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Warriors Dynasty Drafting: Kevon Looney (2022 Update)
All articles in this series are at How the Warriors Extended The Dynasty Through The Draft, an in-depth series. For historical interest, I am leaving the original 2020 write-up intact, and have inserted 2022 updates.
Who was a better pick in 2015?
The Warriors picked Kevon Looney at #30. Very injury prone, didn’t play for two years, was almost cut, turned out to be a great smallball center, made key contributions in the 2018 and 2019 Playoffs. Looney has a particular talent for guarding smalls (particularly James Harden) on the pick and roll and in isolation without fouling.
Was planned to be the center of the future, but his injuries have put his whole future in question. There’s a recent good news report about his surgery, but I’ll believe it when he’s healthy and happy on the court.
2022 UPDATE: Through hard work, Looney went from being the most fragile Warrior to being the most sturdy, as he played the entire 2021-22 season and playoffs without missing a single game.
Furthermore, his availability made it possible for GSW to weather Draymond Green’s injury and James Wiseman’s missing of the whole year.
Finally, Looney was one of the most valuable Warriors in the playoffs. It’s fair to say that Looney’s outstanding ability (to be a big that can guard smalls in isolation) has proven to be crucial in modern basketball, as team after team tried to target Looney without effectiveness.
Furthermore, he showed an astounding improvement in his rebounding (thank you Coach Dejan) as he keyed a Warriors effort that out-rebounded the larger Nuggets and Grizzlies, which was crucial to the championship run.
Of the 30 players drafted after him, only 16 played a single NBA game.
Here are the players who played significant NBA time, ordered by Win Shares:
Montrezl Harrell. Big hustle guy and a dynamic smallball center. Played strong minutes off the bench for Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Clippers. A good finisher on the pick and roll. Rated somewhat worse on defense. Harrell signed a 2 year contract for $12M and Looney signed a 3 year contract for $15M. So Harrell is probably regarded a bit more highly in the league, but it’s debatable how much of an upgrade he is over Looney for the Warriors in their system.
Josh Richardson. A budding star in Miami, he was traded last season to the 76ers, and announced by Elton Brand thus: “He has worked diligently and improved each season. As one of the NBA’s best young two-way talents, Josh’s ability to space the floor while also effectively guarding multiple positions at an elite level will bolster our lineup immediately”. Last season was a bit of a shooting struggle, and advanced stats are not excited about JR. But he’s undoubtedly NBA starting caliber and the biggest find in this second round.
Richaun Holmes. A very good defensive big who flashed in his second season some nice play as a stretch big (what happened to that?) before abandoning the three ball. A solid bench player with PHI and PHX who got elevated to starter last year with SAC. Possibly a defensive upgrade on Looney? He signed a 2-year $9.77M contract, so similar valuing to Looney. Not an obvious big upgrade.
Kevon Looney. Our guy.
Norman Powell is a good defender and has developed in his fourth and fifth year a consistent 3 point stroke. This last year, he’s become an occasional starter for TOR and become a super sixth man. GSW would consider swapping him for Looney today, but not in his first 4 years, when Looney made his crucial playoff contributions. I can’t ding GSW for missing on Powell.
Plus four bench players that are not upgrades over Looney. Willy Hernangómez, Pat Connaughton, Andrew Harrison, Cedi Osman.
2022 UPDATE: mDuo13 writes:
This past season was decidedly Looney's best, both regular season and playoffs. Meanwhile, if you look at what's happened with those other guys who were seen as better value:
Montrezl Harrell spent the season coming off the bench for Washington and then Charlotte, playing decently in 6th-man minutes. But after he faced a lot of criticism of being exposed in the previous playoffs, his team didn't get there this year.
Josh Richardson got traded *off* the Celtics in February, landing on the rebuilding Spurs instead. Not exactly a vote of confidence?
Norman Powell was a solid contributor on the Blazers this last season before being dumped (along with RoCo) to the Clippers in Portland's flash rebuild.
Richaun Holmes' season was not notable for him being traded, but actually the opposite: the Kangz kept him while trading for Sabonis. Still playing starter minutes for them, for better or for worse.
Also, for kicks, I looked at the *earlier* picks in the 2015 draft again, and... wow, what a group! It's like a supercut of players I don't respect: KAT, D'Angelo Russell, Porzingas, Cauley-Stein, Oubre... We did very, very well by picking Looney.
How did GSW do against the field?
Bleacher Report re-drafted the 2015 NBA Draft and took Kevon Looney #19.
DraftSite re-drafted 2015, and took Looney #18.
Kevon Looney had the #13 most Win Shares of his 2015 draft class and #10 highest Value Over Replacement Player.
2022 UPDATE: After the 2021-22 season, Looney ranks #13 Win Shares, #18 VORP. Very respectable, but stats don’t capture his full value.
So GSW got very solid value out of the #30 pick.
Pick Grade: B (2020)
I’m going to call this one a solid draft pick by the Warriors. Looney made crucial contributions, but also missed the first two years of his career. This was an intentional choice, as GSW pursued a strategy of drafting for high upside with value damaged by injury concerns (see Jones, Damian). It’s looking quite unclear that Looney will ever contribute big meaningful minutes in the future, but he peaked and made strong contributions in the 2018 and 2019 playoffs.
You could also argue GSW missed on Josh Richardson, but so did a lot of people. You might think more highly of Holmes or Harrell, but I don’t think there is a large upgrade there. As for missing on Richardson, there seemed to be an organizational drive to find the Bigs of the Future in 2015, with Andrew Bogut aging and Festus Ezeli making uncertain progress, and Harrison Barnes doing a decent job at wing.
Pick Grade: A (2022 update)
2022 UPDATE: By statistics, Looney was a good pick with value reduced for lack of availability. But from the perspective of extending the dynasty, Looney was a GREAT pick, as he ended up playing a critical role in the 2022 Playoffs. It might not be an exaggeration to say the Warriors don’t win without Looney, as they were in severe danger of being bullied and smashed on the boards by the larger and more athletic Grizzlies when Steph and Dray requested that Looney came back into the starting lineup in Game 6 and he came through by grabbing a stunning 22 rebounds. He literally extended the dynasty and this pick deserves a top grade.
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