Why Kevon Looney is a key piece in the Warriors’ superb starting lineup

Peninsula Premier Admin

When combing through players Kevon Looney could resemble, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr landed on former Lakers forward Kurt Rambis.

“They’re not exactly similar players,” Kerr said. “But in terms of guys who were role players, who played very important roles on championship teams — I thought that was a decent comparison.”

Like Rambis for the “Showtime” Lakers in the 1980s, Looney knows how to play alongside and get the most out of his All-Star teammates. This is why Kerr replaced James Wiseman in the starting lineup with Looney on Monday.

After watching the Warriors get out to slow starts in two straight losses because of poor defense and offensive execution, Kerr decided to shake up the starting lineup and have Looney open games with Stephen Curry, Kelly Oubre Jr., Andrew Wiggins and Draymond Green. In the win, the Warriors got out to an early 16-point lead and outscored the Timberwolves by 21 points when Looney was on the court.

For Looney, who has scored in double digits just once this season, his impact on the game is not necessarily represented in the box score. Of course, there is one stat that pops when attempting to measure Looney’s impact: plus-minus. And Looney leads all Warriors who play consistent minutes with a plus-2.3, meaning Golden State outscores its opponent by an average of 2.3 points per game when Looney is on the floor.

“Those positive plus-minuses speak to his awareness on the floor and knowing where to be,” Kerr said. “It’s using his length defensively. He rarely draws fouls. When he’s guarding the rim, he has a great way about going vertical, being in the right position in order to go vertical, and being able to defend without reaching.”

This is most evident on defense, where Looney is seldom out of position and always communicating with his teammates. He may not be swatting away opponents’ shots, but his teammates rely on him to call out screens and smoothly defend multiple positions.

On offense, Looney thrives as a screen-setter for Curry. In his five-plus seasons with the Warriors, he’s mastered how to angle his screen, flip his body and time his roll. Sometimes, Looney will pull up old clips of Kevin Garnett and David West and study the finer points of their games.

“You can learn those small things and the fundamentals from those great guys, and just add it to the basis of your game,” Looney said. “Everybody pays attention to the points they score, but they don’t watch the screens and the rebounds. It’s all about the small things.”

Because he doesn’t have elite athleticism or size, Looney makes his impact on these margins. He studies game film, understands scouting reports and can execute the Warriors’ scheme with precision. Kerr often calls Looney a “foundational player” and “a rock” — a testament to Looney’s consistent approach.

When Minnesota cut the Warriors’ lead to eight midway through the fourth quarter on Monday, Kerr put Looney and Curry back into the game. On their first possession back, Looney found Curry for a 3-pointer, then set a screen on the next possession to set up Curry’s free throws that extended Golden State’s lead to double figures. Looney scored just two points on 1-for-4 shooting in the game, but he set three screens that led to nine points for Curry and finished the game as a plus-21.

Looney will again get the start Wednesday night, and for a while after as the Warriors try to get a firm hold on playoff position. Meanwhile Wiseman, who at 19 is still learning the game but has been featured in his share of “House of Highlights” social media posts, will watch Looney screen, defend and lift his teammates — like Rambis did for Magic Johnson, James Worthy and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the four-time champion Lakers.

“He was on some great teams and he was a great role player,” Looney said of Rambis. “I know he did his job. So for Steve to compare me to a guy like that, I take it as a compliment.”

Contributed by local news sources

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