Kevon Looney Talks Rebounding And What He’s Learned Playing In The Warriors System

Rightfully so, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green are lauded as the core of the Golden State Warriors‘ dynastic run that’s secured four rings over the past nine seasons. But perhaps another bedrock should be considered among that core, with center Kevon Looney present for the past three rings and playing an integral playoff role for the past two. Since joining the postseason rotation in 2018, Looney’s become a mainstay for the Warriors by embracing all the grunge work to amplify their splashy floor-spacing.

He’s played 230 consecutive games. He springs free Curry and Thompson for quality looks as a screener. He gobbles up hard-nosed rebounds to generate second chances and punctuate defensive stops. He works the short roll as a playmaker. He pairs with Green to form a stingy, albeit undersized, frontline.

Recently, on behalf of TIDAL, we caught up with Looney. We discussed why he likes TIDAL’s new Live feature, which allows him to connect and listen to music with fans, how he’s mastered the art of rebounding and his development as a pick-and-roll big among other topics.

What do you have going on with TIDAL?

We’ve been partnering on TIDAL Live, something they just added to the app. I’ve been able to go Live and share my music that I’ve been listening to before the game. I listen to a lot of music pregame and while I’m warming up, and I just want my fans and everybody that follows me to get to see what I’m listening to, to get ready and get locked in before the playoffs.

What’s on your playlist these days?

A little bit of everything. I try to keep it in new and old, try to mix it up … I wanna stay physical on the court, so I like to play music that gets me in the mode for that. I like Lil’ Baby, Kodak Black, I play a lot of Jay-Z as of recent. We’ve been in [Los Angeles] a lot, we’ve been playing the Lakers, so I’ve been playing like Nipsey [Hustle] and Kendrick [Lamar] as well.

Does how the team or you fare individually change at all what you’re listening to each day or do you try and keep the same routine with your playlist?

It depends on how I’m feeling. What’s the mood in locker room depending on what I’m listening to. A lot of guys got kind of different tastes. So, sometimes I come into the locker room or the weight room and I hear guys listening to slow music and I gotta kind of switch it up. If they’re playing slow music, I go super upbeat and physical or loud-type music. Some days, if I’m a little angry after the game, I know, after a loss, I might have to change the playlist up a little bit, maybe slow down a little bit and different things like that.

What’s the appeal of the Live feature for you?

I’ve been using the TIDAL App for a long time, and it was something new. It’s something I hadn’t seen before. I was just on the app, I started clicking around and seeing other people going Live, I was able to listen to different people’s playlists and see what they’re listening to. I felt like that’d be dope for me because I’m always listening to music, to be able to go live and allow people to listen to what I’m playing at the moment. I feel like I’m a dope DJ, and always got some of the best playlists and always arguing with certain people on our training staff and other people in the locker room about who’s got the best music tastes. I felt like it was only right that I was able to go Live and share my tastes with with the world.

Are you getting good reviews on your DJing from the people you’re connecting with on those Lives?

Definitely. I get a lot of good reviews. I feel validated. I’ve been talking stuff to my teammates, the training staff for a while. To have people listen to my playlist and like it, it’s been a good feeling.

You’ve mentioned a little bit of the on-court stuff. You’re obviously quite renowned for your rebounding. Was or is there anyone in your career at some point that you feel helped unlock your understanding of the nuances of rebounding for you?

It’s a few people. I would say my coach we added a couple years ago named Decky (Warriors assistant Dejan Milojevic). He’s one of the guys that really challenged me to be better in that area, to take it to another level and try to be elite at it. But as far as players, I got to learn from a lot of great bigs who are really good rebounders. I learned a lot from [Andrew] Bogut, especially the second time he came around. I got to really pick his brain. He showed me a lot of the little tricks and different things like that. So, I would probably give him a lot of credit for my rebounding.

When I watch you it feels like you’re in the right place a lot, but it doesn’t necessarily feel like you’re doing anything absurd besides the fact that every rebound lands in your lap, which I guess is absurd in itself. But I can imagine there’s a lot of hidden tricks that stay within the team.

Definitely [laughs]. I take rebounding as an art. It’s something that you got to want to be good at. It’s something that just doesn’t happen. Just like any other skill on the court, like shooting and dribbling, you got to work at it. In my first couple years, I just kind of went out there and I just relied on my instincts of just knowing where the ball is going to be at. But the last few years, I’ve really been doing different drills to work on it, different techniques that I got from my coach (Milojevic) and that I kind of learned and added to my tool belt, and it’s really been going a long way on the court.

You mentioned learning from teammates and bigs. You and Draymond don’t play necessarily the same role but it feels like you fill some similar gaps in the team. What have you been able to learn from him about playing off of guys like Steph and Klay, and playing in coach [Steve] Kerr’s system?

He’s been somebody I’ve learned a lot from on both sides of court. For his position, he’s probably one of the best passers in the league. The way he’s able to set screens and do the dribble handoffs and get the other guys involved, it’s something that I’ve been paying attention to my whole career. To be able to make plays in the pocket and slow it down and know when to push it. And then, on the defensive end, learning the terminology, how to communicate better, how to be in the right spots and learn different player tendencies, and learn how to guard better in the post is what I learned from Draymond. He’s been somebody I’ve been watching closely. He’s been there my whole career. He’s been one of my vets. I learned a lot from him and I’m still learning from each game. He has a lot of adjustments for us and he’s like a coach on the floor. So, if I have any questions now I’ll go to him.

Before you joined the Warriors, had you done a lot of short roll stuff or was it more of the hard dives to the rim? Was that something that took time for you to learn and develop?

Definitely. Before I got to the NBA, I didn’t run a lot of pick-and-rolls period. In college, we didn’t run much pick-and-roll, so I never had to roll. In high school, I didn’t ever play pick-and-roll either. So, I learned all that as I got to the NBA. My first couple years, I had a lot of time to watch and learn. I was able to ask a lot of questions and really practice and learn how to play in the pocket and learn how to really set screens and do different things like that. We always joke with each other, like the rookies that come in, I never set a screen my whole life before I got to the NBA, so it was definitely a learning curve. It took me a while, but once I got it, I feel comfortable and I feel like I’m getting close to almost mastering it.

What are the differences in the reads when you’re diving hard to the rim versus when you’re staying in the pocket for those short rolls?

It kind of varies from team to team that we play against. Different teams try to do different things to disrupt our offense. You know, we got Steph on our team, so he demands a lot of attention, and Klay, a lot of different shooters that demand a lot of attention. So, a lot of times, when we first start a series off, teams usually want me or Draymond to beat them, so they try to turn to us into scorers, so I usually to try to start off off aggressive, going to the rim, trying to finish. And then, as the game goes on, they start pulling over and trying to step up early, then I try to slow down and make sure I hit the shooters, hit the cutters. It’s something we’ve been doing for my whole time here, so now I kind of got it down pat. I know when to be aggressive. I know when the defense is going to pull over. I know when my guys are going to cut. I know where the shooter is going to be at, kind of secondhand now.

I imagine that also changes maybe year-to-year and lineup-to-lineup, based on who was around you, whether it’s maybe a guy who prefers to cut versus a a guy who prefers to spot up in the corners or the wings. Is that part of it as well?

Definitely. You gotta know who you’re in the game with. You gotta know where guys like the ball. You gotta know where defenses are pulling over from. This year, we got Gary Payton II back and he’s a phenomenal cutter, so I know if I get in any trouble, he’s gonna be cutting late. I know that Klay is gonna be on the on the weakside, probably gonna be open if they pulling over that tight and if I get a cutter from Gary or [Andrew Wiggins], so I kind of know where guys gonna be at. And if all else fails, if I get back in trouble, I can always dribble back and go to the handoff with Steph.

Yeah, it’s not a bad safety blanket to have with the greatest shooter of all-time there. You mentioned you’ve been around for a while now. What do you feel like you know now after all these playoff series, compared to when you came in?

It’s a few things. Just how hard it is to win is something that I learned and also I’d say how each game in the playoffs is so drastically different and how one play or one quarter, one thing can switch the whole momentum of a series. I got to see that live in person, my first year, when we were 73-9. We were down 3-1 to the [Oklahoma City Thunder] and we flipped the script. We came back and then we lost in the Finals, kinda learned like, all right, game-by-game is gonna be different. You got to take advantage of each opportunity and you’re never down and out in the playoffs. That’s something that I learned. I learned how physical the game is, and how much intensity, how much focus and gameplan goes into each game. In the regular season, we’re playing with focus, but we play so many games, and we can’t really just lock in and make all the adjustments that we do in the playoffs. It’s a lot of film being watched and a lot of different tinkering with lineups from game-to-game in the playoffs.

You mentioned those adjustments. Was that something that took a little bit of time for you to adapt to? Because during the regular season, I imagine you’re keeping the core schemes intact and trying to build an identity and then, in the playoffs that could change minute by minute, game by game.

Definitely. In the regular season, the lineups stay the same, you’re always kind of playing with the same groups. Like I said, the gameplans are all the same. But in the playoffs, we get a little bit more complex with our schemes and who’s going to guard who. Some guys might play a lot in the regular season, but when it comes to the playoffs, depending on the matchup, we might change the lineup totally. You might go from playing 30 minutes to playing five or 10 and it’s always for the greater good, especially on our team. So, it was definitely difficult to learn how to play championship basketball. It’s not easy to do that, but I had a lot of great examples and I was able to learn. I had to learn quickly or else I’d be on the bench. I definitely adapted and it took me a while, but I got it. I feel really comfortable playing in playoffs and playing in deep runs.

Are there any specific moments you remember where you were like, ‘OK, I gotta like get this figured out’ when it wasn’t quite clicking for you and then it did click?

It was in my third or fourth year. We was playing the [San Antonio] Spurs, maybe first or second round. I was getting the ball in the pocket. I think I turned it over one time, went too fast and maybe missed Klay in the corner, and went for layup and missed it. And then, I was boxing out, the ball is bouncing on the floor and I didn’t grab it. I feel like other people on the team could have grabbed it, but they would all blame me because I was a young guy (smiling). In the locker room at halftime, they all yelled at me and it was all on film. And I’m like, ‘Man, I gotta figure this out because I might not be able to play again if I don’t get this right.’ And I feel like later in the playoffs and then we ended up playing [the] Houston [Rockets]. I was able get on the court and I was able to make a difference. I was able to play a lot of minutes and actually kind of figure it out.

I know this is an impossible question, but do you have a favorite moment with any or all of Steph, Klay and Dray where you just kind of realized the gravity of who you’re playing with?

(Smiling) I’ve had a lot of moments with those guys where it’s like, ‘Man, this is incredible.’ But it didn’t take long. My rookie year, we went 73-9 and we won our first 24 games. And it was like ‘Man, this is the NBA, you don’t lose.’ I didn’t know what to expect coming in. Steph won unanimous MVP that year, so he seemed like he never missed a shot. Draymond was everywhere. He might’ve won Defensive Player of the Year that year [editor’s note: Green won DPOY the next year]. And Klay, I seen Klay hit like 11 threes [in a game] that year. So, my rookie year, I got to see a lot of different things. I think it all came into a peak of everything, I think, my rookie year. We beat OKC. That’s the infamous Draymond arguing with Steve at halftime and the Steph Curry half-court game-winner. That’s what I remember. It was February around my birthday. I was watching live on the court. I didn’t get in the game. I don’t think I had a jersey on, but just to see that, how dedicated they were to winning. … They were able to band back together and do something special and beat a team that had [Kevin Durant] and Russell [Westbrook] in a crazy environmental on an ABC game. I was like, ‘Man, these guys are really good, this is why they were champions.’