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OAKLAND – Kevon Looney continues to show his value to the Golden State Warriors.
During the first quarter of Sunday’s 126-85 Game 3 win over the Rockets, Looney blocked Rockets forward Mbah a Moute at the rim on one possession, then stays down on Eric Gordon on the next, leading to a shot clock violation.
It was the latest example why the third-year big man is such a vital piece against the Rockets, and why Looney could be playing his way out of town.
Against the Rockets, Looney has been especially vital. Entering Sunday night, the UCLA product was +2 while on the floor, posting a 98.6 defensive rating – a stat that measures a player’s defensive value over an average of 100 possessions – in the Western Conference Finals.
“Looney’s a good matchup because of the isos and one on one play, you need bigs that can switch out and cover Chris [Paul] and James [Harden],” said Warriors’ coach Steve Kerr. “They’re so tough to handle and Looney’s really good at that. “So he’s gotten better and better all season. We’re thrilled with how he’s played.”
Ten months ago, Looney played against a gauntlet of NBA guards at UCLA’s Student Activities Center, including Rockets’ backcourt mates James Harden and Chris Paul. During the pickup games, Rico Hines, the game’s organizer, instituted a rule that the defensive units on the floor had to switch on every screen, putting extra pressure on the 6’9″ Looney to defend quick guards.
Adding to Looney’s stress, Hines put in place a 10 second-shot clock once offensive team crossed the halfcourt line, putting extra pressure on big men to stay with his with smaller guards when switched. Of the bigs participating during the summer, including Aaron Gordon, Julius Randle, and Myers Leonard, Looney was among the best switching bigs of the summer, according to Hines.
“I worked on that a lot,” Looney said. “I knew that was going to key to me getting on the floor. With the roster that we have, with the defense, we like to go small and I’m pretty versatile, I wanted to be able to switch out to guards and defend multiple positions. It’s something that I locked in on.
“He’s gotten better and better all season, Kerr said. “We’re thrilled with how he’s played.”
With the league venturing toward mobile bigs who can guard multiple positions on the floor, Looney provides a perfect example of what the Warriors need defensively. However, the Warriors may not get the chance to see Looney realize that potential. Seven months ago, the Warriors declined Looney’s $2.2 million option, opting to exercise second-year center Damian Jones’ $2.3 million team option.
Looney’s newfound importance could mean his days in a Warriors’ uniform could be numbered, which is something Looney isn’t focusing on yet.
“I try to stay in the moment,” Looney said. “Try to focus on the goal at hand. I know if I play well, good things will happen for me.”
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