As the 2023-24 NBA season draws near, Blue Man Hoop will focus on one aspect of potential improvement for every Warrior player.
When you’ve put up career-best numbers in each of the last three seasons, it’s incredibly difficult to maintain the same level of improvement once again. That’s the case for Golden State Warriors center Kevon Looney who’s developed into one of the franchise’s most reliable figures in recent years.
The 27-year-old proved Golden State’s ironman once again in 2023-24, playing in all 82 regular season games for a second-straight season. Looney averaged career highs in minutes (23.9), points (7.0), rebounds (9.3) and assists (2.5), while shooting a career-best 63% from the field.
What those numbers don’t reflect is his defense. If there’s one aspect you could be slightly critical of with Looney last season, it’s that his defense in the regular season wasn’t quite at the level of the year before where the Warriors ultimately won the championship.
While Looney isn’t a huge shot-blocking presence, he’s nevertheless key to Golden State’s defense as a whole. There’s no coincidence that his slight drop individually saw the team fall from the second-best defense in the league in 2021-22, to a middle-of-the-road 14th last season.
Getting back to the 2021-22 defense
The defensive numbers were ever so slightly down for Looney across the board last season. Opponents shot 60.7% when guarded by the eight-year veteran from within six feet, up from 57.6% the year prior.
Looney’s versatility has always been his difference-making attribute defensively — the ability to switch onto guards/wings on the perimeter and hold his own. However, opponents shot 38.3% when guarded by Looney from beyond 15 feet, compared to 33.5% in 2021-22. His overall defensive field-goal percentage of 47.6% was up from 45.2% the season before.
The 2015 first-round pick had 2.8 defensive win shares last season, down from 3.2. Looney’s defensive box plus-minus was also down from 1.7 to 1.3. All these numbers are far from cause for concern, but it does suggest his defense can be better than what we saw last season.
In fairness to Looney, much of that may be down to the increased workload he’s taken on over recent seasons. In fact, it’s somewhat surprising his form has remained so consistent given the circumstances.
Reinforcements should be on the way for Looney, with the Warriors having acquired Dario Saric, Trayce Jackson-Davis and Usman Garuba while also holding interest in veteran Dwight Howard. Don’t be surprised to see Looney play less minutes this season in the hope that brings an increase in defensive intensity and production.