Washington Wizards Draft Primer: Kevon Looney or Bobby Portis?


As the NBA’s style of play gets smaller and smaller, a good stretch four has become absolutely essential – a big man who can space the floor while continuing to contribute on the inside.

The Washington Wizards have been slower than most teams to adjust to this trend. Pairing center Marcin Gortat up with the plodding, earthbound Nene, the Wizards last season put together a roster where Drew Gooden was the only stretch four on the roster.

A retooling of the frontcourt is definitely in order, and there are two incoming rookie forwards that really might fit the bill for the Wizards. UCLA’s Kevon Looney and Arkansas’ Bobby Portis are both very talented young players, and if they’re available with the 19th pick, we could see one of them in DC.

Mandatory Credit: Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

Kevon Looney

More than anyone else in the draft, it appears pretty likely that we’ll see Kevon Looney wearing Wizards colors next season.

He’s interviewed with the front office and myriad mock drafts have him going to DC in the #19 slot. But who is this man, this legend, this possible Zard of the future?

A McDonald’s All-American out of Milwaukee, the 6-foot-9 Looney was a five-star prospect who decided to hitch his star to a rapidly cratering UCLA program (how the hell do you manage to screw up coaching UCLA, Steve Alford?) who established himself as a double-double machine in his only collegiate season.

First, while Looney has Millsapian potential, there’s a reason he’ll be there at 19.

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In a college season where we had some terrific one-and-dones – guys like Towns, Okafor, Winslow and Russell – Looney is decidedly in the second tier.

He was often UCLA’s best player, but (as many freshmen do) he faded mightily down the stretch, and coupled with a lack of strength that really held back his ability to score at the rim, he wasn’t in the type of physical condition that he’ll need to attain to achieve his potential.

So that’s not great.

But while there are reasons Kevon Looney will be there at 19, there are more reasons why the Wizards seem so hot on his trail. First, regarding his weaknesses, they look like they mainly stem from him being just 19 years old. He won’t turn 20 until February.

If Looney’s main problems are physical, he’ll have plenty of time and trillions of chances to fix that. Meanwhile, Looney has flashed tantalizing skill and promise. Looney’s a voracious rebounder with great size, length and instincts, and his athleticism and wingspan has also helped him become a really versatile and effective defender, especially on the perimeter.

On offense, he’s a floor-spacing big man who hit 41.5% of his 3-point attempts last year, and excelled in catch-and-shoot situations and in the pick-and-pop. His offensive game, especially in the halfcourt, is still limited – but he has rare court vision and passing ability for a man his size.

Looney actually played point guard for a fair bit of his high school career, and you can see why. There’s still a lot to improve (of course there is, he’s 19), but Looney is good enough of a rebounder, defender and shooter that I think he can have a role right away, and he could really wind up being a heck of a player.

If the Wizards decide to go a different direction, Kevon Looney’s going to make someone happy.

Mandatory Credit: Beth Hall-USA TODAY Sports

Bobby Portis

Arkansas’ Bobby Portis is another big man who has been linked to the Washington Wizards plenty of times over the last few weeks, but it seems possible that he’ll be gone by the time the Wizards select at 19.

A year older and a couple inches taller than Looney, Portis was the 2015 SEC Player of the Year for an overachieving Razorbacks team, averaging 17.5 points and 8.9 rebounds along the way. Like Looney, Portis also has big-time two-way potential. A great physical specimen at 6-foot-11, 235 lb. with a 7-foot-1 wingspan, Portis is considerably stronger than Looney and much more physically prepared to contribute in the NBA right away.

Really, Portis is just a complete player.

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He plays hard and physical, and he can operate both inside and outside on both ends of the floor.

On offense he can aggressively attack the rim and finish through contact – he doesn’t have any fear – but he’s equally comfortable stepping out and nailing the jumper.

Defensively, he’s strong enough to contend with anyone down low, but he’s also able to jump out and guard on the perimeter, using his length, quickness and great defensive instincts to really cause problems.

He’s good on the catch-and-shoot, and while he didn’t shoot the 3 as much as Looney, he hit 14 of his 30 long range attempts this season for a very healthy 46.7% success rate. Not a huge sample size, but Portis also did pretty well in the midrange game, something that’s sure to make Randy Wittman’s eyes turn into Looney Tunes dollar signs.

Portis also has a post game that’s sometimes effective, but still a work in progress. He works as hard as anyone you’ll find – he’s got the proverbial motor that never stops running – and he provides great value as an irrepressible offensive rebounder. He can pass. He kills you on leak-outs. He’s smart. The man’s got it all.

So here’s the question: if both are available at 19, should the Wizards go Kevon Looney or Bobby Portis? The answer kind of depends on what DC’s priorities are going to be.

Portis is the more NBA-ready player, while Looney probably has more potential – neither are very explosive, but Looney has the greater wingspan despite being a couple inches shorter. Looney’s a better rebounder and I think he has greater promise as an all-around NBA playmaker.

Meanwhile, while Portis’ ceiling is lower, he’s solid in just about every respect already, even at just 20 years old: if Looney’s ceiling is Millsap 2.0, Portis could end up being the player Andray Blatche should have been, an unrelentingly crafty, skilled and hardworking big man who can affect the game in every single way.

Will Kevon Looney get the kind of minutes he needs to develop with the nouveau contenders in Washington? In the end, that’s what it comes down to. Bobby Portis is ready right away. Looney needs work. The Wizards are trying to win now, and Bobby Portis can play big minutes now. If he’s there, take him.

Next: Why the Wizards Should Still Fire Wittman