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Kevon Looney catching up to Warriors’ pace

The Warriors shootaround has been over for a good 10 minutes. The coaches and players are sitting in folding chairs to the side of the court, changing clothes and chatting it up.

There’s one player shooting threes around the arc. The hulking 6-foot-9 frame of Warriors rookie Kevon Looney puts up three after three.

After the first two shots rim out, he stops and gives the rim an exasperated stare before getting up a handful more.

The UCLA product is just hours from experiencing his first taste of NBA basketball, but he already has the coach’s attention.

Summer League head coach Luke Walton has to remind himself that Looney is just 19 at times:

“He’s long, active on the glass, and for a 19-year-old kid he’s pretty impressive. He has a great feel for the game of basketball and that’s great because you can’t teach that, you either have a feel or you don’t.”

The Warriors would be ecstatic to see Looney hit threes not just in practice. And Walton is confident that he will be soon enough:

“He’s got a nice stroke that’s obviously going to continue to get better with work. But he can hit that midrange jumper consistently. You know eventually we’d like to see him hit that three point shot too.”

That versatility would make Looney very valuable, especially in the pace and space offense the Warriors play.

Looney showed off some of that versatility in his lone season for the Bruins, where he averaged 11.6 points and 9.2 rebounds per game and shot 41 percent on threes. He also led all freshmen with 15 double-doubles including a 27-point, 19-rebound game against Stanford.

He was pegged as a lottery pick early on in the year due to his on-court production, and was on hand in Brooklyn with his family in the green room of the NBA Draft as team after team skipped him in the first round. At one point he left the room, and when he returned, he heard his name finally called with the last pick in the first round.

The whole thing left him on edge, admits Looney:

“It was real nerve racking, I came in and worked out for everyone from eight to 22 so I’m thinking I’m going in that range, then after 20 went and I didn’t work out for any of those teams I was real nervous but it all worked out for the best.”

There were no regrets though about declaring for the draft too early, Looney confesses:

“I wasn’t sweating it so much, I was thinking it had nothing to do with my talent or skill set was the reason I dropped. I think I performed in every workout I went to and so I wasn’t worried about my skills or not being ready.”

The Warriors will give the big man all the time he needs to develop. One thing that everyone agrees needs work is Looney’s conditioning and strength.

Walton called him out for poor conditioning after the team’s first practice. But he said that has improved dramatically already.

Looney agrees, and says is his body is his main focus right now:

“(I need to) get stronger to be able to bang with guys down low. … I’ve been trying to cut out soda and hot wings, that’s my biggest weakness, Sprite and hot wings.”

It was evident in his first two games in Summer League. He showed flashes of what makes him special, pulling down a defensive rebound and leading the break. But wasn’t able to put it together consistently, mainly due to his conditioning.

The longer he played, the less active he became. Two games in, he has posted moderate totals, averaging four points and six rebounds in 14 minutes per game.

Looney admits that the hardest part at this point is the mentality:

“Learning the offense is probably the biggest thing. They depend on our bigs to make plays and make the right decisions so learning to offense. The whole speed of the game is a lot different.”

There are positives, as Looney has grabbed four offensive rebounds each game. And he seemed to have broken out in his third summer league game, posting his best numbers so far in a 90-71 loss to Sacramento. Looney finished with 13 points and seven rebounds while shooting a respectable 6-for-11 from the field.

Walton was encouraged by his progress but emphasizes the rookie still has a long way to go:

“There’s some things we are going to need him to clean up as far as the rules that we have as a team, but his overall performance, the way he competes is something you get excited for. And he just showed a little bit of what he could do tonight.”

Energy will have to be his calling card early on in his career, plus Golden State is in no rush with him, they will do everything to let him develop without being counted on to play heavy minutes.

And after waiting so long to hear his name being called on draft night, Looney could end up being worth the wait for the Warriors.

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