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NBA Daily: Kevon Looney Has Arrived

Kevon Looney got off to a slow start in the NBA but has worked hard and turned himself into a valuable contributor, writes David Yapkowitz.

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Many times, finding success in the NBA is just about getting an opportunity. Some players spend a few years sitting on the bench until their number is finally called. That was the situation that Kevon Looney found himself in these past few years with the Golden State Warriors.

Once a projected lottery pick, Looney fell to the end of the first round of the 2015 NBA Draft due to some injury concerns as well as questions about how his game would translate to the NBA. He only saw playing time in five games during his rookie year, before re-aggravating a hip injury.

Summer league is usually a time when young players are given the opportunity to showcase their abilities in hopes of finding regular rotation minutes once the season begins. Unfortunately for Looney, he was forced to miss summer league the offseason following his rookie year due to rehab from his injury.

His second year in the league was more of the same. Injury issues combined with limited effectiveness on the court led to him sitting on the sidelines as the Warriors won the 2016 championship. It wasn’t until last season that he finally heard his number called.

“My first couple of years I had to wait my turn. I was injured, but I kept working hard. I knew Steve [Kerr] always gives guys an opportunity to play, and I knew if I ever had an opportunity I would take advantage of it,” Looney told Basketball Insiders. “I had a couple opportunities I didn’t take full advantage of, but last year I feel like I started taking advantage of it. This year I’ve been thriving at it. You got to stay ready and keep producing when you’re in the game.”

Last season, Looney played in a career-high 66 games, including four starts. His numbers may not have jumped off the page (4.0 points per game and 3.3 rebounds in 13.8 minutes), but his ability on the defensive end, especially being able to switch on guards out on the perimeter, was crucial to Warriors’ success.

His value in the playoffs was magnified even more when he went from bodying up LaMarcus Aldridge and Anthony Davis in the paint, to covering James Harden and Chris Paul on the wing. In the series against the Houston Rockets, Looney became a starter after Andre Iguodala suffered an injury.

He went on to help the Warriors defeat the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals, and finished the postseason with the most number of minutes played among the Warriors’ centers. Golden State was a noticeably different team defensively with Looney on the court.

Being able to contribute in such a meaningful way to a title made everything he went through early on all worth it. Prior to that, there was a time that he even questioned how long he really had in the NBA.

“It makes me feel good. That’s something they can never take away from me in my career. My first couple of years I was sitting on the sidelines watching them win a championship,” Looney told Basketball Insiders. “Last year, for me to be a part of it, to actually play and make contributions to the team, it was really special for me. Early in my career with the injuries I had, I was doubtful if I would still be a professional. To make an impact, it gave me a lot of confidence to continue on.”

After the postseason he had, it was believed that Looney was going to draw quite a bit of interest on the free agent market. The Warriors had declined his fourth-year option and losing him after his playoff run seemed to be a high possibility.

But that interest never really materialized and he came back to the Warriors on a one-year deal. Prior to the start of this season, Damian Jones was penciled in as the Warriors starting center, but when he suffered a season-ending injury about a month and a half into the season, Looney took his place.

He was the Warriors’ starting center until the return of DeMarcus Cousins in January. This season, Looney is putting up career-highs across the board. He’s averaging 6.2 points per game while shooting 60.8 percent from the field, and 5.7 rebounds. He acts as a great compliment to the Warriors’ plethora of scorers.

“I come in and play hard every night and give energy. As a big, it’s being an anchor on defense, make all the hustle plays, do all the small things for our team,” Looney told Basketball Insiders. “We got a lot of great scorers, so I do all the dirty work like setting screens, finishing at the rim, all those things. I’ve been doing a decent job at it.”

While he wasn’t seeing minutes on the court during his first few years in the league, Looney made sure he kept up with all the mental preparation that comes with being in the NBA. He soaked up all the knowledge he could from the Warriors’ vets while continuing to work out and hope that one day he’d get to help the team win.

“It’s a lot of preparation. My first couple of years I really learned how to be a pro, learned how to work, and know what it takes to be a professional in the NBA,” Looney told Basketball Insiders. “I put the work in then so when my name is called up now, I’m ready to go out there and perform.”

Although Looney will have to face free agency again this coming offseason, he remains focused on the task at hand. The Warriors are seeking a third straight championship, something that hasn’t been done in over a decade when the Los Angeles Lakers won from 2000-2002.

And while he’s focused on that, he does have a few personal goals of his own, namely to be recognized as one of the league’s best defensive players.

“I just want to continue to get better. I want to be a pro for a long time. I just want to get better and continue to win,” Looney told Basketball Insiders. “A championship is our goal for the team, I want to be able to win that championship and for me to contribute. I got my own goals, I want to be one of the best defenders in the league and things like that. I’m trying to get better every day.”

David Yapkowitz has been a staff writer for Basketball Insiders since 2017. Based in Los Angeles, he focuses on the Pacific Division as well as the NBA at large.

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