Struggling Warriors have to consider significant lineup change


Kevon Looney has started every game this season, partly because the Warriors are short on options and partly because it’s Loon’s personal goal after a career that began on training tables and operating rooms.

But it’s time for coach Steve Kerr and his staff to consider a different lineup, one in which Looney is replaced by Otto Porter Jr.

With Stephen Curry restricted to the sideline, the Warriors have encountered a problem that won’t be solved with Looney in the starting lineup. They’re spending much of the first quarter scrounging for points.

The paltry early offense forced them to play from behind Sunday in a home loss to the San Antonio Spurs and the script was repeated Tuesday in a 94-90 loss to the rebuilding Magic in Orlando.

Kerr, clearly agitated after consecutive losses to teams that won’t sniff the playoffs, will join his assistants in a late-night search for answers. Looney’s starting spot has to be among the potential changes – particularly with the way Porter is playing.

After producing 16 points and 16 rebounds in 29 minutes against San Antonio, Porter delivered 14 points and 15 rebounds in 26 minutes against the Magic. Moreover, he is a legitimate offensive threat, capable of scoring in the paint, from midrange and beyond the arc.

If Looney starts at center against the Heat on Wednesday night, Miami big man Bam Adebayo can get away with stealing the occasional glance at Loon while mostly spreading his 7-foot-1 wingspan all over the floor as a help defender.

Laying off Porter, who on Tuesday night drained multiple 3-pointers for the first time since the All-Star break, is an invitation to get burned. 

In a lineup with Jordan Poole, Klay Thompson and Andrew Wiggins – yeah, I know – Porter is a shooter theoretically among three other shooters. Draymond Green can play quarterback, looking off defenses and firing passes to any of four receivers.

For a Warriors team that has scored a total of 39 points in its last two first quarters, sacrificing Looney’s institutional knowledge for an opportunity to stretch the floor from the start is not such an irrational idea. It’s not a sign of panic but an adjustment to unfavorable circumstances.

Not considering a change is, after the past two games and at this point of the season, both puzzling and stubborn.

A starting lineup with two non-shooters in the absence of Curry, though, changes the floor geometry in ways that expose Golden State’s limitations.

It’s Curry’s presence and gravity that allows Kerr to get away with a starting lineup that has two non-shooters: Draymond Green and Looney.

The thought of benching Wiggins for Porter crosses the mind because the first-time All-Star is stuck in a state of underperformance, with no indication anything will change soon. Wiggins was assertive Tuesday, driving to the rim with force and taking 19 shots. But his inefficiency – he made only five field goals – was among the factors that sunk the Warriors.

But Wiggins, even now, remains more of an offensive threat than Looney. And offense is what is needed. Taking an early lead over a bad team by shooting it off the floor can be demoralizing. By contrast, allowing weak opponents to take an early double-digit lead is the surest way to build their confidence.

Kerr spent a few moments before tipoff Tuesday explaining his appreciation of Looney, one of his favorites and the most unsung member of the Warriors.

“He’s such a pro,” Kerr said. “He’s so respected in the locker room by every person in the organization: coaches, trainers, teammates. He’s just got a way about him that is so admirable. The demeanor. The daily commitment. Never any drama. Always just about winning. 

"I can start him and play him 30-plus minutes. I can start him and play him two five-minute runs and go small and he’s going to approach the next day the exact same way. There’s never any pouting, never any ‘I need an explanation.’ It’s just ‘I come in and do my job and help the team win.’ The guy is a dream to coach.”

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Looney has consistently shown a willingness to do what’s best for the team. What’s best for the team at this juncture is a shakeup. 

Kerr has shown he’ll experiment when times are tough, as they are now and will be as long as Curry’s left foot won’t allow him to rejoin his teammates.

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