Kevon Looney Q&A: Warriors season, 'best basketball of my career'

Kevon Looney Q&A: Warriors season, 'best basketball of my career'

Just over four years ago, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors were shooting around on a chilly morning in Cleveland. As his teammates got their shots up, Shaun Livingston was sitting nearby on the baseline.

He foreshadowed his upcoming retirement that would happen at the end of that campaign, but glowingly talked about the Warriors' player development staff and the young talents who were next in line to carry along the franchise's legacy. Unprompted, after a question about Golden State's future, Livingston looked over with a smile: "LOONEY!"

"I mean, that’s a perfect example,” Livingston told me, referencing Kevon in Dec. 2018. “He’s our most important big right now with Draymond [Green] out, know what I mean? ‘Cause of what he brings to the table and he knows how to play. He’s always in the right spot.

“So that’s the progression of him being here these years and watching, learning from the vets — watching Andre [Iguodala], watching Draymond. And now he’s one of the main core guys that has to be on the floor.”

It's safe to say Livingston knew what he was talking about all of those years ago. Now in his eighth season, having played in 179 straight games (postseason included), Kevon Looney is the Warriors' ironman and a main fixture of this ball club. He's a three-time NBA champion and among the top screen-setting centers in the league, using his physicality and will to outwork his opponents (as we saw Friday evening in Cleveland).

Outrebounding the Cavaliers' duo of Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley combined (17 boards to their 15), while also registering two steals, two blocks and four assists, Looney helped the Warriors finish their East-Coast visit with a 3-2 record despite being shorthanded.

Following the Warriors' 120-114 victory, Basketball News sat down with the 26-year-old to discuss the win, Golden State's season, his development and more:

Considering how this team has played on the road in the first half of the season, what can a 3-2 trip, especially the way it ended, do for you guys going forward?

Kevon Looney: "I think we had a good road trip. Whenever you can come out on a road trip playing against good teams like this, 3-2, it's always good. Especially since we've been struggling all year on the road, so it was a good win for us. But we felt like we should've won (Thursday in Boston), so to be able to bounce back after a tough loss like that shows our team's character, shows the growth on our team."

How do you feel like you have grown over the years, going from putting in work behind the scenes to now, playing winning basketball the way you have? It's clear that you have come a long way.

Looney: "Yeah, I've been working on my game since I've been here. In my career, I've had a lot of great vets, a lot of great mentors to learn from. It was a struggle for me early, but all those struggles helped prepare me for now. When I'm out there, I'm just trying to provide that leadership and provide that toughness for our team that we'll be lacking sometimes. It took me a while to learn all that stuff (laughs), but now that I learned and got some experience and got that confidence, I feel really good out there and I feel like I'm playing the best basketball of my career."

In what way do you feel like you can impact the game the most, other than that leadership aspect you just brought up?

Looney: "I feel like defensively, and rebounding — that's something that we've always struggled with since I've been here, and I feel like I've been taking a leap every year in that department. And I take pride in being really physical and controlling the glass. People always say our team is undersized, so I take a lot of pride in going out there and controlling the glass. I felt last year, we had a great rebounding team. This year, we've been up and down in that area. But nights like (Friday in Cleveland), we did a great job though."

(Editor's Note: Looney is averaging 8.7 rebounds per game, a career-high, and ranks fifth in the NBA with 139 total offensive rebounds. According to Basketball-Reference, Looney is top-five in rebounding percentage at 20.3%.)

The dribble-handoff development in your game is impressive. You're also in the NBA's top 10 with 449 screen-assist points. As far as gaining chemistry with your teammates, how has that come about?

Looney: "Just getting more experience and getting more reps, learning where guys like to get to on the floor and learning them guys' spots. Know when to get certain guys shots, know where these guys are going. It's something I learned from watching Draymond [Green], watching [Andrew] Bogut, Zaza [Pachulia] — some of the best screeners I've ever seen. So learning from them took my game to that level. Talking to Steph [Curry], talking to JP (Jordan Poole), talking to the guys coming off the bench, knowing where they want to be at is something that you've got to learn. Early on, it was a struggle for me, but now, I do it in my sleep."

Without giving too much strategy away, is there a difference between where Steph likes the ball and how Jordan wants it?

Looney: "Yeah (laughs). Playing with JP, he's really herky-jerky and he's kinda all over the court. He's really creative out there. I think Steph is a little bit more decisive. He kinda know where he wants to get to, I know what spots he really wants to get to. But JP's like free-flowing, he's like all over the place (laughs). We talk all the time like, 'Man, slow down. Let me do my job and I'mma get you open' (laughs). We have those talks all the time. So it's a big difference playing with both of 'em, but it's a lot of fun."

All of those Finals and playoff experiences that you've got under your belt now — being on the floor and a part of these loud environments at home and on the road — what's the important thing you've learned both on and off the floor?

Looney: "Just how to stay poised and how to weather adversity. (Laughs) I got to experience a lot of the tough playoff games, lot of ups and downs in series. And learning that if a team goes on a run, it's not the end of the world. If you go down 3-1, 2-1, it's not the end of the world. You can come back. Different things like that. I learned playing with these guys and seeing them going down in series, never giving up. In the Houston series (in 2018), we were down 15 at halftime and nobody's worried, everybody would just keep fighting and keep playing our style of basketball. So learning that, trusting the process, trusting in your system, trusting in your teammates on and off the court, it'll really carry you a far way."

And that kind of mentality has to help in a season like this where not everything has gone perfect.

Looney: "Yes, it definitely helps you in a season like this when it's a lot of ups and downs. You just kinda lean back on our culture and what we have built, knowing that if we play our style of basketball and our brand, that we can go... it works. Just leaning back on that.

"When we start not playing team basketball, not focusing on what got us there, that's when we started losing and straying away (from it). But when you've got experience winning, you know what it takes and you start going back to the basics. We've gotta do that. We've been doing that on this road trip, and I think that's why we've been winning."

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