DraftExpress | ESPN | NBADraft | Stats | Wiki
Power Forward | 6’9 | 220 | UCLA
Projected: Late 1st round
Best Case: Ersan Ilyasova
Most Likely: Marcus Morris
Worst Case: Perry Jones III
Kevon Looney is someone I admittedly haven’t seen much of throughout this past NCAA season. I delved into game tape of him expecting an athletic, lob-catching, shot-swatting type. To my surprise, Looney instead stood out as a hard-working rebounder first and foremost. He also has all the marking of a modern NBA power forward, with a pretty and effective jumper and some decent ball-skills. His strengths lie in similar areas to Christian Wood, who he is directly competing against for consideration late in the first round of this year’s draft. Given that fact and Wood’s athletic and shot-blocking superioty, why is it that Looney seems the more sought after prospect?
In a nutshell, it’s the intelligence Looney plays with. His work on the boards is both technically sound and quite instinctual, allowing him to be successful on both ends despite his slight frame. He isn’t particularly quick off his feet but this allows him to play a smart, technical brand of defense that may not feature on highlight reels but is nevertheless effective. Why would he bite on a pump fake when he knows his limits as a shot-blocker? Watching his offensive highlights, you often see him drifting into useful areas in the half-court or timing his runs well as a trailer on the fast break. All of this makes me optimistic about how he can work as a release valve playing off defensive attention magnets like Harden, Wall or Steph while adequately playing his role defensively.
It’s not all good news though – if Looney was simply a smart, natural ball-player who impressed as a freshman against strong competition, we’d be talking about him as a lottery pick. Indeed, some of the points I made above in his favour hint at his limitations. He works well playing off other good players but outside of rebound putbacks, he cannot create his own offense. In fact he’s poor in the post on both ends, with no real go to move offensively and not enough bulk to compete effectively on the other end. This lac of creativity resulted in Looney scoring at a pretty mediocre rate in his lone season at UCLA (bottom 10% among Top 100 college prospects in DraftExpress’ database). This concern could be allayed somewhat if he had coupled low bolume with high efficiency but despite stretching the floor and hitting the offensive glass, his true shooting percentage (FG% adjusted for the added value of three pointers and free throws) was also in the bottom 10% among his peers. Hitting an unimpressive 48% of his two point attempts and just 62% from the stripe, Looney may be the type of prospect that just physically can’t finish all the opportunities his natural feel for positioning and space affords him.
Looney’s limitations as a scorer and athlete have resulted in what might seem like a fairly underwhelming upside comparison in Ersan Ilyasova. I would give Looney a better shot at reaching that upside than many of his peers however, making him more of a safe pick in my mind. Nevertheless, I don’t hanker for the Blazers to be the ones making that safe pick. For a contending franchise looking to put the last few pieces of the puzzle together, I can see Looney making perfect sense. For a young playoff team on the rise, I can see his heady play working brilliantly next to precocious All-Star guards and bigs. For those stuck in the limbo between those more fortuitous categories, a shot in the arm type is needed. A difference making impact player. That’s simply not the future I see for a made to order role player like Kevon Looney.