The undervalued “winning IQ” of Kevon Looney

Kevon Looney has become an iron man for the Golden State Warriors as he has yet to miss a game this season.

Kevon Looney missed 169 games over the course of his first five NBA seasons, but now he is on pace to play every single game this season and he plays one of the most important roles on the Golden State Warriors.

Kevon Looney was projected as high as the 17th overall pick in the 2015 NBA draft, but he slipped all the way to the Warriors who had the 30th overall pick. Many teams were concerned about his ability to stay healthy.

On the morning of the biggest moment of his life, ESPN reported that Looney underwent hip surgery that would keep him out of the entire season.

Even though Looney returned during his rookie season for just five games, he did not get any meaningful minutes, due to the importance of every game down the stretch for that Warriors squad. Keep in mind, that Looney watched his team lose just nine games in his first NBA season, as that squad broke the record for most wins in a regular season.

Following the 3-1 lead implosion that was the 2016 Warriors, came the most ungaurdable team in NBA history. The 2016-17 Warriors held one of the most feared lineups in all of basketball, the Hamptons Five. This lineup was composed of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Draymond Green and Kevin Durant. One of the most offensively lethal lineups the NBA had ever seen.

With how good those Warrior squads were, Looney still didn’t get a chance to play meaningful minutes. He still soaked up a ton of knowledge from some great veterans. He learned from players like Zaza Pachulia, Andrew Bogut, Draymond Green, David West, and even DeMarcus Cousins. They all taught him certain things that he still carries with him today. From screens, to defensive placements, he soaked the information up and has become one of the smartest players on the Warriors roster.

Looney was more than just a student of the game in the 2018-19 season as he was thrust into a larger role due to injuries.

When Cousins signed with the Warriors, many thought that this was the end of the Looney experiment, but Cousins struggled to stay healthy all season. So Looney was thrust into a bigger role, and he provided exactly what the Warriors needed. A decent defender and a hell of a screen-setter. The Warriors didn’t need another scorer alongside Kevin Durant, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, they just needed someone to get them open, and Looney filled that role nicely.

The 2019 season ended in devastating injuries, Kevin Durant leaving, a Finals loss and the end of the “golden years”. The Warriors spent the shortened NBA season having just 15 wins and an injury riddled season for Looney as he played just 20 games.

The following season saw the refreshed Warriors with a shiny new center, James Wiseman. Wiseman was supposed to take away Looney’s minutes, but without a proper training camp and no Summer League due to COVID-19, Wiseman was underprepared. So Looney started about half the season, and he wasn’t anything special, but he was good enough.

Finally we reach this season. Looney has seen his numbers jump across the board, but most importantly, he has yet to miss a game. *Knocks on wood* Even though his numbers don’t scream “I’m important, look at me”, he passes the eye test with flying colors.

One of the most important aspects of Looney’s game, is his basketball IQ. He is one of the smartest players on the court, and it is what makes him an integral part to the Warriors somewhat complicated system. He helps the flow of the game by setting screens, grabbing rebounds and playing solid defense. He does the little things that don’t show up on the stat sheet.

“He’s one of those guys who I’m always worried about because they do more than the eyeball sees, or the stat sheet sees,” said Warriors veteran Andre Iguodala said. “You have to have a pretty good basketball-mind to have a good understanding to see the value that he brings to the team, and that’s league-wide, you’re missing how valuable someone is because they may only have a game where they only have two points and 13 rebounds, he has a couple of those games this year, but he’s always in the right place and we’re second in the league for the record so obviously that says a lot because Steve (Kerr) trusts him.”

Looney’s number’s do not tell the tale of his importance to this years Warriors. The amount of bone-shattering screens this man sets is much needed for the Warriors offense.

Looney is a great fit for the Warriors because he knows his role, and gladly plays it. He is a good interior defender, and a decent perimeter defender, considering he is a big. His defensive percentages are actually comparable to Myles Turner, who is widely considered one of the most feared shot-blockers in the NBA. Looney does this while averaging just 0.7 blocks a game.

Looney may not be the most athletic, or tallest big, but he is undoubtedly up there with the smartest. He is listed as 6’9, and his defensive-IQ definitely helps make up for his lack of height. He is always in the right position to make a play on the ball inside the paint.

Offensively, his role is simple, set screens to get the shooters open. When that fails, roll to the rim, when that fails, act as the safety-valve at the top of the paint for a mid-range jumper. His field goal percentages by distances are nothing to write home about, but he is still a servicable offensive piece next to Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Jordan Poole.

Jordan Poole was asked about Looney’s importance in a press conference on Saturday.

“Just everything, his patience, the way he sees the floor, his communication, the way he talks in the back-side, on the defensive-end, how he makes the right reads offensively,” Poole said, “I mean he talks me through everything, he’s been huge to my development. I wouldn’t be here, in the position that I’m in now if it wasn’t for Loon. He’s helped me every single step of the way, just learning as much as I can from him.”

Every team needs a player like Looney. A player who is willing to do the dirty-work, who doesn’t care about the recognition, who’s sole goal is to win games. Warriors head coach Steve Kerr certainly understands the value of Kevon Looney. The eight-time NBA champ (five as a player, three as a coach) understands what it takes to win at the highest level.

“He’s just a total pro. He makes the game easier for everybody else,” Kerr said.

Looney is one of the most important pieces to this Warriors team, his teammates know it, and so does the organization. As an upcoming unrestricted free-agent, he will no doubt have a list of suitors that will do their best to poach him from Golden State.

“He’s one of those guys that I’ll look back and say I’m proud to be apart of that guys career because he did it the right way,” Iguodala said. “Hopefully people understand the value of having a winning IQ.”

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