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Looney ready for chance at playing Stretch 5 for Warriors

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For five seasons, three of which were hindered by injury, Warriors big man Kevon Looney hasn’t looked much like the 15-year-old breathlessly recruited by power schools and hailed by some as “the next Kevin Durant.”

Though that likely was too high a bar, Looney has not come within sight of it. Blame it on his body, which kept stealing bits of his potential.

After multiple surgeries, maybe his 6-foot-9, 225-pound body is ready to hold up. That’s what Warriors coach Steve Kerr hopes. It’s also what Looney, who could start at center in the preseason opener Saturday against Denver, feels and believes.

In which case, he might soon have something in common with KD.

Squeeze this thought into your brain: “Stretch 5.”

Durant, a small forward for most of his career, including three seasons with the Warriors, said this week that he expects some small-ball minutes at Stretch 5 with the Brooklyn Nets. Looney said Wednesday that he might see similar minutes with the Warriors.

“That’s something that we’ve all been practicing on, something that I look forward to showing that I can do,” he said after practice. “I might not do it as good as KD.”

Well, of course not. Durant is a four-time scoring champ, a two-time NBA Finals MVP and a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Again, too high a bar.

But Kerr, who acknowledges having a personal bias, always has encouraged Looney to shoot 3s, even earlier in his career, particularly from the corner. Why not? David West, an excellent pick-and-pop shooter from 18 feet, expanded his range at Kerr’s urging.

 

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It’s such a different role, though, for Looney. His job on offense has been mostly to set picks and dive toward the rim. His lumbering gait easily obscured the fact that as a lively teenager he often absorbed minutes at point guard back at Hamilton High School in Milwaukee and shot 41.5 percent (22 of 53) from deep in his lone season at UCLA.

So, the ability is there. And it surely would make the Warriors tougher to defend, as Looney as a deep threat would provide more room for Stephen Curry, Kelly Oubre Jr. and Andrew Wiggins to shoot from deep or slash into the paint.

“I think it's going to be a big chance that I’ll play some Stretch 5,” Looney said. “Steve wants to space our bigs out, space the floor out for our wings, be able to open the paint for Steph and Wiggins and Kelly.

“Everybody on our team, it’s been a focus all this summer, on me and (Marquese Chriss) and everybody being able to space the floor and be able to shoot 3s.”

Though Looney says he’s comfortable getting off his shot from anywhere on the floor, his accuracy goes up when he fires from the corners, where the distance of 22 feet is 21 inches shorter than from the middle of the floor.

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Having Looney, 24, blossom as the offensive force he was projected to be entering college, is quite the grand vision. Too many instances of body betrayal to be reliable. Until he’s able to stay available, everything comes with that caveat.

“I feel great, it's the best I’ve felt in a long time,” Looney said.

“I'm still doing little things that I’ve got to do to take care of my body, a lot of stretching, still doing strength and rehab stuff, just to stay on top of things. But I feel confident in my body and where I'm at right now and I’m real excited for the season.”

Though a few legitimate starting centers, such as Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic, have a license to shoot from deep, the Warriors haven’t had much of it. But in this season of experimentation, it’s conceivable.

Given Looney’s hoops background, it might even work. If his body allows.