There are several factors that go into a pick in the NBA Draft. Teams draft players based on need, best available or perhaps, draft for another team in hopes of swinging a trade. One of the most exhilarating, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants techniques is taking the player with the most potential—even if that means accepting the possibility that the player may never pan out.
In the 2013 draft, the Milwaukee Bucks made one of the biggest boom-or-bust picks in recent memory, taking Giannis Antetokounmpo with the 15th overall pick. Two year later, it’s looking like a highway robbery, with the “Greek Freak” living up to his nickname and then some.
There’s no one way to quantify who the biggest boom/bust player will be any given year. Expectations, constructed in part by the consensus from experts like ESPN’s Chad Ford and DraftExpress, combined with the unpredictability of a player’s skill set, can get us pretty close. The player this year that embodies the qualities of a prime boom/bust player, and has the value to be a huge steal down the road is UCLA’s Kevon Looney.
On paper, there’s nothing all that flashy about Looney’s game, which probably explains his drop on draft boards. After climbing as high as No. 5 on Ford’s draft ranking, Looney is now 19th, and he’s ranked one spot lower on DraftExpress.
I have him at No. 8 on my big board (which can be seen below) because every time I’ve had the chance to see him, I’ve come away impressed. That’s saying something considering I witnessed Kentucky jump out to a 41-7 halftime lead on his Bruins in person. I still have Looney ranked ahead of Willie Cauley-Stein, who dogged him in that game, because his potential is too great to pass up on if he falls outside the lottery.
Looney played a key role on a surprisingly talented UCLA squad that made a Sweet 16 run. He averaged 11.6 points, 9.2 rebounds and 1.4 assists, and he also hit 22 three-pointers, showing off some unexpected range. According to Sports-Reference, Looney was one of four players in the nation to finish with that stat line and the only freshman or major conference player to pull off the feat.
His versatile skill set was even more apparent in high school, where he averaged 27.9 points, 12.7 rebounds, and get this, 7.0 assists and 8.0 blocks per en route to earning the Wisconsin Gatorade Player of the Year award. At 6’9” with a 7’4” wingspan, Looney was the point guard for his high school team.
There were flashes of those numbers and that kind of flexibility throughout the season, like when Looney finished with 27 and 19 in a win over Stanford or had a double-double in seven of nine games, but it was never sustained for long stretches.
He played on a solid offense that relied heavily on its five starters, who all averaged double digits. Sophomore Bryce Alford averaged 4.9 assists, but was depended on for his scoring and shooting, leaving Looney as a complementary player, without a real pick-and-roll partner.
Per DraftExpress, he was still solid in pick-and-pop situations, scoring 1.05 points per possession, and in catch-and-shoot, scoring 1.11 PPP.
Still, everyone loves the perception of a point forward, but as is the case much of the time, the reality is deflating. Looney shot just 25.7 percent on two point jumpers, per Hoop-Math, and was inconsistent throughout the season, failing to score double digits in four of his last five games.
On the defensive end, Looney’s length, mobility and quick hands help him to disrupt passing lanes, keep up with his man and provide help defense. He’s rail thin at 220 pounds and only averaged 0.9 blocks on the year, so how well he can defend power forwards at the next level remains to be seen.
As far as NBA comparisons go, Looney’s ceiling is a Lamar Odom-type player, with the ability to run an offense in a pinch and defend multiple positions. Realistically, he looks strikingly similar to a player from last year’s draft, Noah Vonleh.
Vonleh was taken with the ninth pick by the Charlotte Hornets, but the verdict on him is still out. He only played 25 games his rookie season, but like Looney, he’s an elite rebounder with unique ball handling skills and an outside touch.
Looney is still only 19 years old, so there’s no guarantee he’ll contribute right off the bat. Fit will be key, as he’ll need to play with a team that could experiment with him at small forward, get him out in transition and find ways to utilize him in pick-and-roll.
He’s still a project, but one that could pay off big time.
Here’s my Top 30 Big Board. I’ll continue to update it in my draft articles leading into the NBA Draft on June 25.
- D’Angelo Russell
- Karl-Anthony Towns
- Jahlil Okafor
- Justise Winslow
- Emmanuel Mudiay
- Kristaps Porzingis
- Myles Turner
- Kevon Looney
- Willie Cauley-Stein
- Stanley Johnson
- Devin Booker
- Mario Hezonja
- Jerian Grant
- Frank Kaminsky
- Tyus Jones
- Delon Wright
- Cameron Payne
- Montrezl Harrell
- Sam Dekker
- Trey Lyles
- Bobby Portis
- Kelly Oubre
- R.J. Hunter
- Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
- Christian Wood
- Rashad Vaughn
- Dakari Johnson
- Robert Upshaw
- Pat Connaughton
- Justin Anderson