The X-Factor: Kevon Looney

For all of the Golden State Warriors’ accolades over the past several seasons, the team has been rather inconsistent when it comes to its starting center position.

From Jermaine O’Neal to Zaza Pachulia, and everyone in between, the Warriors center position has been a revolving door, to say the least. This includes cameos from Festus Ezeli, Andrew Bogut, Mo Speights, James McAdoo, and Anderson Varejao.

If you can’t recall any opponent being fearful of driving down the lane, then don’t worry, you’re not alone. Defensively, the Warriors center position has been a sieve. Opposing players come and go as they please, as if it were a 24-hour mini-mart where the security guard is on an infinite break; cash register wide open, flush with $2 bills.

To be fair, Javale McGee, Draymond Green, and David West all work extremely hard to hold down the fort and help alter their opponents’ shots, but none of those guys are big-bodied ‘booty bumpers’ that can match up with true centers for a full game.

Enter Kevon Looney.

Looney’s probably a guy you’ve never even heard of, and rightfully so. For the past two seasons he’s been injured and rehabbing from separate hip surgeries. Most of Looney’s time has been spent either on the bench or shuttling between the G-League (formerly D-League) and the pro team. And, once Looney finally recovered, he was overshadowed on the depth chart by the high-flying rookie forward, Jordan Bell.

However, things have changed.

Looney is healthy, and he’s making a statement. After teammate Jordan Bell suffered an unfortunate ankle injury against the Bulls in early January, Looney received the first look off of the bench and never looked back. He rebounds, blocks, gets buckets, and rarely makes mistakes. Most importantly, Looney forces opponents to think twice before coming into the paint.

At first glance, Looney looks like a slow, lumbering big man. To the surprise of many, he’s quite the opposite. Looney is extremely light on his feet, and has impeccable timing when it comes to blocking shots. He holds his position well against some of the biggest bigs in the league, and doesn’t appear out of place on switch-offs when facing a smaller player.

In an early November game this season, Coach Kerr went to Looney when the Warriors faced the 76ers’ Joel Embiid. While Embiid is a handful for any defender, Looney definitively held his own, and proved that he could hang with the toughest of opponents in the process. It was certainly a new and improved Looney that no one saw coming, and likely, an ‘ah-ha’ moment for the Warriors organization.

To that end, if the Warriors are to make any headway against the likes of Anthony Davis, Steven Adams, and Clint Capela in the upcoming playoffs, then they’ll need ‘Philly Looney’ to be ready to go. For a team of relatively slim guards and power forwards, Looney will be one of the few big-bodied players that can serve as an X-factor.

About the only thing that could come back to haunt the Warriors should Looney live up to expectations is the fact that the team declined to guarantee his $2.2 million contract before the season (due to luxury tax implications). However, should the Warriors win another championship, I suspect that neither party will be too terribly unhappy.

For now, Looney is the secret weapon marked on Steve Kerr’s clipboard. The big X.