The Quiet Art of Kevon Looney
In the most boring way possible, Warriors center Kevon Looney has found ways to impact Golden State on both sides of the floor
This season for the Golden State Warriors was highlighted by the wildly historic shooting spree of one, Stephen Curry — including a 62 point revenge tour and his claiming of the NBA’s esteemed scoring title.
Other sideshows throughout the year have featured: Draymond Green’s elite playmaking and defense; the resurgence of Andrew Wiggins’ career; and yes, the audacity of Kelly “T$unami Papi” Oubre Jr, too.
Yet, all of the things aforementioned are a full contrast to what Kevon Looney has done on the basketball court.
Saddled by multiple injuries in his 5-year tenure in the league, Kevon Looney isn’t your typical 25-year old dude. From a simple eyeball test, he seems like a 40-year old dad who looks washed. It also doesn’t help that he only averages 4 points per game. Obviously, no boxes are checked for a fan’s wildest cravings.
So how does Looney continue to have ample playing time despite his lumbering inabilities?
A clear reason is that the Warriors have had no other healthy big men available. A year that was supposed to center around rookie lottery pick, James Wiseman, was halted by a meniscus tear that he suffered in a game against the Houston Rockets. Marquese Chriss also underwent a season-ending injury early in the year, while Eric Paschall has hobbled his way in and out of the lineup.
But that’s barely the reason why Golden State stuck out with Loon. And though he may not have wowed fans with his play, his teammates surely appreciated his contributions on both ends of the hardwood. When you look at the numbers, his influence is undeniable.
Casual basketball fans often forget that true offense isn’t only about putting the ball through a hoop. Take, for example, Draymond Green being the ultimate decision-maker on the offensive end, which results in easier scoring opportunities for others. And just like Green, Kevon Looney has his own way of influencing the Warriors’ O.
In a complex motion offense run by Coach Steve Kerr for the last 5 years, familiarity in the system is hugely important to execute it properly. A lot of reading and reacts, and constant ball movement to find the best optimal shot — something younger players and late additions like Wiseman and Oubre Jr. have visibly struggled with.
Therefore, being the longest-tenured Warrior — besides Steph, Klay, or Dray— and understanding his role in this system has been a blessing for Loon. And one of his primary jobs on offense is to set different kinds of screens to free up his shooters.
Per Second Spectrum, Kevon Looney averages 3.2 screen assists, producing 8.1 points per contest. Wide-open 3s and easy buckets of split actions are essential to the Warriors’ success — now, and previously in their championship prime.
This impact of Looney makes it no wonder that Golden State has a better offensive rating when he’s on the court. His mere knowledge of what to do in the offensive scheme is perhaps his best skill, and it has statistically benefited the players around him. Just look at this stat:
Points per 100 possessions with Kevon Looney on the floor from PBP Stats
1. Andrew Wiggins (849 mins)
With Looney- 29.547
Without Looney- 24.815
2. Stephen Curry (798 mins)
With Looney- 47.15
Without Looney- 40.863
3. Draymond Green (621 mins)
With Looney- 11.422
Without Looney- 10.024
4. Kent Bazemore (596 mins)
With Looney- 18.286
Without Looney- 16.204
5. Kelly Oubre Jr. (479 mins)
With Looney- 25.91
Without Looney- 22.69
It totally explains what Kevon Looney means to the Warriors’ offense. Nothing fancy from his offensive repertoire, just pure impact on the margins. A quiet artform he has mastered to help other players get more buckets. A modern Kurt Rambis, as Steve Kerr compares him to.
Kevon Looney is as disciplined a defender you can get in the modern NBA. His lack of athleticism has not made him less impactful on that side, either, but instead has helped him focus on what he can control.
Back in 2015, Golden State introduced the small-ball “Death Lineup” in the NBA Finals. Their championship run featured big men who could easily switch on to guards while banging down low in the paint.
This season, Looney remains true to that defensive philosophy. He averages 7.8 contests on shots per game, an important piece to Golden State’s defense. Another facet of Looney’s game is the way he positions himself for a rebound — with 2.6 defensive box outs per outing, ranking 6th overall in the league.
Now, let’s zoom in to the moment when James Wiseman got injured. Since then, the Warriors had the best defensive rating in the league — only allowing 106.4 points per 100 possessions. In that stretch, Kevon Looney had special defensive performances and suddenly had an increased role.
The last 16 games for Golden State featured two of the top MVP candidates — namely Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid — as opposition. As all eyes were on Curry’s legendary streak, Looney silently put up a defensive masterclass on both of his assignments.
Looney made use of his upper body strength and defensive laterals to stifle Jokic and Embiid. In the 12:32 minutes Looney spent on Jokic, he was limited to a 38.5 field goal percentage — a far cry from his 56.6 percent average for this season. In addition, Embiid got locked down to an inefficient 11 points — where he shot 4 out of 14 from the field. And it all resulted in wins that were crucial to their run at a playoff spot — only to fall heartbreakingly short in the play-in tournament.
It takes a deep understanding of basketball to appreciate what Kevon Looney has done for the Warriors. He’s not flashy and he won’t make you jump out of your expensive seats at Chase Center — he hasn’t even convinced me to rewatch his mixtapes on YouTube.
However, one thing I can promise you is that Kevon Looney’s boringness has made an impact on Golden State— and we should appreciate his overlooked comeback. In a time when big stars are taking more time off than ever, role players like him are stepping up and making sure the game goes on.