The Golden State Warriors have ruled Kevon Looney out for Game 3 of the NBA Finals, announcing that he is out indefinitely after fracturing his collarbone in the first half of Game 2.
Though he's averaging just over 20 minutes and has come off the bench in every game this postseason, Looney has been a major part of Golden State's already perilously thin rotation.
Beyond the direct impact on the Warriors' depth, Looney's injury could mean bigger games for Kawhi Leonard, Marc Gasol and Pascal Siakam, among others.
Here's a look into how the injury to Golden State's valuable big man changes the series moving forward.
Kevon Looney's positive impact
Unlike his teammates Kevin Durant or Klay Thompson who are stars that need no introduction, Looney's impact is far more subtle. To truly understand the magnitude of his absence requires first digging into just how he impacted the Warriors.
Throughout this season and into the playoffs, Looney has gained a reputation as one of the NBA's most versatile bigs at switching onto smaller players. With his relative lateral quickness and 7'4" wingspan, Looney isn't your typical brooding centre that's uncomfortable 20 or 25 feet from the basket towards the end of a shot clock. He not only holds his own defensively, but is an excellent help defender that helps take Golden State to another level on that end of the floor. So far this postseason, the Warriors defensive rating of 104.9 with him on the floor is the best on the team among all players who have logged at least 100 minutes.
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Even more impressive is how he seamlessly fits in alongside Golden State's stars. With the cloud of uncertainty swirling around Durant and Thompson, we'll focus primarily on Looney's fit next to Stephen Curry and Draymond Green. The two of them have been far more impactful this postseason whenever Looney's shared the floor alongside of them.
|With Looney||Without Looney|
How good is that figure of +20.2 with all three of them on the floor? It's the best by any 3-man combination this postseason . In addition to his staunch defence, Looney is an excellent finisher around the rim that can make opponents pay for over-helping onto one of Golden State's stars.
The box score might not always reflect it, but make no mistake... Looney is a very good player.
More Boogie and Bogut
The most obvious ripple effect is that this likely means more minutes for DeMarcus Cousins and Andrew Bogut.
This already manifested itself in Game 2 as Looney played just 10 minutes and did not return after leaving for good midway through the second quarter. After playing just eight minutes in his return in Game 1, Cousins logged nearly 28 minutes in Game 2. Though he played well, he's clearly not yet at 100% and it's tough to see him playing many more minutes than he did in that game.
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Bogut is perhaps a more interesting option to see extended burn. In seven minutes of action in Game 2, Bogut certainly made his presence felt as he scored six points on three alley-oops yet also committed two fouls. The Warriors were outscored by six points, surrendering 24 points in that limited time. In particular, Kawhi Leonard's eyes lit up in that short time Bogut was on the floor as he scored 15 points in those seven minutes, drawing a whopping five fouls while shooting 4-5 from the floor.
The alley oops for Bogut received most of the attention, but his lack of foot speed is a big cause for concern if you're a fan of the Warriors. Cousins isn't exactly fleet of foot either which makes Golden State far more susceptible to drives by Leonard, Kyle Lowry or Pascal Siakam.
Of course, those aren't the only options for replacing Looney's 20 minutes a night.
Draymond at the 5
Dating back to their first championship run in 2015, the Warriors have been their most dangerous whenever deploying Draymond Green as a centre, either as part of the original Death Lineup or with the Hamptons 5 following the acquisition of Durant in the summer of 2016.
It's a look that Golden State hasn't gone too much of late.
Green didn't log a single minute at the five in Game 1 and played there for just three minutes in Game 2. Unless Steve Kerr dusts off Jordan Bell or Damian Jones, expect to see more of Green at the centre spot moving forward. It's not unusual for them to wait until later in a series to revert to those smaller lineups. Looking back all the way to that first Finals run in 2015, the Warriors didn't fully commit to going small until Game 4.
With Looney out indefinitely and potential defensive concerns with playing Cousins or Bogut for extended minutes, this is certainly one key to watch for in Game 3 and beyond.
Impact on Raptor bigs
As mentioned previously, more minutes for either DeMarcus Cousins or Andrew Bogut means more easily accessible driving lanes for Kawhi Leonard. At the very least, neither of them are as effective at doubling which means either more single coverage or help coming from smaller defenders, a win for Leonard's bully ball.
Potentially larger than the impact on Leonard is the impact on both Marc Gasol and Pascal Siakam.
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Gasol is an incredible passer. When he's able to find cutters and orchestrate the offence without much resistance out of the high post, he becomes a different player. Through two games, he's been mostly a non-factor as a facilitator as he has just three assists. His primary defender thus far? Kevon Looney. With that wingspan and comfort extending out, there isn't as much room to operate freely as a passer as there is with the likes of Cousins or Bogut, both of whom are smart defenders but not as likely to press up.
Another potential beneficiary is Siakam, especially if the injury to Looney forces Golden State to go small. After a monster Game 1 performance in which he score 32 points on 14-17 shooting, the rangy forward was contained in Game 2 in part because Draymond Green took on the bulk of the assignment. If the Warriors go small and shift Green to either Gasol or Ibaka, that puts a smaller defender on Siakam which conversely gives him more opportunity to attack and finish with that devastating spin move on the block.
Kevon Looney likely wasn't going to score 25 or record any triple-doubles, but that doesn't mean he wouldn't have been felt in this series. His injury is a major factor moving forward with a thin team and an opportunistic opponent.
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