When the Warriors drafted Kevon Looney, it was exciting for me because not only did they make the selection instead of using the pick to save money, they drafted someone I was familiar with.
Kevon Looney played one year of college at UCLA and Scout had him as a five-star recruit and #15 in the nation for the high school class of 2014. For reference, that was three spots below Justise Winslow and three above Chris McCullough (who went #29 to Brooklyn). Some ignore high school rankings but I like that they help provide an understanding of physical talent level, at least for that moment in time.
Looney’s best strength at present and likely calling card in the NBA is rebounding, specifically offensive rebounding. His 12.2 Offensive Rebound % was the 26th best single season in the last two years of NCAA basketball and #17 among underclassmen in the last five seasons. While only about 6’9.25” in shoes, Looney has a gigantic 7’3.5” wingspan and 9’2” standing reach which line up shockingly closely with Willie Cauley-Stein and Gorgui Dieng.
His rebounding totals are even more impressive because Looney does not have the raw athleticism of many of his competitors on the boards. While certainly not bad in that department (at least before his injuries), a penchant for cleaning the glass often carries over from college to the pros with or without an athleticism advantage.
A surprising development during Looney’s one year in college came at the three point line. Despite starting out as a wing, he never really showed a strong stroke from deep but made 41.5% of his threes from the shorter college line. Remember that 53 shots is not a big enough sample size to make any strong statements and he made 62.6% of his free throws but that still shows potential with coaching and effort.
What makes Looney particularly compelling for the Warriors is his ability to defend small forwards for stretches. That versatility benefits the Dubs more in terms of switching than anything else- Looney should fit in well with some of Coach Kerr’s bench units.
Looney’s injury issues:
One of the larger reasons Kevon Looney fell to the Warriors was a concern about his health, mostly in the short term.
A year ago, Looney had a hip issue but he did not miss a game or practice during last season due to that during his time at UCLA. However, Chad Ford of ESPN wrote in a 6/25 mock draft that Looney “probably misses the season” due to the hip, a claim Looney and his camp strongly deny. When asked about it after choosing the UCLA product, GM Bob Myers replied that the team needed “look at him, let our doctors make that determination” which makes sense.
On top of that, Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress tweeted that an NBA executive told him Looney was red-flagged with a degenerative back as well, which may require surgery. When asked about Looney’s back at the same presser, Myers said he was not aware of that issue but that the team doctors would make their own analysis.
Those limitations make the Warriors a logical fit because they have so little need for immediate contribution. Assuming they retain James Michael McAdoo, the Dubs even have a developmental power forward on roster.
Myers said in the presser that “ if [Looney] needs to take some time to recover from anything that might be there, or not, then he will. And we’re fine with that” which is exactly the right attitude. The adjustment to the NBA can be arduous enough and the same patience the team showed playing Iguodala less minutes during the regular season can apply even more strongly to Looney. Production down the line matters substantially more than at present even with Golden State’s desire to repeat.
Kevon Looney should end up as a Power Forward capable of defending other positions, presumably in switch situations. His biggest strength is rebounding, particularly on the offensive glass, which has been a weakness (one of the few) for the Warriors in recent seasons. If Looney’s shooting was not a mirage, he could eventually become a Draymond-lite offensively though he lacks Dray’s passing ability and court awareness on that end.
At one point, Looney’s draft hype outpaced his likely production but he fell far past that in the Draft due to injury concerns. If you imagine him as a prospect with a clean bill of health, Looney likely goes in the mid-teens or a little later depending on team needs.
While RJ Hunter would have been an even better fit had he been on the board, securing a talent like Looney with the 30th pick makes a ton of sense for the Warriors. If the health issues clear up, he could become a useful rotation player with a valuable skill set on a dirt-cheap contract as the cap explodes.