minutes in the postseason. Against the Rockets, by far the Warriors’ most dangerous opponent this year, Looney was invaluable.
The Rockets’ offense thrives on isolation scoring when opponents switch their screens. But James Harden and Chris Paul could not break down Looney on the perimeter: he moves his feet just quick enough, and uses his incredible length to bother shots. He has great technique, doesn’t fall for pump fakes, and goes straight up to contest. Especially in the wake of Andre Iguodala’s injury, the Warriors needed five guys to step on the court and fend off isolation after isolation. Both Looney and Stephen Curry were good enough to bother James Harden, and after Chris Paul went down, Houston simply didn’t have enough firepower. Kevon Looney went up against James Harden, the MVP and one of the best isolation scorers of all time, and came out victorious.
Because the Warriors’s unwisely declined his team option for next year, Looney is a free agent this offseason. Even worse, the Warriors can only sign him for 2,200,000 dollars for next year. It’s very possible that he signs a decent-sized contract with another team. If he gets enough money from a team with a good situation, he should take it.
But teams might not give him that contract. Although he is great defensively, he can’t do much offensively other than finish easy layups. His best fit is with the Warriors, and he could become invisible in the wrong system. If he decides to come back to the Warriors for next season for that $2.2 million amount, the Warriors could re-sign him for the 2019-2020 season for any amount with their Bird rights, which would be a great situation for Looney. Danny Leroux explores the cap situation in depth here.
Jordan Bell is the most promising young big on the Warriors, but Kevon Looney is solid, has playoff experience, and can improve on both ends. He’s had an amazing season, and deserves a bunch of praise for how quickly and convincingly he turned his career around. Few players go from most forgotten man on the team to starter in the NBA Finals in the span of one season. If he leaves this offseason, the Warriors have a big hole to fill.
How would you grade Kevon Looney’s 2017-18 season?
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