OAKLAND – To fill the void left with the summer departures of centers Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli, the Warriors added three veterans and came away content with how well they shopped on a tight budget.
Six games into the season, though, they may be more excited about a fourth big man.
Kevon Looney isn’t new to the Warriors, but he’s new to having a role with the team. The 6-foot-9 forward/center is, in essence, a high-value 2015 first-round draft pick that’s arriving one year late.
“He’s playing well,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said after practice Sunday. “He’s playing very well.”
Having overcome surgeries on both hips over the past 15 months, Looney is rapidly becoming a significant member of the team’s rotation. He in many ways has been as effective as any big man off the bench, despite the lack of bounce in his legs, the absence of a jump shot, and the running gait of an achy senior citizen.
The Warriors still like and need veterans Zaza Pachulia, David West and JaVale McGee. But Looney, 20, is working his way into their hearts.
“He just has a really good feel for the game,” Kerr said. “He’s not going to wow you with anything athletically, but he’s just always in the right spot and making the right play.”
Looney once again acquitted himself well in a blowout loss Friday night to the Lakers, scoring 11 points – on 5-of-5 shooting – and grabbing five rebounds in 13 minutes. Playing 11 minutes in the previous game, at Portland, he recorded six rebounds and made 2-of-2 shots.
Moreover, Looney vows it will get better as he improves his conditioning. He estimates he’s reached about “75 percent” of his optimal training level, and teammate Draymond Green seems to agree.
“I don’t even think he knows what a second wind is,” said Green, among several Warriors dispensing tips to Looney.
The importance of Looney to the Warriors can be distilled to this: He’s able to make an impact in the paint. With a 7-foot-3 wingspan and tremendous instincts, he gives Kerr a third “big man” option off the bench, with West and McGee.
While improving his conditioning and searching for his offensive rhythm, Looney is doing his part to soak up knowledge from the veterans, particularly Green and West.
“You just try to give him little tips on what to do,” Green said of his input. “On the defensive side of the ball, how do you make up for that lack of size, or not being the super athlete? I just try to teach him about positioning and all those things. That’s something that’ll come with time. That’s something he’ll get better at.
“But he has some things about him that you just can’t teach. He has a nose for the basketball. He’s always in the right place, and you can’t teach that.”
Pachulia is, for now, entrenched as the starter. West has been the first big man off the bench, but has played fewer minutes than Looney in each of the past two games.
As long as Looney’s body holds up and he continues to deliver, change is bound to come. To be determined is how soon.