Warriors' Kevon Looney deserves love for underrated contributions

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Looney deserves love for his unsung impact on the Warriors originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

SAN FRANCISCO -- How much has Kevon Looney meant to the Warriors this season? Jordan Poole didn't need much time and only one word when asked that question Sunday night after the Warriors' 94-92 win over the Utah Jazz.

"Everything," Poole said.

That about sums up how coach Steve Kerr and the rest of the Warriors feel, too.

Now in his seventh season with Golden State, Looney continued his career year in the win and took the challenge of going up against four-time All-NBA center Rudy Gobert head on. His performance was even more impressive knowing that he would be without Draymond Green. Gobert, who historically crushes the Warriors, did grab 18 rebounds but scored only 12 points. He didn't have any blocks and was a minus-5 in plus-minus.

Looney played his part to near perfection. He scored 10 points, grabbed six rebounds and was a plus-10. He also had two assists and only one turnover, an area that he has struggled in at times. Looney went 4-for-5 from the field and made both of his free throw attempts, an area he always is looking to improve.

It isn't just his coach or role players that Looney has impressed this season. He always has earned the respect of the entire team, and the Warriors' biggest star didn't hesitate in handing him his flowers Sunday night.

"Loon's been unbelievable, all year really," Steph Curry said. "Especially with Draymond out, anchoring our defense and giving us a paint presence. He's been blocking shots and rebounding and putting a body on big guys."

The 6-foot-9 center isn't exactly known for his flashy offensive game, but for the Warriors' first two points of the night, Looney showcased his outside game with a 17-foot pullup jumper. His driving layup tied it up at 13 points apiece a few minutes later. He was fouled on the play and gave the Warriors the lead by nailing his first free-throw attempt of the night.

He also had the biggest offensive play of the game at the end, essentially sealing the win on offense before also doing so on defense.

With the Warriors up 91-89 with just under two minutes remaining, Poole missed a layup. But Looney was there to put it back and fought through an Eric Paschall foul. His free throw gave him his second three-point play of the night and the Warriors a 94-89 lead.

"I know my mom and dad will be happy about that, they've been on me about my free throws as of late," Looney joked.

He didn't need to hand out a game ball, though Kerr found more ways than one to praise his center after the game.

"Loon was amazing," Kerr said. "One-on-one, switching onto [Bojan] Bogdanovic and forced a really tough shot. And then Loon's putback and three-point play was I think the key offensive possession of the game."

As he works on his mid-range game, Looney has been more locked in on being a better finisher as he displayed in the clutch and just taking what the defense gives him. He's now averaging 6.2 points per game, just under his career high of 6.3 points, and Sunday night was his third game scoring in double digits this month.

His offensive game certainly has grown to the common fan and the untrained eye, but there's one main component to Looney having the best season of his career: His health.

The now veteran center has dealt with a long list of injuries in the past. This season, he's one of just two Warriors -- along with Nemanja Bjelica -- to play in all 47 games.

"If you don't have your health, it's tough to really grow as a player," Kerr said. "You're constantly in the training room and you're more worried about just making it onto the floor rather than how you can improve. He's worked so hard in the training room and with the training room. He's gotten himself to this point health wise and now he's got great confidence.

"He understands rebounding angles, he understands personnel. Great one-on-one individual defender against all five positions. He's our best screener. He's just a really important player."

Looney agrees with his coach that his health has given him a huge confidence boost in his seventh season, as he plays a career-high 20.7 minutes per game.

"It's definitely been the biggest thing for me, just being able to play every game and not worry about my injuries and not worrying about my body," Looney said. "Just going out there and playing my game and playing with a lot of energy. It's been a lot of fun being able to play out there with a lot of confidence. It's been a while since I've been able to play like that.

"Credit to our training staff. They've been getting me ready in the offseason and throughout the year to be able to do this. I've been able to play back-to-backs and play a lot of minutes. I've been having confidence in myself but I think everybody else is starting to have confidence in my body and everything about me. I'm just trying to keep it going and stay healthy."

RELATED: Report: Warriors don't plan to add center with Looney thriving

For his ability to have the offense ran through him, play defense, set screens and do all the little things that make a coach perk up, Looney has long been the Warriors' Mr. Underrated. That's especially true for Kerr. As the Warriors continue waiting for James Wiseman, seen as Looney's replacement when taken with the No. 2 pick, the UCLA product and former first-round pick himself has responded by playing the best basketball of his career.

The Warriors always have had stars whose numbers jump off the page. Curry and Klay Thompson of course are top of mind when it comes to that. Kevin Durant's three years were otherworldly at times, and now players like Jordan Poole and Andrew Wiggins can put up big numbers on any given night. Green often has been the Warriors' big name whose game goes beyond the box score.

His star status isn't that of Draymond's, but it's clear how much Looney's game impacts the Warriors.

"If you know basketball, you know exactly how he's impacting the game," Curry said. "But if you're just casually watching, you might not highlight Loon's performance every night. But we care about it and we see it and we understand how important he is to what we're doing right now.

"Even when he's overmatched physically, he's taking on the challenge. We've been able to guard some bigs one-on-one, so we don't have to send a lot of extra attention and can guard the 3-point line a little better. He's unbelievable in the pick-and-roll in terms of communicating, because his voice carries out there.

"He's been a part of our team for seven years now. Him and Draymond have an amazing chemistry, so when Draymond's out he understands the responsibility and he picks up on that and we rely on it so much. ... He's kind of the unsung hero."

Give Kevon Looney the flowers he deserves. His coaches and teammates certainly are.

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