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Looney is the X-Factor for the Warriors heading into Game 6 in Houston

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The Warriors have patiently groomed the young forward for a day that he would lift their spirits and fortify their defense. That day has arrived.

Houston Rockets v Golden State Warriors - Game Five Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

5 points, 9 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 block, 1 steal, in 22 minutes of playing time. That’s what Kevon Looney came off of the bench to provide the Golden State Warriors in their stirring Game 5 victory against the Houston Rockets. Dub Nation rewarded him with the majority of the votes in yesterday’s “Warrior Wonder” poll, a surprising outcome to me based on the packed field of Warriors contributors for that monster game.

Looney’s impact on the game went beyond the box score though. The energy boost he provided was contagious, his hustle plays whipped Oracle Arena into a frenzy. His physicality in the trenches bullied the Rockets, something we’ve needed since nominal centers DeMarcus Cousins and Damian Jones aren’t available and Andrew Bogut is a bit long in the tooth.

Check out Looney facing the storm of 4th quarter pressure in a must win playoff game.

This dude isn’t just filling in; he belongs out there. The Warriors and their fans are ecstatic because a years-long project has finally come to fruition: Looney is ready to rock-and-roll.

The Genesis of Loon

He was drafted 30th overall in the 2015 draft out of UCLA, fresh off of the Warriors first title of the Splash Bros era. The champs saw him as an alluring project with strong potential. At 19 years old he was a stretchy big with tremendous length (7-foot-4 wingspan!), a nose for rebounding, and a sneaky good jump shot (41% from 3pt-range on 53 attempts in his lone Bruins season).

Looney was ecstatic to be selected by the fresh new Warriors, per the OC Register:

“It’s a blessing to be drafted by the champs,” Looney said. “I watched them all season. I watched them in The Finals, and to get drafted by them is a blessing. I can’t wait to get out there and play.”

“I’m really excited to be able to try to use my length to get to guys in the league, and be able to learn from guys like (Andre) Iguodala and Draymond Green, great defenders,” he said. “Klay Thompson and Steph Curry too. I think I’ll really learn from them up there.”

Ah yes, a young man eager to learn from his wise elders. And on the defensive end to boot! That would bode well for his future.

What wouldn’t bode well for his immediate time with the Warriors were multiple surgeries for his hips that effectively wiped out his rookie year.

He played 53 games in the 2016-2017 season and gained 20 pounds of muscle. Unfortunately, the surgeries and new weight sapped his athleticism, and he lumbered around the court, being outjumped and outquicked by his opponents.

Per Connor Letorneau’s season review for the SF Gate after the Warriors won the title that year:

In October, the Warriors picked up the third-year option on Looney of $1.2 million to prevent him from becoming an unrestricted free agent this summer.

Looney still is hardly safe and could be waived or traded. It’s critical that he get in better shape and impress in the Las Vegas Summer League.

Looney responded by shaping himself into a real player in 2017-2018, logging major minutes against the Spurs, Pelicans, and Rockets in the Western Conference playoffs.

Here’s what Draymond Green boasted about him after Looney’s heroic defensive effort on All-Star big Lamarcus Aldridge, per the Mercury News:

“You look at what Loon went through this year, not getting his option picked up, he could have sulked, pouted, and threw a pity party, but he did the complete opposite — that’s what got him on the court this year,” Green said after the Warriors’ Game 3 win. “This series he’s taken it to another level… and we needed it. I’m very proud of him and what he’s been able to accomplish… Just watching him grow on [defense] is special.”

Looney is seizing his moment against Houston

This season the Warriors hoped to unleash two other young big men projects (Damian Jones and Jordan Bell) along side Looney as their injured superstar giant Cousins rehabbed. Jones was up-and-down in his first year before suffering a major pectoral injury, and Bell has has been removed from the rotation. The team brought back Bogut as an insurance policy in case the team battled a titan like Nikola Jokic or Joel Embiid, but there’s not much use for the Aussie in the battle of quickness that the Warriors find themselves in now.

The Rockets employ Clint Capela and P.J. Tucker as rebounding threats and screeners for either James Harden or Chris Paul. Looney is mean enough to battle on the boards, and quick enough to chase Houston’s guards around the perimeter.

Kudos to the Warriors brass for believing in him, his veteran teammates for guiding him, and to Loon himself for being ready to ball. Looney is transforming into a real force before our very eyes. The Warriors will need him more than ever tonight in Game 6 all the way down in Houston Texas. I believe he’s up to the challenge, and if he is?

Houston, you have a problem.