Player: Kevon Looney.
Position: Small forward/Power forward
Expected draft position: Mid-late first round
It wasn't long ago that Kevon Looney was considered a top-10 pick. In fact, it was around five months ago, on January 9th, in their Pac-12 showdown against Stanford. The Bruins were down 13 with eight minutes to go, staring down the barrel of an 8-8 record and winless in their own conference. That's when Looney decided to take things over. It started with a corner three of a catch-and-shoot. Then a three-point play off an offensive rebound. Then this:
Forget the poor transition defense for a second. Looney didn't hesitate to take it the length of the court himself because that's how good he was that night. It was an out of body experience. He would finish with 27 points and 19 rebounds while going to the line an absurd 17 times. A career night for him topped off with a double overtime win that vaulted UCLA back into the tournament picture.
Since then, his draft stock has plummeted. The Bruins played in 20 more games, and Kevon scored in single digits in nearly half of them, two of which came in the NCAA tourney. He's had multiple outings where he's been limited to four rebounds or less and plenty more where it seemed like he was nothing more than a bit player for a disappointing team. There's been concerns over his slight frame and conditioning, the latter of which could scare off teams that fear his asthma condition has been getting the better of him since high school.
But underneath all of that is an intriguing prospect that could outperform his draft position five years from now. Read any scouting report on him and the first thing mentioned will be his pterodactyl-like 7'4" wingspan and ability to step outside behind the arc. He's raw, sure, but there's a lot more to him once you dig into the tape.
Watch enough UCLA games, and you'll be treated to two hours of Bill Walton -- the best gift college basketball has to offer. He'll offer his general musings, which are great, but what's better is how often he'll complain about Looney playing on the perimeter (he's not a fan of stretch bigs) and guards not passing him the ball. What he fails to realize is this: Looney is a frail 222 pounds with no semblance of a post-game and an inability to finish around the basket. Per DraftExpress, he converted just 8 of his 32 attempts with his back to the basket and only 52 percent of his looks inside the paint in a halfcourt setting. That's not bad, it's dreadful, particularly because he's a freakishly long NBA prospect that couldn't take advantage of B-level athletes.
Forget possessing a counter move when you post up, Looney has yet to develop the basic fundamentals on the block -- a step-through move, a reverse pivot into a face-up jumper -- anything to beat a defender one-on-one.
That's single coverage against Kyle Wiltjer, a potential lottery pick next year. Two things immediately jump out: a) his rudimentary footwork down low and b) his inability to read the floor. He spins right into the middle of the floor because he doesn't have the burst to go baseline, and once he realizes he's at a loss, he picks up his dribble, jumps straight up with his feet barely set, gets no lift, and loses the ball on Wiltjer's extended arms.
Without a first step, there's simply not many ways he can fend for himself. Slower bigs generally have the bulk to pin their defenders on their backs and go to work down low when things break down, but that isn't the case here. So Looney is relegated to drive and kicks as his biggest source of offense, which has only netted middling results.
This takes us back to his ghastly shooting percentage down low. Much like Otto Porter, he gets knocked off his spot too easily and without that initial burst, he's stuck trying to create with a defender right in front of him.
Maybe they'll get him the ball on the move against defenders rushing out at him? Nope, still no help. The floor spacing was bad and Looney struggled to find his way through it.
The question becomes, can the Wizards look past all of this for the sake of selecting a stretch-4? Because that's what they're tasked with when it comes to Looney. He has great size and length to go with an ultra smooth jumper and shot a good percentage on a small sample size -- 42 percent on 53 attempts -- with the majority coming on pick and pops. His shot mechanics are pristine -- he keeps his elbows in, gets good lift, and has a quick release -- enough evidence to suggest he can come off screens and be a spot-up threat at the next level.
Looney played at the top of UCLA's 1-3-1 zone, more evidence suggesting he's likely to be a three to start his NBA career. He has good lateral quickness and a solid understanding of when to provide help on the nail, and though he didn't have the bulk to fight down low, he gave just enough in a pinch to vacillate between helping on the perimeter and sinking in to cover for a rotating defender. Watch him toggle between four different offensive players on this possession:
That's the intrigue factor with Looney. He can be a jack-of-all-trades defender given his length; he's just as good jumping a passing lane as he is sliding over from the weakside to contest a shot. You have to worry about teams targeting him on the block, and he does fall susceptible to ball-watching. But he'll fit in just fine in a switch-heavy system, and against small-ball lineups, he's the ideal neutralizer.
I've gone back and forth with this. Obviously big men will knock him off his spot easily and he won't be able to slide under the rim in front of players jockeying for position to get cheap offensive boards like he did so often this past year. Elite rebounding tends to translate well, but Looney wasn't that last year, even if he did generally show good effort in games he struggled in. His 4.2 offensive rebounds per 40 minutes was impressive, but he also was held to four total rebounds on two separate occasions against Arizona this season, one of the few schools sporting an NBA-caliber frontcourt.
It'll depend on where you see him playing moving forward. Personally, I think he's a hybrid 3/4 that you'll have to play against select lineups. He brings energy and has a knack for finding the ball like Otto Porter, only he has about two more inches on him when it comes to wingspan. And you can't keep him out of every play. Even teams that made a concerted effort to box him out found this very difficult.
The question is whether the Wizards can stay patient with Looney. He's probably not ready to contribute from day 1, not as a four until he bulks up and not as a three until he develops his ball handling, but the upside is so clearly there.
He wouldn't be my first choice if I'm choosing a big man, but I do think the Wizards should take a long look at him. The draft hype that once surrounded him is long gone, and for good reason, but if you're in position to draft a player that has the potential to switch ball screens, protect the rim, AND stretch the floor, you better be able to look past his average production in college.