Cheer up, you’re away from McHale!

The Raptors have acquired point guard Kyle Lowry from the Houston Rockets for Gary Forbes and a protected 2013 1st round pick.

This is being reported by multiple sources, including Raptors beat writers and ESPN, as well as Woj (aka the official NBA rumor confirmation source) from Yahoo. The protection is yet to be announced, though Woj indicated the teams are working on something “innovative” in that regard, possibly something like lottery-protected but with the right to a straight pick swap if in the lottery, or something of that ilk.

With a weak 2013 draft coming up and a bevy of young players already on the roster, plus the protection, losing the pick (and Forbes…like it matters) isn’t a big deal, really. Some may snap to say Colangelo gave up future assets for the present, but Lowry is just 26, so it’s not like we’re adding a near-pension player here.

I will try to contain my excitement here, but this is a GREAT get for the Raptors. Lowry is a good offensive player but a great defensive one, and one who has improved at both ends of the floor on an annual basis. While the issues with Coach Kevin McHale may give us pause, Lowry has also been stuck sharing time and starting duties with lesser point guards his entire career, so his beef is somewhat understandable. In Toronto, he may still share the lead guard roles depending on how things progress from here, but from what I hear about him at the personal level he is an ideal fit with Coach Casey’s philosophy and system, so maybe his attitude can be managed without much issue. He’s also close with Raptors’ assistant Alvin Boogie Williams, for what that’s worth.

For the team’s point guard situation, this muddles things. The Raptors don’t have to move around deck chairs to fit Lowry’s more-than-reasonable salary ($5.75M this year, $6.2M next year) into the budget, so they could conceivably keep both Jose Calderon and Jerryd Bayless in the mix. This seems wildly unlikely, and to me I think it means that Bayless’ qualifying offer will be rescinded. The team could also choose to amnesty Calderon to free up more money, or retain both guards and try to use Jose’s expiring contract as a trade asset in a future deal. In pure basketball terms, Jose offers a nice compliment as a high-efficiency pick-and-roll type of guard, though Bayless might make more sens fiscally.

The team still has a hole at small forward that may or may not be filled internally. The team could use a “2 wing” roster approach rather than a standard “SG-SF” thereby allowing them to play any of DeRozan, Ross, Fields, J-Johnson, and Kleiz interchangably on the wings, two at a time. It wouldn’t be an ideal solution, but it is clear that there is, at the very least, depth in-house, if some of the PF/PG depth can’t be moved for a true starting-caliber three.

As for Lowry, like I said, I’m a huge fan, and I hope I can convince all of you to jump on board – while he’s not Canadian Hero Steve Nash, he’s a better all-around player than both Lin and Dragic (not to mention Augustin, Felton and Nelson…I can’t believe people actually suggested we sign those jabronies), and has a much more robust track record of sustained success. He might not create the buzz that Lin would, but he’s coming cheaper than either would, on a shorter deal (and thus with greater flexibility), and in my mind is both a better all-around player and a better fit for this particular team.

Defensively, it’s difficult to mine a player’s value sometimes, at least without access to Synergy Sports data, but Lowry has a reputation as a bulldog defender, someone with a high effort level and the ability to create a lot of pressure on the ballhandler. Using Basketball Reference’s Win Share metric, he’s been worth between 1.5 and 2.0 wins on the defensive end the past two seasons, while 82Games shows that Houston was nearly 2 points per 100 possessions worse with him off the floor, though opposing point guards had a league-average 15.7 PER against him (a somewhat flawed metric in that it looks at defense strictly at the individual, not team, level).

In the aggregate, Lowry appears to be a strong player and a huge value on his contract. Using the $2.5M/win accepted rate I mentioned in my Fields’ piece the other day, Lowry comes out a massive value based on Basketball Reference’s numbers. BR sees Lowry as having been worth 5 wins last year and 7 the year before, meaning his actual value is somewhere in the $15M range (if this seems high, it’s indicative of the massive economic inefficiency that is the NBA’s maximum salary – using this valuation method, LeBron was worth over $36M last year). If you prefer 82Games, they also rated Lowry favorably, showing him as having been worth 2.9 points per 100 possessions for the Rockets based on On/Off Court data, with a 2.1 Simple Rating.

If you prefer your stats to be of the offensive-minded, Hollinger/ESPN type, Lowry rates well there, too. He was 12th among PGs in PER at 18.89, 12th in TS% (55.8%), 21st in Assist Rate (29.8), 36th in TO Rate (12.5%), and 2nd in Rebound Rate (8.2%). So, it’s clear he’s not a flawless player – he’s not the type of lead guard we’re used to with Jose here, as his assist rate and turnover rate aren’t quite where you’d like them. However, he’s a strong presence at the line (86%, 4 attempts per game), and from long range (over 37% 3FG% two years in a row) while providing elite rebounding from the guard spot.

So no, he’s not Nash or Jose offensively, but he’s certainly above-average in that regard. And again, the defense is there, and if you’re not one for advanced stats, it more than adequately passes the eye test.

I should be fair and point out, since I referenced Simple Rating, that Dragic scored better in this regard than Lowry, as did Jeremy Lin, and that’s a fair criticism of my analysis. But for Lin, I’ll point to the fact that his sample is under 1000 minutes and his plus-minus numbers are likely, at least partially, skewed by the fact that Linsanity took place over a particularly ugly stretch of Knick basketball where the threshold for impact would have been lower. Lin’s a great offensive force, but I don’t like his chances of staying healthy as a thin, contact-seeking guard, one with little defensive value at that. As for Dragic, his sample as a reserve is large and shows a capable backup, but he started just 28 games, which itself is just a 1000-minute sample. He performed very well, but the 4yr/34M price that is being discussed is too rich for my blood.

I’m sure I’ll be skewered for favoring Lowry since Dragic usurped him as the starter in Houston, Lin is a marketing force to be reckoned with, and he won’t be seen as an adequate fall-back for the Steve Nash All-In Strategy. But I’m standing by this – I love the Lowry deal. He’s a strong player, a great defender, a smart fit with the team concept, and came at a very reasonable price. I’ll like the deal exponentially more if the Raptors can now use their guard depth to fill the hole on the wing, but even as a stand-alone I like the move a good deal.

I’m sure Liston and Arse will be chiming in before the weekend with their thoughts and analysis. Sorry if this seemed a bit rushed or jumpy, but I really wanted to get to yell FIRST at the other RR writers (read: I’m at work and struggled to squeeze an article in my afternoon).

Let’s hear the thoughts of the Nation!

Update: Per Eric Koreen of The National Post: “The pick will be in the lottery, with protections for both the Rockets and Raptors. The specifics were not immediately clear, but the Raptors will not lose the pick immediately if it is too high, and the Rockets will not get it if it is too low.”

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