Kevon Looney shines in Warriors loss to 76ers

Occasionally one’s value as a basketball player comes from barely being noticed.

Kevon Looney doesn’t care that he’s not the standout player in any of the lineups he’s inhabiting. In most of those setups, he’s probably the fifth scoring option. He can’t create his own shot; his limited foot speed and athleticism as a relatively small five don’t even shape him as an ideal play finisher.

By default, Looney is often considered the “dirty job” man, as well as the person charged with the “clean up” chore. Putting up screens isn’t the most glamorous job description in basketball, but someone has to do it. Boxing and clearing space for yourself or your teammates to get a rebound is a thankless job.

Those are skill sets that people are likely to notice you don’t do, and they’ll make the case for it rather voraciously, rather than acknowledging that you’re successful and good at them (eg James Wiseman).

But there’s a reason Warriors fans rarely complain about Looney: Because all the things the Warriors needed from him, wanted from him, and expected from him are coming to pass, with a couple of bonuses to boot.

Looney Tunes has paid its dues and has proven its worth. Most likely, he has reached the ceiling of him, that of a limited role player to do few things and nothing more. But what has made him such a beloved figure in the organization and the fandom is precisely those few things that he can do, and that he can do those things. pretty damn good.

In many ways, being able to pull off your role perfectly frees up your top teammates to do what they do best. Need a ball screen to free up Steph Curry for a pull-up or drive to the rim? Need someone to set up a split-cut screen for Jordan Poole or Klay Thompson? Need someone who can switch on the perimeter to allow Draymond Green to roam as a defender on the help side? Need someone to get Andrew Wiggins in for a rebound?

A one-stop solution for all of the above scenarios is all Looney Tunes can provide.

His 7.7 rebounds per game is on pace to surpass his career high of 7.3 last season. His 2.4 offensive boards per game is just a shadow below his career mark. Always in the right place at the right time, Looney makes up for physical and athletic shortcomings with an impeccable sense of timing and positioning:

Looney competes with Green every night as the team’s best screen point guard, making them natural screen partners for Curry, Thompson and Poole. The synergy that Looney has developed with the Warriors’ movement shooters was cultivated in his own ability as a pivotal blocker.

He has an astute understanding of screening angles. Timing your screens perfectly: when and how long they should be set to impede the defender’s progress. That makes him not only a great traditional pick setter on ball-blocking actions, but also allows him to act as a transfer center in several of the Warriors’ independent sets they love to run:

Looney has even shown glimpses of something Green has been unquestionably elite at: short passing.

Looney is averaging career highs in assists per game (2.9) and assist rate (15.8%), a testament to the evolution of his role within the Warriors. He’s far from the injury-plagued younger version of himself who didn’t have the heavy burden of making decisions and processing them; today, he has become an indispensable hub and connector.

However, what has arguably kept him on the court has been his defensive skills. Once again, his physical limitations prevent him from reaching the highest levels of NBA defense. He won’t earn picks for all-defensive teams because of those limitations.

But there’s no shame in being a level below that, not when there are other high-level defenders occupying the same floor as him. Doing his job on defense and doing it well has gone a long way to his staying power.

Defensive versatility is the name of the game for the Warriors, and while Looney doesn’t shape up aesthetically as an all-around anchor, he makes a fool of anyone who thinks he’s stuck in just one or two coverages. He can play the drop and navigate the middle ground perfectly. He can go up to the screen level; he can protect himself and recover.

He has shown that he can switch on the perimeter and defend sharp, crafty ball handlers. The fastest guards can run over him and attack his front foot, but Looney is rarely defeated by trickery and cunning. The well of discipline from him is almost bottomless:

Even without Curry, Green, and Wiggins, Looney did his job and did what he was supposed to do: thrive by doing the job under the radar. But without three of the Warriors’ main stalwarts, the underdog suddenly stepped into the spotlight.

Impossible to ignore an almost triple-double: 14 points, 11 rebounds and 9 assists against the Philadelphia 76ers. Looney would be the first to tell someone that such stats don’t matter, especially when the Warriors failed to get a win.

But to acknowledge the work that has gone largely unnoticed and underappreciated is to acknowledge the value Looney brings to the team every time he dons a Warriors uniform. It is to affirm that the main man in the middle is no longer taken for granted, that he is being given the accolades and due flowers that he has deserved all this time.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *