After injury derailed the early part of his NBA career, Kevon Looney has developed into the Golden State Warriors' ironman over the past few seasons. Sunday's 118-114 win over the Portland Trail Blazers was the veteran center's 254th-straight combined regular season and playoff game, with Looney's last absence coming back on March 20, 2021.
The Warriors' lack of size and genuine big man depth has placed often unfair pressure on Looney over the last few years, and usually the 27-year-old has been able to answer the call. However, as the franchise battles simply to make the playoffs so far this season, the workload on Looney may be finally taking its toll.
Kevon Looney's consecutive games played streak must come to an end, for the good of he and the Golden State Warriors
Looney's never been one to rely on athleticism -- much of that was curtailed by the early injuries, and instead it's his IQ and knowledge of the Golden State system that's made him so valuable. But even for him, the three-time champion looks tired and lethargic right now.
The lack of any sort of explosiveness is showing up particularly on the offensive end -- Looney's inability to take advantage of opportunities at the rim has been glaring. He's shot less than 50% from the floor over the last eight games, an incredibly low mark given almost all of his shots come within the paint.
That's not to mention the times Looney's forced to kick it out after a series of pump-fakes, or how his lack of scoring threat can hurt his teammates drives to the rim. The lack of spacing with he and Draymond Green was becoming untenable before the latter's suspension, and the same issues still present with Looney and Jonathan Kuminga as the starting four and five.
Looney's decline in form this season is far from his own doing. The front office's inability to add more center options over recent seasons has finally caught up with him (and them). Green's needless ejections and subsequent suspensions doesn't help matters, placing even more pressure on his frontcourt teammate.
Head coach Steve Kerr had a period where he went away from Looney, limiting him to around 15 minutes on average over a five-game stretch between November 30 and December 12. The final of those was when Green got ejected and then indefinitely suspended, pushing Looney back to 26 minutes a game over the following two.
Ironically, given we've spoken about their inability to add bigs, the Warriors actually drafted a center whose looked playable in the minutes he's seen. Trayce Jackson-Davis has recorded more blocks (9) in 132 minutes this season than Looney (8) has in 574 minutes. The 57th overall pick has the fifth-highest cumulative plus-minus on the roster at +28, while Looney is third-last at -43.
These numbers aren't to say Jackson-Davis is the better player by any means, but it does suggest that the differential production between he and Looney probably wouldn't be substantial. We finally saw that in action on Sunday night in Portland, with Jackson-Davis getting run after Dario Saric picked up three first-half fouls. The 23-year-old played himself into more second-half minutes, finishing with an impressive 14 points, eight rebounds, three assists, two steals, a block and was +8 in less than 18 minutes.
The way that Looney has looked over recent games, why not give him a night or two off to help him find his legs and hopefully re-emerge as the consistent and valuable asset he's been in recent seasons?
Will that happen? Almost assuredly not. Green's absence and Golden State's 12-14 record means that Kerr and the coaching staff will summize that they can't afford to be without Looney. Then there's the matter of the streak which is now at a point where you wouldn't dare break it when there's not an injury per se. However, for the future success of the Warriors this season and moving forward, you could argue that a Looney rest might be best for both he and the franchise.