Why Kevon Looney is back in Warriors' starting lineup after going small
Why Kerr is putting Looney back in Warriors' starting lineup originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea
SAN FRANCISCO -- Kevon Looney, welcome back to the Warriors' starting lineup.
Golden State coach Steve Kerr went back to his traditional starters of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins, Draymond Green and Kevon Looney against the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday night at Chase Center, and that proved to be a smart decision in the Warriors' 119-113 win. It also is what fans can get used to, again.
Following the Warriors' win, Kerr made it clear he's scrapping his small-ball experiment to start the game. Looney started the first 44 games of the season, and has come off the bench in five games. That presumably won't be the case anymore.
"Yeah, I'm going to go back to that," Kerr said after the win. "We got a good look at the smaller lineup. Just came to the conclusion that our best bet is to start with the bigger lineup. We know that five-man unit is either the No. 1 or No. 2 unit in the NBA, and that was with a big sample size.
"We like that unit and we feel like our bench is playing better now. We've got more continuity there. So, we're going to go back to that lineup and keep pushing. We've tried a lot of different things and obviously we've been looking for a spark. We'll see how it goes."
In the Warriors' latest win, it went. Very well.
The starting five played 11:07 together and was a plus-9. They outscored the Mavs 32-23, while going 3-for-6 from 3-point range and attacked the paint by going 10-for-15 on 2-pointers. Looney played 19 minutes and finished with 10 points, seven rebounds -- four defensive and three offensive -- and two steals. He replaced guard Jordan Poole in the starting lineup, who struggled in his return to the bench.
Poole in his first two-plus minutes was called for two fouls and accounted for turnovers. After scoring 22 points two nights prior in the Warriors' loss to the Denver Nuggets, Poole scored just three points in 27 minutes, going 1-for-6 from the field and 1-for-3 from deep. He had four turnovers and only one assist.
Where Looney really stood out was down the stretch when the Warriors' once 23-point lead was crumbling away. They led by 19 points when Curry exited with two minutes remaining in the third quarter because of a lower left leg injury, and won by six. Looney is a big reason why the Warriors were able to sweat out a win, with three rebounds in the final three-plus minutes, including a huge offensive one in the final minute while fighting over two Mavs.
"Loon is one of our best players down the stretch of games, at both ends," Kerr said. "His defense is elite and he just seems to have a knack for getting important offensive rebounds and putbacks, and I thought Loon was great."
This isn't anything new. The Warriors' success with Looney in the starting lineup is a continuation of what has been a dominant group all season long. Curry, Thompson, Wiggins, Green and Looney have now played 27 games and 331 minutes together on the floor this season. The numbers loudly tell the story.
That unit has a 128 offensive rating, 106.1 defensive rating and a 21.9 NET rating. Their offensive rating and NET rating is by far the best in the NBA for a five-man group, and their defensive rating isn't too far behind. For comparison's sake, swapping Poole for Looney with Curry, Thompson, Wiggins and Green, the Warriors have a 107.5 offensive rating, 109.5 defensive rating and a -2.0 NET rating over 24 games and 155 minutes together.
They rebound better with Looney as a starter, shoot better and take better care of the ball. With Looney in that starting lineup, the Warriors have a 2.97 assist-to-turnover ratio. Putting Poole in for him with the other four, the Warriors have a 1.96 assist to turnover ratio.
"We know what that lineup is capable of," Green said when asked about Looney rejoining him with the starters. "It's been one of the best lineups all year. It's a lineup that's accustomed to playing together. It's just more of what we're used to."
The question now is, who replaces Curry in the starting lineup with the assumption he misses time due to his latest injury? Does Kerr turn to Donte DiVincenzo, who he has trusted more and more when the game matters most? DiVincenzo scored 13 points off the bench in the Warriors' win against Dallas with three 3-pointers, two rebounds, two assists and two steals. But he has only shared the court alongside Thompson, Wiggins, Green and Looney for 25 minutes this season.
Or does Kerr simply put Poole back in as a starter? Poole has averaged 24.9 points in 30 starts this season, and only 14.7 in 23 games coming off the bench. However, his advanced numbers aren't that much different between the two roles. He has a 106 offensive rating and 118 defensive rating when starting, and a 102 offensive rating and 117 defensive rating coming off the bench.
The sample size of Poole, Thompson, Wiggins, Green and Looney playing together is even smaller. They've been on the court together for a grand total of three minutes this season.
"The starting lineup, to me at least, doesn't matter as much," DiVincenzo said.
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Saturday night marked the 164th consecutive regular-season game Looney has played, which amounts to two straight full 82-game regular seasons. He's Mr. Reliable and brings a sense of stability that often is missing with this Warriors team.
Golden State has two games left before the NBA trade deadline and five before the All-Star break. If the Warriors are going to go into the break with the momentum they have been seeking since the start of the season, Looney could be the answer.
Never too high, never too low, the veteran big man who turns 27 years old on Monday is consistently the solution in bringing steady waters to what has been a wild ride for the Warriors.
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