Looooooon: the worker hero that the Warriors cannot lose

Data: Golden State Warriors is the NBA champion among many other things because from their offices the message is one of maximum ambition. Fingers

Looooooon: the worker hero that the Warriors cannot lose

Data: Golden State Warriors is the NBA champion among many other things because from their offices the message is one of maximum ambition. Fingers are missing to count stingy owners, executives who hesitate to invest in their staff. To scratch your pocket. The Warriors have spent the years retaining the (great) players they drafted (Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green…), they knew how to put money where it was needed to seal the wound caused by Kevin Durant’s escape in 2019. And, we must not forget, they have a multifaceted project in which the basketball team promotes a business with a thousand springs and these new income channels, in turn, multiply the possibilities of getting deep into the luxury tax . It is a loop that, for now, distances them from a competition that is, in many cases, far behind. At least in terms of philosophy.

The Warriors have won the ring with the most expensive squad in history, about 350 million dollars between salaries and luxury tax (about 170). In five of the last seven seasons, they have invested 338 in that tax surcharge, which has propelled them in sports. And in everything else: revenues are around 800 million annually and the franchise is worth more than 5,000 million dollars, only behind the Knicks and very far from those 450 it cost when, still in Oakland but already with an eye on San Francisco, its sale was completed in 2010. For the next season, the Warriors have already committed 171 million, with the salary cap set at about 122. Maintaining the champion block will mean going beyond, except for surprise, the 400 million of dollars. You have to spin fine and see what priorities there are with respect to free agents. Or not: all the information indicates that offices (Bob Myers) and the bench (Steve Kerr) have it clear. The one who has to stay as it is (or almost) is Kevon Looney. And then, if possible, Gary Payton II. And then… we’ll see what happens with Otto Porter.

A classic at the core of the champion

Looney, in fact, is part of the hard core of the Warriors. He is still 26 years old but has been in the Bay since 2015, when he was the 30th pick in the draft. So he has three rings (2017, 18 and 22). And he has already seen himself in these: in 2018 he renewed for the minimum, and in 2019 he went on the market again but the Warriors kept him for a great price, 14.4 million for three seasons. By then, he had already lost weight and adapted his physique to the NBA, and had shown that he could be an important player in the rotation of one of the best teams in history (probably the best) due to his intelligence on defense and his ability to not suffer with the changes after blocking and hold the position against the rival outsiders.

Physical problems played against the first Looney: two hip operations and a complicated neuropathy. That is why now, after the tremendous journey of his team from the bottom of the NBA (2020) to the ring (2022), his 104 games this season stand out greatly. A record adding regular phase (82) and playoffs (22). He has not missed any, neither due to injury nor due to COVID. His reliability is definitely proven, which allows you to look at another crucial fact: his 63 attacking rebounds in the title playoffs, more than any other player. In his seventh year in the NBA, he has averaged more than 20 minutes per night on the court in the playoffs, with 5.8 points, 7.6 rebounds (2.9 attack) and 2.2 assists. His intelligence on offense helps him function as a passer and be in the right place as a finisher. His versatility and toughness in his defense allow Steve Kerr to combine big and small quintets in which the center plays with or without Draymond Green. His rebounding has simply been (along with Andrew Wiggins) one of the keys to the Warriors’ success.

And his salary has been 5.2 million. Seen the performance of him, a great bargain. If he looks at the last eight years, the average salary of the starting center in the champion teams is 9.3 million. Looney endured on court against any rival and in any type of duel, big or small. That gives him enormous value at a time when the style of play can literally take the center out of the rotation come playoff time, crunch time. No matter how high his salary. And he sends a message to franchisees about how much to spend…and on what.

Moses MaLooney… more than a pet name

At the Chase Center, the chants in his honor intensify: “Looooooooooon”. And he has been baptized Moses MaLooney, in reference to Moses Malone, one of the great rebounders in NBA history. But the reality goes beyond the affection of the fans for him: Looney has taken 21% of the possible rebounds in the playoffs when he has been on the court. If champion teams and players with more than 50 rebounds are measured, only Malone himself (21.9% in 1983) and three seasons of the insatiable Dennis Rodman (24.4% in 1989, 24.3% in 1996 and 21 .3% in 1998). Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or Tim Duncan, for example, never bettered Looney’s mark in seasons in which they were champions.

Looney moved around 12.5% ​​in the 2017-19 stretch. His jump ahead of him in this section has been key for the Warriors to have been in the top 5 in rebounds in the playoffs, both in totals and in the ratio of possible sacks (more than 52%). And for them to have had nearly 16 points a night on second chances. A team used to shooting less than the rival, has found itself with many extra possessions (something very visible and essential in the Finals against the Celtics) thanks, above all, to Looney’s progression and dirty work.

In San Francisco they point to a member of the technical staff as a key character to uncover the best version of this new Looney: Dejan Milojevic, a 45-year-old Serbian who played as a power forward and was signed by the Warriors (after working with Nikola Jokic, among others) basically to help young center James Wiseman, number 2 in the 2020 draft. And, theoretically, one of the new crown jewels. Milojevic, in parallel, began working with Looney under the premise that marks his ideology: rebounding is not just a matter of heart and energy. There is a method, a technique. And he’s been perfecting it ever since he noticed, watching the 1997 Finals, that Dennis Rodman was moving before the rim spat the ball: he seemed to know where the rebound would go.

Milojevic and Looney study data, watch videos, analyze positions. It is a matter of smell, but also of mathematics. You can anticipate what the rebounds will be like, where they can be caught. You can apply movements with the body that prevent the opponent from jumping, which seal the positions. You can learn to do what it takes to be essential to a champion team. A working class hero, an integral piece that the Warriors will now try to retain at all costs, Wiseman has the projection that he has. His playoffs have been so good, and so important: defense throughout the court, golden rebounds, minutes in which the rival did not take him out of the game, neither with small quintets nor with very large quintets, neither with many shooters nor without them. .