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Warriors' Looney driven to disprove Draft-day doubters

Last pick of the 2015 first round hoping to reach NBA this season

POSTED: Jan 13, 2016 10:31 AM ET

By Scott Howard-Cooper

BY Scott Howard-Cooper


A nagging hip injury from his UCLA days has limited Kevon Looney's availability in 2015-16.

Last season at UCLA was hard, with a hip injury causing pain and making it difficult to execute the most basic of moves on both sides of the ball. It made him conscious not to change direction too fast when dribbling and made defensive slides stab at his inside.

Last June 25 in Brooklyn's Barclays Center was emotionally challenging. It was a long night of waiting before finally being drafted by the Warriors with the last pick of the first round, about 4½ hours after Kevon Looney arrived in the green room ... and 10 or 12 spots after he expected to come off the board.

So having to start 2015-16 very late after surgery in August he hopes will correct the hip problems marred his season and Draft stock, debuting in the NBA D-League (and not the NBA like a lot of other rookies) and facing the likelihood most his minutes will come in the minors -- fine. This is nothing for Looney.

When Looney took the court for the Santa Cruz Warriors on Tuesday night at Idaho, it was his first real professional game, his first professional appearance since the Las Vegas Summer League and his first outing that counted since UCLA lost to Gonzaga in the Sweet 16 on March 27, 2015. That made it milestone moment enough. Except that 9½ months later in Boise also made it the first step in the plan of proving teams wrong for letting him slip to the No. 30 pick.

"I feel like they missed out," Looney said. "I've been waiting to show them, to come back from an injury and show my whole game, take some of the labels off of me and show my talent and show I can really contribute."

He heard front offices didn't think much of his skill level and doubted whether his college success would translate to the NBA. His picked up talk that executives and scouts didn't think he played with a high motor. It didn't have to be true. He felt the criticism, watched it become tangible on Draft night with a drop that was not entirely connected to concerns about the hip, and so he couldn't wait for the chance to dish out revenge, no matter how long it took to get started.

"I want to show everybody," Looney said. "A lot of people have already written me off, saying, 'I can't wait to see you next year.' Like it's over for me and I had no chance of playing. But that's not my plan. Hopefully I'll get in this year and I'll make a contribution and show everybody."

To The Ladder (all stats heading into Tuesdays games):

1. Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves

Last week's ranking: No. 1

Towns Denies Nowitzki

Karl-Anthony Towns rises up to swat away Dirk Nowitzki's shot.

Nikola Pekovic is back, after missing the first 35 games with an Achilles injury, but not at the expense of Towns, who played 32, 35 and 25 minutes the three outings since Pekovic returned. (Pek got 16, 15 and 15, so there could have been an impact.) Towns' offense, on the other hand, is slowing, at 13.6 points and 54.2 percent the last five games. For now, with what he has shown on that end of the court, it's nothing more than a bad moment that could quickly turn into a flurry of impressive scoring and range.

2. Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks

Last week's ranking: No. 2

Porzingis Leads Knicks Past Celtics

Kristaps Porzingis scores 26 points to help the New York Knicks beat the Boston Celtics 120-114.

A bad December on the boards (6.4) has been replaced by Porzingis making an impact reminiscent of the unexpected early-season impact, with at least nine rebounds in five of the last 10 outings. And when that dipped to six on Sunday against the Bucks, he had five blocks to make a difference in another way. Porzingis is second among rookies in rebounding and his 7.9 rebounds in 27.8 minutes is decent production regardless of experience.

3. Jahlil Okafor, Philadelphia 76ers

Last week's ranking: No. 3

Okafor Finishes The Break

Off the turnover, Ish Smith leads the break, hits Nerlens Noel with the behind the back pass and Noel dimes the trailing Jahlil Okafor for the slam.

Happy New Year is right. Okafor is shooting 61.5 percent in January, with no worse than 56.3 in any of the six games, is a recovery from a bad shooting slump and also the chance to apply pressure to re-take second place. Porzingis is doing his part with his own problems on offense and now Okafor is doing his. The 47.8 percent overall is still not where Okafor needs to be, but this is the first positive direction for his shooting in weeks.

4. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets

Last week's ranking: No. 4

The big rookie news in Denver is the return of Emmanuel Mudiay on Sunday after being sidelined 14 games by an ankle injury. It probably won't have a big impact on Jokic, who didn't have a major role in the offense anyway while building his early reputation on defense and rebounding. The actual issue will be to keep his minutes as Jusuf Nurkic gets his conditioning and rhythm back after returning from a knee injury. Nights like seven rebounds (and an unexpected nine assists) Sunday against the Charlotte Hornets obviously help Jokic's case.

5. Justise Winslow, Miami Heat

Last week's ranking: No. 5

That's 26.7 percent from the field the last six games, and 10 percent on 3-pointers, if anyone has been masochistic enough to watch. Winslow would be falling, and fast, except that every realistic challenger from a week ago has either been hurt of lurching along themselves. Defense and, as always, a critical role on a winning team help his cause. It's enough to offset the offense... for now.

6. D'Angelo Russell, Los Angeles Lakers

Last week's ranking: No. 6

Russell Burns Kings

D'angelo Russell scores a career-high 27 points on 11-16 shooting with three triples, four assists and two steals versus Sacramento.

Russell missed one game to a sore throat and another to a sprained ankle in a four-game stretch and logged just eight minutes in one of the other two. He's in a holding pattern, in other words. The results have been typically mixed the times he has made it on the court since Christmas, with signs some nights he is finding a rhythm on his shot yet enough poor performances to indicate problems with the ball continue.

7. Larry Nance Jr., Los Angeles Lakers

Last week's ranking: No. 9

Oop to Nance Jr.

Lou Williams drives and lobs it up to Larry Nance Jr. for the alley-oop slam.

He has followed up the 56.1 percent from the field in December with 54.7 percent the first seven games of January, and then some. The starting power forward has at least 11 rebounds in three of the last seven games and has added at least two steals in four of the seven games. He's supplying exactly the kind of energy that got him into the rotation, and then the opening lineup, in the first place. Nance could be in the top five in the class in rebounding and steals by this time next week, along with holding his spot there in shooting.

8. T.J. McConnell, Philadelphia 76ers

Last week's ranking: No. 10

McConnell on Saturday became the only player in the league to record eight assists in 15 minutes or less. It would be the ultimate in fun with numbers if it wasn't also the latest indicator of his play without much credit, especially considering the Sixers started playing better once Ish Smith was installed as the starting point guard. But McConnell has 31 assists against 10 turnovers the last six appearances while shooting a solid 44.8 percent.

9. Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns

Last week's ranking: Not ranked

Booker Scores And One

Devin Booker drives to the basket and hits the layup plus the foul.

Booker is so far ahead of the field in 3-point shooting among rookies that it is difficult to spot second place (Mario Hezonja) without a telescope. Booker has delivered on pre-Draft expectations, in other words. Just as importantly, he finally has a regular spot in the rotation. After making The Ladder in mid-December despite not playing 20 minutes in consecutive games, and then quickly falling off when even that role faded, the No. 13 pick has regularly reached at least the high-20s the last couple weeks while shooting 47.4 percent with range the last nine appearances.

10. Frank Kaminsky, Charlotte Hornets

Last week's ranking: No. 7

Kaminsky vs. Stanley Johnson for the final spot is close to pick 'em. Similar stats, similar minutes on teams trying to win now to make the playoffs rather than hand minutes to rookies ... and both close to unable to make a shot, especially this month. Defense gives Kaminsky a slight edge, but this is no great victory or the kind of cause for celebration that undoubtedly accompanied his Dec. 23 arrival on The Ladder. Bobby Portis, finally in the Chicago rotation after a small role early, is charging hard.

Dropped out: Johnson (8).

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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