Kevin Looney fits in seamlessly into the Warriors’ switching defense without derailing the free-flowing nature of the starting five’s explosive offense making him a good fit at center.
Zaza Pachulia signed with the Pistons in free agency, JaVale McGee left for the Lakers, and David West is still contemplating retirement, so Looney will compete with Jordan Bell and the newly-signed DeMarcus Cousins for time at center. Since Cousins is still rehabbing his Achilles injury, Looney will likely split time with Bell in the pivot spot.
While both players are capable, Looney is the better fit in the starting five on both ends of the floor.
Kevon Looney is the definition of “solid, yet unspectacular”, but on the Warriors, he doesn’t need to be spectacular. His strengths lie in his ability to fit seamlessly into the Warriors’ switching defense, and that was on display in last year’s postseason. The starting five is teeming with offensive talent, so the center spot doesn’t need to be an offensive hub.
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In the modern NBA, centers aren’t required to be scoring machines, but they need to hold their own on defense and Looney fits the bill. Despite being a bit undersized, Looney uses his 7-foot 4-inch wingspan to contest shots on the interior and his surprisingly nimble feet allow him to admirably corral ball handlers on the perimeter.
Looney’s defensive versatility shined in the playoffs where, despite playing only 18.4 minutes a game, his defensive rating was a stellar 97.5. The fact that Looney can competently defend all five positions is a big reason why he should start the season at center, but it is not the only reason.
Looney is far from a scoring machine, but he is improving, and more importantly, he knows his role within the Warriors’ free-flowing offensive scheme. Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Kevin Durant are all world-class shooters, so it is important that they get as many clean looks as possible. The Warriors’ game plan requires all five players to know how to set good screens and Looney is no exception.
This past season, Zaza Pachulia led the starting five in screen assists and if Looney inherits that position while playing about the same amount of minutes, it is not that much of a stretch to assume that Looney could reasonably replace Pachulia’s screen production.
Setting solid screens is perhaps Looney’s most obvious offensive strength, but he’s gotten better at finding seems around the basket so he can catch a pass and finish.
The Warriors’ superstars demand so much attention, and Looney knows that, so he’s become adept at sneaking in behind the defense to wait for dump-off passes for a dunk or a layup.
Looney has also shown flashes of an improved jump shot. If he manages to become reliable from mid-range and eventually the three-point line, Looney would increase his value to the starting five.
No one is going to mistake Kevon Looney for the uber-athletic Jordan Bell or a bruising scorer like DeMarcus Cousins, but he is the most steady of the three options at center.
There aren’t enough shots to go around in the Warriors’ star-studded offense, but Looney is comfortable with that. He slots into that fifth starter role perfectly, which allows the four other All-Stars in the starting lineup to maximize their effectiveness.
On a team this explosive, Kevon Looney is the steady hand that can help aim the firepower in the right direction.