I’ve gotta say, just two preseason games into his tenure as a Raptor, I love having Kyle Lowry on my favorite team.
A lot of terms have been thrown around to describe him so far, most of them clichés: he’s a gamer, a bulldog, a gym rat, etc. And it’s great hype for the team and I’m sure it makes for good quotes and even better copy. But the best part is that none of it seems to be hyperbole.
When I mentioned to someone with the Raptors that I loved hearing how Lowry “never loses in practice,” they confirmed that the “uber-competitiveness” is present in practice as much as we’ve been led to believe. They also noted he happens to be an extremely intelligent basketball player (this comment, of course, goes beyond simple on-court decision making).
If that doesn’t get you excited to watch him for 82 games, I’m not sure you’re much of a basketball fan. Sure, some of the publicity could be spin being put on by the team, hoping that this image as an intense winner can cover up his issues with coach Kevin McHale in Houston, but it’s also equally possible it’s all true. And you can’t really just make up demeanor, it’s evident for 48 minutes a night when the lights turn on.
So far on the court, the spin also looks to be the truth. Normally preseason games come with the caveat that they don’t matter, coaches are messing with rotations, etc, but the game being played is still basketball. The fact that Lowry didn’t want to lose a preseason game to the Knicks is encouraging, even to those who may have cringed at him diving for a loose ball less than a week returned from an injury absence (although it was a strain, not a contact injury).
This intense late-game competitiveness in the preseason is even better when you consider that Lowry was nearly inconsolable while out injured. He found it difficult to talk with the media, frustrated he couldn’t play, and went from sitting in the stands to joining in huddles in a preseason bout against the Pistons. Like Jonas Valanciunas, this is not someone happy with sitting by and getting a few days off while his teammates work their tails off.
For a team that has been cursed with superstars and leaders who at times have seemed to care more about stats and image and pasta than winning basketball games (Vince Carter, Chris Bosh, Andrea Bargnani), this type of aggressive win-first leader is a godsend.
He’s probably also a kindred spirit with hard-working, defense-first coach Dwane Casey. He’s a great fit with the coach’s mentality and has the potential to be an appropriate extension of the coach on the floor, leading the charges when it’s time for a big stop or a key basket.
In Houston last year, Lowry took 513 shots. He took 35 of those in the last six minutes of fourth quarters when the score was within five points and another 12 in overtime periods. Overall, he took a field goal attempt every three minutes when he was on the floor overall and 20.6% of Rockets field goal attempts overall. But this rate increased to a field goal attempt every 2.4 minutes and 25% of Rockets field goal attempts when the game was close and late (based on my arbitrary standards mentioned above). 82games instead uses the last five minutes within five points, and using their “Clutch” stats Lowry rated well, also. But the “clutch” stats don’t even matter here, because my point is more that this is a player who clearly thrives on having the ball in his hands when the game matters the most.
We’ll see as the season progresses whether or not our best option is with the ball in Lowry’s hands late. More importantly for now is that we have someone who wants the ball in that situation, which should help to take the pressure off of Bargnani in terms of both defensive attention and fan vitriol.
There is a lot left to learn about this year’s Raptor team. We don’t yet know how players will respond to Lowry compared to the ever-sharing Calderon, how the wing minutes will shake out, or how Jonas will adapt. All we have to go from right now is media spin and just 240 minutes of play, only 192 of which were against NBA teams, and only 54 of which have had Lowry on the floor.
With so much still left to determine, a few things have at least become clear – Kyle Lowry loves basketball, Kyle Lowry wants to win, and Kyle Lowry is going to be a treat for all of us to watch and cheer for this season.
I, for one, couldn’t be more excited to call him our own.