Warriors

How Kevon Looney has become indispensable defensive piece for Warriors

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How Kevon Looney has become indispensable defensive piece for Warriors

SAN FRANCISCO -- Over his four-year career, Warriors big man Kevon Looney has assumed the role of the reclamation project.

In his first two seasons, hip surgeries limited him to 58 of a possible 164 games. By 2017, a strict diet and training regimen, combined with his ability to switch on defense, helped him become a key contributor on a championship team.

During this preseason, without playing a minute, Looney is assuming a new role: an indispensable defensive veteran.

With Looney sidelined by a hamstring injury, Golden State gave up more than 115 points per game in the exhibition slate. Now, back in the lineup, Golden State hopes his presence can bring badly needed defensive stability.

"We're thrilled to have Loon back," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said Wednesday afternoon. "He's so important to what we do."

Looney's return comes as the Warriors find themselves in transition. With Klay Thompson's knee injury and eight new additions to the roster, the team has struggled to find a defensive identity. Through five preseason games, the Warriors posted a 108.6 defensive rating. In the preseason opener against the Lakers, they were outscored 66-36 in the paint, allowing 22 points and 10 rebounds to Anthony Davis.

"They one of the best teams in the league," Kerr said. "They're huge and so they really exposed a lot of our weaknesses."

Looney's importance to Golden State didn't come quick. Seven months into his rookie season, Looney underwent season-ending surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right hip, his second in a span of a year.

In 2017, Looney traveled back to Los Angeles and trained with former UCLA Bruin Rico Hines. Out of shape from various injuries and a lack of playing time, Looney struggled during his first week back on campus. Throughout the summer, Hines ran Looney through a gauntlet of full-court pick-and-roll drills. During his first week, Looney routinely crumpled over after the 45-minute running sessions. By October, Looney had shed more than 30 pounds to take excess weight off his surgically repaired hips.

He came into training camp in the best condition of his career.

Eight months later, his talent came in handy against the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference finals, when he posted a 91.7 defensive rating.

In last year's postseason, with Durant out with a calf injury, Looney was one of Golden State's best defenders, helping the team reach its fifth straight NBA Finals. The performance was enough for Golden State to sign the forward to a three-year, $14 million deal in the summer, making sure to keep the defensive anchor in the Bay.

To show Looney's importance to the team, Golden State sent owner Joe Lacob to his meeting in Los Angeles on the first day of free agency to seal the deal. With the new roster, Looney -- along with the Warriors-- finds itself in unfamiliar territory. No longer the prohibitive favorites to win the title, the team is filled with unproven young players surrounding remnants of a Hall of Fame core.

The new era has forced Looney, a man of few words, into a new task reserved for veterans.

"He talks defensively, he calls out schemes," Kerr said. "Three years ago he didn't say a word and he's learned talking is such a key component defensively, especially for the big guys because they're anchoring the defense, they're behind the play."

Looney has had the benefit of some great veteran teachers.

"Last couple years, we've had a lot of veteran presence," Looney added." From Andre [Iguodala] to Shaun [Livingston] to Zaza [Pachulia] to [David West], you've had guys like that who have seen every different type of coverage so now we've got a lot of young guys. We've got to learn through trial and error somewhat, so me being one of those guys that's been through a lot of things and I've had a lot of people to learn from."

[RELATED: Warriors set to take break from greatness after years at top]

On the eve of his fifth season, Looney has one more task to complete: Get back in basketball shape.

"It's not where I want it to be," Looney admitted. "Just because I haven't been able to play a lot of five on five but my body feels strong. I just have to get used to playing in game shape. "I've been able to ramp it up on the court and been doing a lot of off the court conditioning but I feel comfortable and I feel good enough to go out and play my minutes and be safe out there."

Warriors rookie Jordan Poole’s struggles have reached crisis point

Warriors rookie Jordan Poole’s struggles have reached crisis point

What happened to Jordan Poole on Sunday in New Orleans was some of the cruelest fate basketball gods could have laid on a 20-year-old drafted in the first round mostly because of their ability to shoot.

The rookie missed every shot he took. All seven attempts from the field and, in a moment of peak torture, his only free throw.

The first 14 games of Poole’s NBA journey ended with one in which he failed to score a single point in 23 minutes of activity.

Had he made any three or four of those shots, the Warriors likely would have experienced their third victory of the season. Instead, they ended up 108-100 losers to the Pelicans, who for a variety of reasons were about as vulnerable as any team can be.

That loss, like the other 11, can’t be blamed on a single player. The Warriors’ defense was brutalized, with New Orleans scoring exactly half of its total on 3-point shots, many of which came with several feet of open space. The Warriors’ offense was uneven and rhythmless, sometimes too slow and other times too hurried but generally too inefficient.

It’s the offense, though, that Poole was drafted to enhance. As a freshman at the University of Michigan, he earned the nickname “The Microwave,” for his ability heat up quickly and get three or four buckets in a couple minutes. Though some coaches and scouts around the league thought the Warriors may have reached in taking Poole in the first round, No. 28 overall, it was virtually unanimous that he’ll be able to score in the NBA.

Which has a question in that dark cloud over the collective head of the Warriors and their fans: “When?” When will Jordan Poole show everyone that he can blow up a scoreboard?

Poole’s field-goal percentage sits at 27.3 percent, dropping to 26.3 when firing from deep. Worse, it appears to be affecting his confidence.

He is one of three Warriors, along with free-agent signee Glenn Robinson III and undrafted rookie Ky Bowman, to play in all 14 games. Only once has Poole shot better than 50 percent from the field, and only one other time did he do better than 40 percent. Before the 0-of-7 in New Orleans, he was 1-of-8 in a loss to the Celtics and 4-of-15 in a loss to the Lakers.

The Warriors are being patient because their roster is so deeply compromised that they don’t have a choice. Though they have seven players capable of filling minutes at shooting guard, Poole is the only one pure shooter that currently has full use of his hands, arms and legs.

“There is no somebody else right now,” coach Steve Kerr said the other day. “That’s the issue. We’re throwing guys into the fire.”

Poole has started nine games and come off the bench in the other five. As a reserve, he is 6-of-45 (13.3 percent) from the field and 4-of-25 (16 percent) from deep. As a starter, he is 32-of-101 (31.7 percent) and 16-of-54 (29.6).

Which brings us back to the free throw Poole missed with 4:12 left in the first quarter on Sunday. The Pelicans were whistled for a technical foul, and he was selected to shoot the free throw. It was a wise choice insofar as he was 25-of-26 from the line. That was his safe place, the one area of his shooting that he had not deserted him.

It deserted him.

Though It is much too soon to conclude Poole won’t be an effective scorer in the league, it is not unreasonable to wonder if his confidence has dropped from where it was even a few weeks ago. He is more tentative with the ball, sometimes looking to pass when he has enough space to let it fly.

That’s what the Warriors need from him. With Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, D’Angelo Russell and Damion Lee sidelined – and none expected back before December – Poole is their best available pure shooter. Others can score, and second-round pick Eric Paschall is doing so at surprisingly productive rate. But scoring is supposed to be Poole’s specialty.

“He’s going to make shots,” Kerr said the other day. “He’s a great shooter. He’s got to just get comfortable in the league. He’s doing better. Jordan is getting better, working hard at both ends and putting all the work in. He’s a great kid and we’re lucky to have him.”

Poole’s shot is not only missing but doing so in true brick fashion, off to either side. He is perceptive enough to know how badly the Warriors need points, and he likely is pressing. The one thing he’s always had on the court is not there.

[RELATED: Poole not worried about shooting slump]

When Poole goes scoreless on seven shots and misses his free throw, it’s not just a bad game. It’s the nadir of a pattern that is defining the start to his career. His struggle has reached, in the realm of competition, the point of crisis.

No matter how he does over the rest of this season, or the rest of his career, Poole will never forget the strife of his first month and the emptiness that followed his worst game. It will give him something he’ll be eager to bury once and for all.

Warriors takeaways: What we learned in 108-100 loss to depleted Pelicans

Warriors takeaways: What we learned in 108-100 loss to depleted Pelicans

BOX SCORE

Coming into town to face an injury-depleted team on the second night of a back-to-back set, the Warriors appeared to be in reasonably good position win their third game of the season.

Instead, they took their 12th defeat – and seventh in a row.

The Warriors, nearly as diminished by injuries, took a tip-to-buzzer 108-100 loss to the Pelicans on Sunday night at Smoothie King Center in New Orleans.

Four players scored in double figures, led by Eric Paschall’s game-high 30 points, but the Warriors (2-12) were outrebounded and outshot, particularly from the 3-point line by the Pelicans (3-10).

Here are three takeaways from a defeat that saddled the Warriors with their longest losing streak since they dropped eight straight in April 2012:

Defense rests, is burned by triples

The Warriors displayed signs of coming out of their defensive malaise in taking the Celtics down to the wire two nights ago. Outrebounding Boston allowed them to better set up their defense, and the results were encouraging.

That level of defensive aggression and execution didn’t make the trip to New Orleans.

The Warriors were particularly vulnerable defending the 3-point arc.

The Pelicans, who entered as the fifth-best 3-point shooting team the league, took advantage, launching at will. They drained nine triples in the first half, as JJ Redick, one of the more proficient deep shooters in NBA history and undoubtedly on the scouting report, repeatedly got open looks and buried five 3-balls before halftime. He scored a team-high 26 points.

That New Orleans shot 39.1 percent (18-of-46) from deep is clear evidence that any defensive progress displayed by the Warriors two days earlier against a quality opponent went into deep regression against an inferior team.

More points for Paschall

With D’Angelo Russell out of the lineup, the Warriors have an urgent need for scoring. Enter Eric Paschall.

On a night when offense was hard to come by, Paschall kept the Warriors in the game early, with 24 points through the first three quarters, when no other Warrior had more than 11.

Operating both inside and outside, Paschall’s 30 points came on 10-of-17 shooting, including 2-of-4 from beyond the arc. He also was 8-of-10 from the free throw line. Playing 35 minutes, he also grabbed seven rebounds.

Paschall now has two games with at least 30 points, four with at least 20 and nine in which he scored in double figures.

The powerfully built rookie is, at this point, the team’s most effective scorer. In effect, he has become the Warriors’ go-to guy.

[RELATED: Draymond, Bowman to take over while Russell is out]

Waiting for Jordan

The Warriors drafted Jordan Poole in the first round June believing he had the goods to become their next great deep shooter. His work in the preseason did little to argue against that.

But it’s not happening in the regular season, and this night was the latest in an ever-extending line of futile performances.

Coming off the bench for the second consecutive game, Poole was scoreless over 23 minutes, with 0-of-7 shooting from the field, including 0-of-3 from beyond the arc.

If ever there was a game when his scoring touch was desperately needed – and surely would have made a difference – this was it.