An Ode to Kyle Lowry

Some words of praise before it’s too late.

The Raptors defeated the Knicks by a score of 95-83 last night in a game in which both teams played horribly for 7 out of a possible 8 quarters.

The Knicks were down Felton, Prigioni and Melo and their absence was certainly felt. After their hot three-point shooting cooled off (10/15 at one point), their offense sputtered and the Raptors took advantage. Dwane Casey elected to trot out a crunch-time lineup of Lowry-Derozan-Salmons-Johnson-Valanciunas against the depleted Knicks roster and as you would expect, the team with Toure’ Murray and Beno Udrih at the helm didn’t fare so well. The Raptors won the fourth by outscoring their lowly counterparts by a score of 29-12 and some key three’s from Salmons really helped the Raptors pull away.

[Individual player analysis and grades in last night’s Quick Reaction post]

But let’s not talk about that. Let’s not break down the drivel that these two TANKlantic teams served for us fans last night because let’s face it, it was a whole steaming pile of crap for an entire half, if not more. The injury-depleted Knicks had to play through JR Smith and Andrea Bargnani which regrettably evoked painful memories of 2011-12, where our beloved Raptors rocked the two-headed combo of Derozan and Bargs en route to a record of 23-43 (shortened season, mercifully). And besides, if you really want to see what these two teams looked like, you can just catch tonight’s showing in Toronto. The Knicks have already confirmed that Melo will not play in tonight’s game, so you’ll be able to experience the uniquely satisfying schadenfreude of JR/Bargs for the second time in as many nights.

Instead, allow me to hijack this precious little column to espouse some appreciation for Kyle Lowry.

Way back in…earlier this month, there was some talk of a potential Lowry-to-New York trade. The Raptors reportedly demanded both a 2018 1st round draft pick and Tim Hardaway Jr in exchange for taking on Felton’s bloated contract and surrendering Lowry to a divisional opponent. Reports suggested that a deal of some sort had been worked out by the respective general managers, but mercurial Knicks owner James Dolan reportedly reneged over concerns over public perception. For now, it appears that talk has cooled between the two Atlantic rivals and Lowry remains a Raptor.

However, it wouldn’t at all be a surprise if Lowry were traded at some point this season.

First and foremost, he’s on an expiring deal and there has been little talk, if any, of a potential contract extension, therefore if Masai Ujiri believes that Lowry will leave, it would be prudent to recoup some assets for a very cheap and productive player.

Second, there’s a significant market for Lowry’s talents. It seems as if everyone who is anyone in the NBA is hurt right now, leaving playoff spots and even entire divisions open for the taking. It also helps that several wannabe contenders have sizable holes at point guard or the wing (Knicks, Nets, Golden State come to mind). If the Raptors prefer to trade his present value for future assets, there will be definitely be suitors for Lowry’s services.

Finally, there’s the elephant in the room – trading away Lowry for less talent in the short term will most likely worsen the Raptors for this season, which would increase the value of the Raptors’ draft pick, or in short, it would really help the Raptors tank. Greivis Vasquez is a nice back-up point guard who is willing to run an endless slew of pick-and-rolls, but he represents a significant downgrade from Lowry, and the Raptors will be certainly worse for wear.

With so many push factors in place, it’s difficult to imagine a scenario in which Masai Ujiri elects to retain Lowry for the duration of the season, and that’s a shame because Kyle Lowry happens to be a very good player.

Is he the perfect floor general? Of course not. The sole trait he shares with Chris Paul is, sadly, his height. He’s not a gifted passer like Rubio, he’s not a lights-out shooter like Curry, nor is he an unstoppable scorer like Irving. Rather, he’s just a very well-rounded player who is good at most things (except mid-range shooting, he’s terrible at that).

And perhaps because he lacks a salient skill, or because he’s not a savant of sorts, his play and his production gets overlooked by many, including us fans.

And that’s not to say that Lowry is exceptional by any means. His career average of 11/4/6 doesn’t exactly jump off the page. His seasonal averages of 15/4/7 don’t either, and this is, by most metrics, the best season of his career.

But let’s go back to the well-roundedness. Kyle Lowry is a very good player because he is well-rounded.

Take shooting. He’s not a great shooter, but he basically only takes two shots; spot-up three’s from either wing, or shots at the rim. He doesn’t actually make a significant percentage of these shots, by virtue of their location, is inherently efficient. Shots in the restricted area and from above-the break (wing) three’s account for nearly 71% of his total shots, allowing him to shoot at an above-average TS% of 56%. He knows where his bread is buttered, and his scoring is very valuable.

Then there’s passing. Per NBA Stats, Lowry is averaging the 6th highest number of front-court touches per game in the NBA at 78.0 per game. Off those touches, he’s averaging 71.3 passes per game, which suggests that he’s a very willing facilitator. He’s certainly no wizard with the ball the way Nash or Paul are, but he certainly knows how to set his teammates up. Since Gay’s departure, Lowry has been free to operate which has allowed him to run the pick-and-roll with his bigs and to drive-and-kick more often. Since the Gay trade, Lowry has averaged 8.1 assists per game on a very robust 31.8 assist ratio.

Then there’s rebounding, which is so often overlooked for guards. His rebounding numbers have certainly taken a dive this season, but Lowry has always been amongst the leaders in rebounding, both on offense and defense amongst point guards. Last season, Lowry ranked first amongst PG’s in total rebounding percentage (65% above average). He’s tenacious and has a nose for the ball. He’s not afraid to jump in amongst the trees to come down with boards.

He’s also a pest on defense. His on-ball defense, although sometimes superb, comes and goes, but he’s always alert and he has quick hands which have allowed him to grab around 1.7 steals per 36 minutes over the span of his career. He knows when to jump passing lanes and he’s not often caught out of position on ill-fated gambles. He’s also very adept at staying in front of his man and rotating correctly as the help defender. In last night’s game, Lowry drew two charges, which should come as no surprise considering Lowry drew the fourth most charges per game last season for players at his position.

And finally, he’s a ferocious leader who checks off many boxes in the intangibles boxscore. He clearly cares about winning and he’s a viscerally competitive player. He barks at his teammates. He barks at his coaches. He barks at the referees and he sometimes even barks at himself, but it’s all just a testament to his sheer will to win. He and Amir are always first to dive for loose balls and for better or for worse, Lowry seems to genuinely not care about getting injured. He’s just out there to win ball games any way he can, which is why it’s no surprise to see that Lowry owns the Raptors highest simple rating (a mix of PER and +/- numbers) amongst players who have played more than 5% of total available minutes.

You put that all together, and you get a very productive player. Sure, he’s not skilled to the point of salience, but he does have quite a flair for the dramatic. You’ll recall that he averaged 24/7/7 in his first three games in a Raptors uniform. You’ll recall this clutch shot against the Cavs last year. Or you could simply think back to last week where he went toe-to-toe with Russell Westbrook and poured in 22/7/9/4 to help the Raptors take down the Thunder. He’s a very productive player whose well-rounded skillset gets overshadowed by his peers in this Golden Era of point guards.

So Kyle, whenever you go, and wherever you end up, I wish you the best, and I hope you can go to a team in which the level of competence matches your level of competitiveness. You’ll always have a fan in me. Thanks for pouring in 15/4/11 against the Knicks last night and I hope you do the same tonight.

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