Kevon Looney believes Warriors can have one of NBA's best center tandems

Warriors can have best of both worlds with center tandem originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

SAN FRANCISCO -- James Wiseman already had his welcome to the NBA moment, playing 39 games his rookie year with his first two coming in starts against superstars Kevin Durant and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Saturday at Chase Center on the Warriors' practice court was a new box to check for the 21-year-old center.

"We're thrilled to have James back," Steve Kerr said Saturday. "He looked great today. He's had a really good summer. I joked with him -- I said, 'Welcome to your first ever training camp.' It's his third season and this is literally his first camp.

"Better late than never, but this will be great for him."

Injuries and COVID kept Wiseman out of training camp his first two years as a pro after the Warriors selected him with the No. 2 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. The same goes with summer league.

Going into Year 3, he played four straight games in the Las Vegas Summer League, his longest stretch of games played since April of 2021, when his rookie year came to an end from a knee injury. That injury lingered into last season, keeping him out for the entirety of the Warriors' championship campaign. While Wiseman watched from the sidelines, Kevon Looney, the player who Wiseman was supposed to replace when the Warriors drafted him, enjoyed a breakout campaign as an irreplaceable player for Kerr.

His efforts landed him a three-year, $22.5 million contract in free agency to stay with the Warriors. Looney is back, as is Wiseman. And there they were Saturday to open Warriors training camp on a side hoop, battling against each other with instructions from coach Dejan Milojević.

Watching is one thing, playing is another. Being pushed by Looney in every way possible is a win for all parties involved for the Warriors.

"I think just watching Loon the last year, the last couple years, has helped James," Kerr said. "But now playing against him, he'll be able to feel and see some of those tricks of the trade that Loon is so good with. Screens, flipping the screen, catching the ball in the pocket, moving the ball on DHOs [dribble handoffs] -- all of the stuff that Loon does to help create shots for [Steph Curry] and [Klay Thompson] and [Andrew Wiggins].

"Those are things that we want James to learn how to do. If he can get really good with that stuff, he has the added benefit of being able to catch a lob, going to the rim and finishing over the top of the defense. Loon is obviously a championship player and someone who's seen it all, and James is just trying to learn from him. It's a good setup."

The two play the same position at center but with much different natural skills sets. Wiseman is listed at 7-foot and 240 pounds, can leap as a lob threat in an instant and can run the floor like a gazelle. Looney is 6-foot-9 and 222 pounds, is an elite defensive player and rebounder and understands the Warriors' system like it's tattooed inside his head.

Looney played all 82 regular-season games last season for the Warriors, as well as all 22 playoff games. Wiseman's season consisted of three G League games in March before being shut down due to swelling in his surgically-repaired right knee.

Kerr already has made it clear that Looney is his starting center this time around. He trusts him too much not to give him that title -- one that Looney has earned -- and Kerr isn't going to put Wiseman in an unreasonable situation. Now, Looney can impart his wisdom and knowledge on his young teammate in a game setting.

"It took me years to learn [the Warriors' system]," Looney said Saturday. "Once you get to experience it live and firsthand, it makes things a lot easier. You start to understand and see the pictures a lot easier."

Wiseman has had a clean bill of health all summer long. He has been in the building for a long time, getting practice in and playing pickup games. Looney has seen the progress and felt it to open training camp.

For the most part, the 26-year-old Looney, who is entering his eighth season with Golden State, got the better of Wiseman in practice. He used his advanced footwork, patience and multiple moves to score on the taller of the two. On defense, he bodied up Wiseman and made him work before the long lefty got a hook shot over him. It was clear who has the upper hand right now, as expected.

As far as the line of competition and mentorship, Looney sees it more as a big-man partnership more than anything else. The three-time NBA champion is hungry for another ring and knows Wiseman's talents can only help all of the Warriors reach their goal.

"It's a team, we always wants to win," Looney said. "We both compete every day in practice. I'm going to make him better, he's going to make me better. We always compete for one goal, and that's to win.

"Playing the center spot on this team, it's not like we're competing for shots or anything. We're gonna be doing the same thing pretty much. It's not a lot of shine at that spot on this team. We both have to go out there and do the dirty work. We both take pride in that and we're going to do it at the highest level."

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Perhaps as much or more than anybody else, Looney perfectly knows and embraces his role on the Warriors. All summer long, Wiseman echoed the same sentiments that he's ready to simplify everything down and thrive within the system. Now two years after what was seen as a soft spot and negative on the Warriors' roster, the two can form a dangerous duo that other teams can't sleep on.

"We're just going out there, trying to compete and show that we can be one of the best tandems at the position in the league," Looney said.

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