Kevon Looney is going to be an NBA first round draft pick. All the experts agree: he has a tremendous amount of potential.
But what does this mean for UCLA? First off, Kevon represents the biggest worry for UCLA to replace next year. UCLA has two players coming next season, Prince Ali and Aaron Holiday, to potentially replace Norman Powell. To replace Kevon they have a big Jonah Bolden who wants to play three. Those are big shoes for Jonah.
For Looney was an exceptional big whose contributions are often overlooked. Sure Looney was a very good rebounder who led UCLA in rebounding (and second in the conference and thirty-third in the nation) and was second in blocks as you would expect from your starting four. But he also led UCLA in three point percentage (minimum one attempt per game) and was second in steals.
Most importantly he made Steve Alford's 3-2 press/zone work. Looney with his incredibly long arms and good instincts made a gimmicky defense work with him at the top. With his length and rebounding ability he was able to slide down into the middle when the 3-2 morphed into a more traditional 2-3 zone. That is a tough ask of a big, yet Looney did it well.
The second question is did UCLA take full advantage of Looney's talents? If not for Kyle Anderson the year before, Looney could legitimately be discussed as one of the best bigs with the ball in his hands in UCLA history going up the court. Looney is a very good off the dribble for his height and an excellent passer. Critics will say he lacks a good post-up game but that was really the only part of his game missing. And with Tony Parker one of the better post up players in the PAC 12, that should not have been an issue for UCLA last season.
Yet Looney ranked fourth in shot attempts on the team. As Looney alluded to here, Looney did not get a chance to showcase everything at UCLA.
Norman Powell saved the season with his speech and constant effort as detailed here. But if there was one game that saved the season it was Stanford at UCLA. UCLA loses that game; the season may have been over. UCLA had lost 6 in a row coming into that game and was 0-2 in the PAC 12. In some of the games we had blown out in ugly fashion and UCLA was coming off a 71-39 (THIRTY NINE) loss to Utah. The team was in danger of completely falling apart.
Yet, Looney was amazing in the double OT win over Stanford where he almost single handedly willed UCLA to victory.
"I was just playing my game and I picked up my energy," said Looney, who had career highs of 27 points and 19 rebounds while playing all but three minutes. "It was a must-win. I picked up another gear and got going."
Or better yet watch this video.
In that video you will see why the NBA is drooling over Looney. Looney dominates the boards, in one case against 4 Stanford players. He knocks down threes. He gets a rebound and dribbles coast to coast for a jam. He even does two beautiful post entry passes to Tony Parker. Forget a highlight reel; just have the scouts watch this game.
ALFORD'S USE OF LOONEY
I think Looney should have been used as a high post to help alleviate our point guard problem. As seen in the Stanford video he is very good at post passing. Putting that aside, the most troubling quote of the 2014-15 season may have been the fact that Kevon Looney had no plays for him. Can anyone recall a time when the team's almost lottery pick does not have a single play called for him? To put this in perspective, UCLA had at least one play call for Wannah Bail, an alley-oop, in the playbook.
To put it simply, this is outrageous. Looney should have been a focus of the offense. Whether it was isolating him, high post, etc. Looney was a unique player that should have been a force on offense. This headline and story was one of the most alarming of the year: Can UCLA's Kevon Looney be more than a ‘garbage guy'?
"Kevon's a unique individual in that he does his best when he's playing off of everybody," said second-year coach Steve Alford, whose recruiting so far at UCLA has been highlighted by Looney's arrival. "When you go to him in certain areas, I don't think he normally looks as good as he does when he's playing off of people — when people can create for him and he gets to slide and do the things he likes to do.
. . . According to kenpom.com, the true freshman leads UCLA with a 112.5 offensive rating, but only takes 19.8 percent of his team's shots when on the floor. In the Pac-12, only four other players who lead their team in offensive efficiency take fewer than a fifth of available shots — and none of them match Looney's average of 32.0 minutes per game.
"He's kind of a hard one to figure out," said Bruins point guard Bryce Alford. "He's not really a guy that you've got to run plays for. He kind of does it on his own. I've noticed that just by playing games. He's a garbage guy. He gets the majority of his points off the offensive glass, rebounding his own misses and going to the basket and stuff.
. . . UCLA proved it can win with Looney as its "garbage guy" — but how much better could the Bruins be if he were more?
I think that question was easy to answer. A number of shots on the offensive end should have been taken away from Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton and instead directed toward Kevon. Even when Kevon does not make shots he draws fouls and makes things happen. Alford failed UCLA and Looney big time.
On defense though, as mentioned above, Kevon's unique abilities were taken advantage of in the 3-2 zone. Kevon made that work as the guy up top who could slide down.
At the end of the day though, the question remains was Kevon another Zach LaVine? Bryce and Isaac are not going to be picked in the draft. Why were they featured so much more in the offense than Kevon? Unlike Zach, Kevon played a lot of minutes. However to be an afterthought in the offense does not add up.
Steve Alford gets a tentative D for his use of Kevon Looney. If Looney shows more in the pros that grade will go down further but in any case it seems that Steve did not take advantage of the abilities of his most talented player.
The quotes above are also damaging because they will be used to recruit negatively against UCLA. For the last two seasons our best NBA prospect has seemingly been underused. Rivals will say it is trend that great athletes are only welcomed as complimentary players to Bryce. Not saying the statement is true but rather stating it as a reality of negative recruiting that Steve and Bryce Alford helped enforce with their words and actions.
Kevon Looney has a very good pro potential. I think he will be an NBA starter and effective player for years baring something unforeseen. (For example, is his hip problem ongoing?) He is also a good kid who never complained about not being an option in the offense and always worked hard.
Thanks Kevon and Go Bruins.