Rebounding isn’t exactly glamorous, and there isn’t much left over for a centre on the Golden State Warriors. There’s a long history of Andrew Boguts and Zaza Pachulias with few memorable glories of their own outside of the collective success, and of course the collective success is the ultimate, but when we reminisce on the dynastic years, we probably aren’t going to reminisce too much about JaVale McGee or Kevon Looney — except, right now, for some reason, my timeline is a drip-feed of Looney memes, of Looney with Dennis Rodman hair, or of Looney with Hakeem Olajuwon goggles. It seems like the personality cult of fat rebounding lines is still very much alive. Kevon Looney is the Warriors centre who, if there was ever one, would take pride in doing the grunt labour.
Looney has three games with at least 20 rebounds against the Sacramento Kings in the first round and another in game one against the Los Angeles Lakers. (I think his career totals are six games with at least 20 rebounds and one game with at least 20 points.) Looney grabbed 10 rebounds, seven of them offensive, and held Domantas Sabonis to zero in the third quarter of Game 7, when the Warriors took a decisive lead to win the series. Looney grabbed 10 rebounds, seven of them offensive, and held Domantas Sabonis to zero in the third quarter of Game 7, when the Warriors took a decisive lead to win the series. Although I’m sure that taking a Draymond Green curbstomp to the chest had something to do with it, Sabonis, bless his heart and the fantastic season he gave us, was nothing by the end of the series. Extracurricular activities aside, Looney’s physicality was as essential as anyone to the Warriors’ game-plan of neutralising one of the best bigs in the game. How well he can stymie Anthony Davis, who is now playing some of his best and healthiest basketball, will determine how much of the second round he wins.
This is the type of basketball that is frequently ugly and underrated and is easily taken for granted. Looney is the only in-house starting centre that the Warriors have successfully developed over the years, despite the fact that you would think it would be simple to play clean-up for a few of the all-time greats. He is basically simply one of the team’s last two or three draught choices to succeed since they began to win. In his growth, Looney has placed a special emphasis on the less glamorous qualities that matter for a Warriors centre: rebounding, screening, passing, and being a little bit of a jerk in the paint.
He is a 6’9″ centre who spends much of his time on the ground; as a result, every rebound he grabs requires him to use both raw power and his amassed understanding of angles and placement to secure. A centre for the Warriors needs to be extremely detail-oriented when playing basketball and have an incredible work ethic for 48 minutes. Festus Ezeli, Jordan Bell, Damian Jones, and James Wiseman were all unable to solve the puzzle. Despite the fact that the Warriors weren’t as dominating and unstoppable as they were the previous season, Looney stood up his half of the bargain with all-time career highs.
After Game 1, Steve Kerr told reporters, “I think Loon is one of the greatest centres in the league, I honestly do. People don’t recognise that because he’s not dunking and hitting 3s and all that stuff. This man is an absolute machine and a winner”.
There’s a myth that the Warriors are to blame for the decline of the centre position in basketball today, but neither Kerr nor the club have ever expressed that sentiment, in my opinion. The centre has always been important to the Warriors, even when they had the NBA’s most notorious center-less in their back pocket. With Draymond at the 5, this team is capable of running a historically terrifying spread pick-and-roll, but they never do. Since playing for Phil Jackson’s Chicago Bulls, Kerr has always favoured various triangle offence strategies. He is steadfast in his beliefs—possibly too steadfast, if his team were any other one—but this one has bought in and has the championship rings to prove it. More than any other player of their calibre, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson play off-ball. They put up a sincere and commendable effort in offensive moves that are profoundly unsexy, including relocation, screen curls, and split-cuts. In handoffs and in the high post, the ball regularly passes via the Warriors’ big men, typically Green, one of the best playmakers in the league, but also frequently their centre. More than everywhere else, a straightforward rim-runner wouldn’t work here.
Looney is the most recent in a long line of Warriors who really, really don’t want to shoot the ball. His assists frequently outweigh his scoring, much like Green and Andre Iguodala before him. The Lakers will try to test this by leaving him unattended, but with so much room around them, the Warriors have developed a natural knack to transform their non-shooters into screeners. Looney wants to play the two-man game, a dance that has been mastered as common knowledge, with Curry or Thompson. He desires to recover the miss and immediately return it to the shooter. Although Looney is also Kerr’s Dennis Rodman, Green is undoubtedly Kerr’s Dennis Rodman. Looney has spent eight years with the Warriors and has ingrained himself into the club just as much as his Hall of Fame co-stars have.
There isn’t much money or fame involved with this. When Kerr chooses to play small, like he did in Game 1 against the Lakers, Looney may end up sitting on the bench at the conclusion of the contest despite having (checks notes) 23 rebounds in the box score. The Charlotte Hornets and Sacramento Kings both shown interest in him during the summer of 2017 when he was eligible for free agency. Instead, he agreed to a three-year, $25.5 million sub-MLE deal with the Warriors. Since the luxury tax is only as severe as your owners make it, I’m sure he could have earned more money, and the Warriors could have paid more, but Looney still chose to return. To be completely honest, I’m not sure where else I could picture Looney. Being in the hermetic and ideal Warriors atmosphere from the beginning of his professional career on shaped his game. Playing somewhere else would entail playing somewhat differently from everyone else. I’m happy that he is currently receiving some affection on his terms.