STEVE KERR SATURDAY in his Vancouver hotel room pining for one of his players during the warriors of the golden state‘ pre-season trip to Canada in 2016.
He called assistant Chris DeMarco into his room, and the two of them sat down and talked about their sophomore center at the time, kevon looney.
“I don’t know if he’s going to make it in the league,” Kerr told ESPN, recalling the conversation.
Repeating that sentence out loud hurt Kerr. He had been a longtime Looney defender since the Warriors drafted him 30th overall out of UCLA in 2015.
The team declined to exercise Looney’s fourth-year option prior to the 2017–18 season, making him an unrestricted free agent the following summer.
Given Looney’s injury history (he only played five games in his rookie season and 53 in his sophomore year) and the fact that he couldn’t play more than 20 minutes a game and was limited in practice due to hip surgery , Kerr had to ponder moving on from the great man.
That conversation, those thoughts, now seem like years ago to Kerr. And unbelievable given how crucial Looney has been to the Warriors, especially this season.
Now healthy, Looney is a two-time iron man, having played in all 82 games in consecutive seasons. He is the third player in franchise history to grab at least 20 rebounds in multiple games in the same playoff series. He has also found a voice to become a leader off the pitch. He is the latest X Factor from Golden State.
“I think Mon [Looney] He’s one of the best centers in the league,” Kerr said after Game 7 of the Warriors’ first-round series against the sacramento kings. “I really do. People don’t recognize him because he’s not shooting 3-pointers and stuff. But this guy is a total winner and he’s a machine.”
ALMOST TWO YEARS After Kerr and DeMarco discussed Looney’s future, the Warriors found themselves in a 2018 Western Conference Finals series against the houston rockets.
A small ball teammate who featured james harden and Chris Paul, the Rockets thought Looney was a center they could switch their guards to and have them cook. But what happened was the opposite.
Six minutes into the first quarter of Game 1, Looney traded to Harden. Harden stood just outside the 3-point line, quickly dribbling the ball between his legs, sizing up Looney and figuring out where he could pass it. Harden took a step forward before quickly backing up. He passed the ball but immediately recovered it. He tried to spank Looney again. But once again, Harden had nowhere to go, as Looney mirrored his every move and made sure his hand was on Harden’s face when he hit a 3-pointer.
This moment and the series finally showed just how successful Looney could be for the Golden State.
Looney came off the bench for the first two games of the series, but after André Iguodala injured his knee, Looney moved into the starting lineup. In Game 4, he was traded to Paul. Like Harden, Paul tried to dance around Looney to the hoop. Like Harden, Paul did not find success. Everything had clicked.
“We finally realized, ‘My God, he can change,'” Kerr said. “That was the first time I was like, ‘Oh wait, now we see something.’ We already have all these other guys who can change. So you put him at 5 and he can switch to a guard — he’s got that great body that fights for the rebounds, now there’s a spot.”
That “aha” moment was one Looney had been working on for years.
“They tested me at the highest levels of the biggest series,” Looney told ESPN. “I gained a lot of confidence in myself in that series, and I think my teammates and staff did as well.”
A large part of the Warriors’ confidence in Looney stems from his willingness to be low-maintenance on a team full of big personalities, do the dirty work and be flexible with what is asked of him.
“When you’re part of a team and you’re seeing guys sacrifice and do everything they can to win, and it’s not just the guys on the back of the bench but also the best players, you fall in line,” Looney said. “Your ego doesn’t matter. My first two years, I was hurt. I didn’t even play. So I just watched what it took to be a championship team. I learned that if Steph [Curry] It’s making sacrifices, my little ego doesn’t matter here. I learned that early and stuck with it.”
The Warriors are famous for their elite small-ball shooting and shooting lineups, which is why Looney has been nicknamed the rebounder: his one true center who clogs the paint and catches any loose ball with his 6-foot-9 frame and his wingspan 7 feet 4 inches. he will allow you.
His rebounding has increased steadily over the past two seasons, but it’s not a newly learned skill set. Upon entering the league, Looney saw it as the best trait in him. He studied filmmaking with DeMarco on how to anticipate where the ball was going to bounce and, more importantly, how to kick it to Curry and klay thompson.
“Loon, more than anything, understood that these are the things that I need to do to help this team win,” DeMarco told ESPN. “Creating more chances for Steph and Klay will get me minutes. Sounds simple, but it’s really hard to pull off… With Steph, shooting from him is his elite skill. Same goes for rebounding and Loon. It’s his elite.” . ability.”
In the Warriors’ first-round series against the Sacramento Kings, Looney’s presence on the boards was instrumental as he recorded three games with at least 20 rebounds. Nine of his 20 rebounds in Game 3 – played without dramond green (suspension) and Gary Payton II (illness) — came on the offensive glass. Looney also led the Warriors in assists (nine) while his teammates were 9-for-9 on his passes. it was a performance which led Green to suggest he will be the one to come off the bench in Game 4 once he returns from his suspension, instead of Looney.
In Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals against the los angeles lakers, Looney grabbed 23 rebounds. But since May 2, he has returned to the bench for the Warriors to counterattack the Lakers. antonio davis.
The Warriors’ ability to trust Looney to break the boards and be okay with reduced minutes makes him even more important to the team.
“[Looney is] as harsh as they may seem, but he just understands,” Kerr said. “He is realistic. He sees things very pragmatically and understands that you just do the best you can every day and the circumstances are what they are.”
Kevon Looney’s 3 offensive rebounds lead the Warriors to the basket
Kevon Looney doesn’t give up on possession, fighting for three offensive rebounds before finally getting a basket to win over the Warriors.
THIS SEASON, LOONEY he has taken it upon himself to be a mentor to his younger teammates. He sees himself as a bridge between the Warriors’ “two timelines”: At 27, he’s a bit older than younger players like jordan poole and jonathan kuminga but still younger than the core of the veteran championship.
“Now I’m trying to get that message across to the new guys coming in: These guys are willing to do anything to win. You have to be willing to do the same,” Looney said.
While Golden State sailed the consequences of last october of Green punching Poole, an incident Kerr called the “biggest crisis” the team has faced since he was hired, the Warriors coach said Looney was instrumental in keeping the locker room together.
“He’s so quiet, if you don’t pay attention, you might not realize that he’s become the moral compass for our team,” Kerr said last fall after the hit.
That kind of leadership has come in leaps and bounds since the days when Kerr said he had never heard Looney tunes speak.
His actions have gone somewhat under the radar of Warriors fans until recently.
“It doesn’t bother me,” said Looney. Now hearing the “LOOOOON!” the crowd’s chants are enough to make him feel appreciated.
And the gratitude he receives from his peers is what keeps him going.
“I’m happy that they see me as their partner,” Looney said. “In order for me to come in as a young guy, I had to earn their trust and earn their respect. In order to do that, and those guys are Hall of Famers, they will be remembered in basketball history forever.” – to be seen as a peer, as a brother, that’s all I’ve ever wanted.”