Kevon Looney has been a significant piece to the Warriors’ championship puzzle the past couple of seasons, his role expanding as the campaigns have rolled on. Looney’s play has been exceptional up to this point in the season, and made his mark in last season’s Western Conference Finals with his versatility and switchability on the defensive end.
The Warriors begin their rematch of last year’s Western Conference Finals against the Houston Rockets on Sunday afternoon, a round earlier, in the Western Conference Semifinals. The defending champions dispatched a scrappy Los Angeles Clippers squad in the first round in six games.
Through the six games in the playoffs, the UCLA product averaged 7.3 points, 4.5 rebounds and 0.3 blocks. The numbers do not often tell the whole story. Looney’s ability to switch on defense and defend smaller players is a huge development in the fourth year’s game.
Here is one such play.
In the play above, Andre Iguodala gets screened off, so Looney is there to step up and contest the Lou Williams’ short jumper, which misses. Just the little things that do not show up in the box score, like the switch and contest by Looney displays his value to the team.
Although Williams is not James Harden, it is a great tune-up for the series against the Rockets. Here are a couple of plays Looney defends Harden as well as a player can defend him.
In the clip above, Harden starts to dance and tries to shake Looney to get to his patented step-back move, but Looney does a great job of not going for any of the fakes and stays disciplined. Harden eventually gets his step-back off, but not without Looney contesting with both hands and without fouling the Beard. It is textbook defense on Harden.
Here is another clip of Looney playing great defense on Harden.
In this play, Harden beats Iguodala off the dribble, Looney is in perfect help position and slaps the ball off of the backboard. This defensive play by Looney ignites the fastbreak, which gets Klay Thompson a look at a corner trey that he nails.
Chris Paul is the other player in the dangerous Houston backcourt that Looney has been able to slow down when switched on to the point guard. Paul’s quickness and surprising strength allows him to get by most defenders — not Looney.
In the Western Conference Finals Game 3 of last season, Looney put on a defensive clinic. The play above shows Looney getting switched onto Paul, with Looney not falling for any of the veteran point guard’s fakes. He stays disciplined, moving his feet and eventually forcing a pass out to the corner.
Looney might get beat sometimes on a dribble move, but his length allows him to recover to bother the shooter into a tougher shot.
Paul has a nice dribble move to free himself open for a look on this particular play, but Looney closes the gap and contests the shot with his 7’5″ wingspan.
What makes Looney such an underrated defender is his discipline and length to recover to bother the shooter. He does not reach and will move his feet, but when he does get beat, he recovers to alter or block the shot. It also helps tremendously for the Warriors that he can switch 1-5, giving Steve Kerr another versatile defender to throw at the opposing team’s best players. His length also allows him to deflect balls and come up with rebounds.
Kevon Looney is not just a switching defensive specialist. His offensive game has blossomed over the past couple of seasons. In the series against the Clippers, he shot 18-of-28 from the field, 64.3 percent from the field. His points did not come from just dunks and layups set up by his teammates. He has developed a 15-foot jump shot, which helps keep the defense honest and forces the opposing defender to venture out in uncharted territory. Looney has also improved his drives to the basket as well, looking more confident.
Here’s a great example of Looney driving to the basket. He eats up the space that Montrezl Harrell gives him and powers his way to the basket, takes the contact and banks it in. He was decisive and assertive with the drive.
Although opposing teams will be more willing to let Looney beat them instead of the four all-stars, it is a key piece in his development as an NBA player. Looney is making himself more of a scoring threat, rather than just a screen-setter on the offensive end.
With Looney’s development on the offensive end and continued improvement on the defensive end, he has become one of the most important Warriors in this second-round series against the Rockets. Looney should start in place of Andrew Bogut because of the switch everything defensive scheme Houston likes to implement. It is what makes him the x-factor for the Warriors in this series against Houston.