kyle_lowry_nets
Ed’s Note: Glen Hogarth takes an in-depth look at Kyle Lowry’s situation with the Raptors and how he fares in league-wide comparisons.

Will he stay, or will he decide to bring his game elsewhere? If he does stay, what will it take to sign him? Will they risk overpaying in order to keep him and the success they’ve found recently? With every Raptors fan wondering about the future of our team and if it will include Kyle Lowry, I thought it would be interesting to look at other point guards to compare them and use their career choices to see what the future may hold.

Looking back, Kyle Lowry was picked 24th overall by the Memphis Grizzlies in the 2006 NBA Draft. After breaking his hand in his first year while only playing in 10 games, he followed up in the second year of his rookie contract with a full 82 game season and found himself competing for the starting role with rookie Mike Conley. Midway through the 2008-09 season Lowry lost the battle and was traded to Houston, where he would find competition for the starting role again, first backing up Aaron Brooks, then sharing duties with Goran Dragic. Eventually both were replaced by Jeremy Lin. It was reported that Kyle had friction with the coaching staff in Houston, which hastened his departure. In July of 2012 he was traded to the Toronto Raptors and found himself once again competing for the starting role of his new team against Jose Calderon, a man who had bested all who have tried before him. Yet this time Calderon would fall short and be traded away, finally leaving Lowry to run an offense with no one biting at his heels for the first time in his career.

I must admit, I didn’t follow his career closely before joining the Raptors, so I must look into the soup of numbers to evaluate his past performance. When I compare them to this season, the biggest difference I see between them is a lack of consistency in previous years. Sharing time with another quality guard leaves the coach an option to give a quick seat to a player not performing, or to simply switch it up to help find a spark. It can also cause unnecessary stress and distractions for the players leading to inconsistencies, leaving numbers ranging all over the map.

Season

Games Played

MPG

Games Under 10 Points

Games under 5 Assists

2007-08

82

25.5

44 (.536)

55 (.670)

2008-09

77

21.8

58 (.753)

56 (.727)

2009-10

68

24.3

38 (.559)

35 (.515)

2010-11

75

34.2

26 (.347)

19 (.253)

2011-12

47

32.1

10 (.213)

10 (.213)

2012-13

68

29.7

27 (.397)

22 (.323)

Total

417

27.9

203 (.486)

197 (.472)

2013-14

74

36.3

7 (.094)

14 (.189)

As you can see, in previous seasons Lowry has struggled to score and assist the ball on a consistent basis. This season, on the other hand, has seen a vastly more consistent version of Lowry. It makes some questions come to mind. Are these numbers simply a result of sharing duties at the point in previous seasons and learning to play ball at an NBA level? Does this season’s dramatic change simply stem from extra minutes or has he matured as Ujiri recently eluded to as the reason for Lowry’s success? When looking at Lowry’s career numbers, they aren’t very impressive, but do help to illustrate the vast improvements made in his game this season.

LOWRY`S CAREER AVERAGES (includes current season)

PPG

FG%

FT%

AST

REB

STL

PER

TS%

AST%

USG%

WS

11.6

.417

.791

5.4

3.8

1.2

16.9

.548

29.8

19.8

5.0

Of course, this is a contract year. The dreaded words that can curve the spine of even the hardest fan. These words can seep into your barrel of joy and sour the whole batch. They conjure thoughts of doubt and anger where unabashed joy should be. Lowry has given the Raptors and its fanbase a fantastic performance this season, worthy of an All-Star snubbing. Yet, adding two words as seemingly insignificant as “contract year” to his accomplishments and it makes people question the sincerity of his actions. Is this season just a “push-through-it-at-all-costs” attempt to get a C.R.E.A.M. contract, or has Lowry matured into the veteran floor leader we’ve seen this season, willing to step up and sacrifice himself to help the team to victory?

With too many stats in today’s world to fit on just one line, I’ve chosen a blend of classic and advanced statistics that I believe can help compare the players at the point guard position. Below is a table showing Lowry and a cross section of other comparable guards at various stages of their career. All have been through an impressive “Contract Year” in their career and have followed them up in different ways. First, let’s look at the current season and take note of the impressive win shares Lowry has accumulated. This clearly indicates the impact he has had on the success of the team this year. In fact, Kyle is #1 on the team in Win Shares with 11.0, followed by DeMar with 8.4, then Amir with 6.2, Jonas with 5.7 and Terrence with 3.9 so far this season.

NOTE: All highlighted areas throughout the article indicate a career high.

2013 – 2014 Season (as of Mar. 31)

Player

Age

MPG

PPG

FG%

FT%

AST

REB

STL

PER

TS%

AST%

USG%

WS

Kyle Lowry

27

36.5

17.5

.418

.814

7.6

4.8

1.6

20.1

.563

35.1

22.4

11.0

Russell Westbrook

25

30.7

21.1

.435

.822

6.9

5.7

1.9

23.9

.545

39.9

33.9

4.3

Rajon Rondo

27

32.8

11.5

.388

.649

9.5

5.0

1.3

15.1

.450

46.8

21.2

1.0

Ty Lawson

26

35.9

17.8

.432

.800

8.8

3.5

1.6

19.4

.554

38.9

23.0

6.0

Mike Conley

26

33.4

17.2

.444

.826

6.0

2.9

1.5

20.1

.541

30.4

25.0

7.0

Deron Williams

29

32.2

14.6

.457

.810

6.3

2.6

1.4

18.2

.574

33.7

21.9

5.1

Brandon Jennings

24

34.3

15.7

.376

.756

7.7

3.1

1.4

16.2

.490

34.8

23.4

4.0

Jose Calderon

32

30.7

11.5

.455

.836

4.8

2.4

0.9

15.5

.599

23.2

16.0

5.9

Jeremy Lin

25

28.8

12.4

.448

.816

4.2

2.6

0.9

14.3

.572

22.6

20.4

3.9

Eric Gordon

25

32.1

15.4

.436

.785

3.3

2.6

1.2

15

.540

16.6

23.1

2.7

Steve Nash

39

21.6

7.1

.369

.889

5.3

1.8

0.6

10.7

.462

36.6

19.7

-0.1

This season, Lowry has put up career high numbers in multiple statistics and ranks 7th in the NBA in assist percentage, as well as 8th overall in win shares. Should we expect him to improve upon this season consistently over his next 4-5 year contract now at 28 years of age? I’m not at all suggesting that he can’t, but simply warning that it would be unreasonable to blindly assume that he can. That said, assuming his performance this season can be duplicated through an upcoming contract, it’s fair to say that his current season salary of $6,210,000 deserves to have some more added to it. To figure out how much, I thought to look at each of those players statistics and salaries in the season leading up to their deal and how they followed it up the year afterwards, hoping to find a trend that can shed some light into that pit of darkness known as the contract year.

Russell Westbrook – Current contract for 4 years = $78,595,310

Season

Contract

Age

MPG

PPG

FG%

FT%

AST

REB

STL

PER

TS%

AST%

USG%

WS

‘11-12

$5,082,416

23

35.3

23.6

.457

.823

5.5

4.6

1.7

22.9

.538

29.8

32.7

7.9

‘12-13

$13,668,750

24

34.9

23.2

.438

.800

7.4

5.2

1.8

23.9

.532

38.4

32.8

11.6

When Lowry was first being brought into the Raptors system, Colangelo told us he was a Westbrook-type player. Westie is a tenacious competitor on both ends of the floor. A top scoring option on any team, his desire to take it upon himself to win the game has been criticized as often for being in the way of Kevin Durant, as he has been praised for being half of a dynamic duo. Something to take note of, his skill set and numbers have continued to improve since signing his first big contract. Despite the recent setbacks of three surgeries on the same knee over the last year, this season he’s recorded many of his highest numbers. Lowry’s performance this season has shown the comparisons between the two were warranted. However, as good of a year as Lowry has been having this season, his numbers would still need to increase quite a bit to be at the same level as Westbrook from a purely statistical standpoint. Kyle’s impact this season though has been as instrumental to the success of the Raptors as Westbrook’s has to the Thunder. That said, Russell’s increased AST% (39.9 vs 35.1) and USG% (33.9 vs 22.4) over Kyle this season shows why Westbrook commands the extra dollars.

Rajon Rondo – Current contract for 5 years = $55,000,000

Season

Contract

Age

MPG

PPG

FG%

FT%

AST

REB

STL

PER

TS%

AST%

USG%

WS

‘09-10

$2,094,922

23

36.6

13.7

.508

.621

9.8

4.4

2.3

19.1

.540

43.7

20.2

9.6

‘11-12

$9,090,911

24

37.2

10.6

.475

.568

11.2

4.8

1.8

17.1

.490

47.1

18.3

6.6

In 2006, Rondo was picked 21st overall, passed over by many would be suitors nowadays, much like Lowry who was picked 24th overall in the same draft class. At this point, both have become attractive options for any team, with their defensive prowess and desire to verbally lead the team on the floor. Both are effective on the offensive end as well, but in very different manners. Rondo’s court vision had helped the aging Celtics players they had until recently, stay effective for longer stretches. Aside from a drive to the hoop, which Rondo often uses to set up the assist, he’s not able to lead a team in scoring most nights as he is a streaky shooter at best. His poor free throw percentage makes it hard in late game situations for him to have the ball and be effective as fouling is a good option for his opponents. On the flipside, Lowry can score off the bounce or spot up for the shot. His excellent free throw shooting can be counted on down the stretch, keeping him as an effective option in late game scenarios. Looking at Rajon’s last contract year, we can see that his PPG have yet to be bested in the first 4 years of his deal, something I’m sure the franchise assumed would have continued to rise when handing out the dough. His AST per game, though already impressive continued to soar after the contract, which is where he was most obviously gifted. This is a good example, showing that while it may seem safe to assume that a player can continue to improve in some areas, often we see a player relax and lose that razor sharp edge after signing, leaving many other facets of his game to plateau or even regress slightly.

Ty Lawson – Current contract for 4 years = 48,000,000

Season

Contract

Age

MPG

PPG

FG%

FT%

AST

REB

STL

PER

TS%

AST%

USG%

WS

‘12-13

$2,544,529

25

34.4

16.7

.461

.756

6.9

2.7

1.5

17.9

.549

30.2

22.3

7.4

‘13-14

$10,786,517

26

35.9

17.8

.432

.800

8.8

3.5

1.6

19.4

.554

38.9

23.0

6.0

In my opinion, Lawson is perhaps one of the closest comparisons to Lowry when considering their style of play.  Lawson has a slight shooing advantage, but Lowry is better on the boards. Each is capable on both ends of the floor and bring a bulldog-like mentality to each game. Both have also struggled slightly in the past at staying healthy for entire seasons. Lawson has rewarded the franchise after his signing by posting career bests in multiple categories, proving that not every player takes it easy after signing the dotted line. The question is whether or not Lawson’s contract is too large for what he brings, with the new cap in effect, his salary is roughly 18% of the team’s total before entering the luxury tax. Players need to have a pack mentality for the team’s sake when negotiating a contract. With everyone feeding off the same bone as it were, players need to leave enough meat for the others to stay strong. Take too much and they risk leaving themselves competing alongside subpar athletes. Much of any player’s individual success comes from the players around them and how they perform. Despite Lawson’s uptick in stats the team has not found success behind it yet, perhaps this result is just a byproduct of Denver’s current desire to tank for potential.

Mike Conley – Current contract for 5 years = $40,000,000 + $600,000 in possible incentives over last 3 years

Season

Contract

Age

MPG

PPG

FG%

FT%

AST

REB

STL

PER

TS%

AST%

USG%

WS

‘10-11

$4,913,007

23

35.5

13.7

.444

.733

6.5

3.0

1.8

15.8

.521

28.0

18.3

6.6

‘11-12

$6,611,571

24

35.1

12.7

.433

.861

6.5

2.5

2.2

16.8

.523

29.8

21.0

6.4

Conley’s well roundedness and high level of defence makes him another strong comparison to Lowry. His contract is structured on an increasing scale, with his final season in 2015-16 pulling in $9,588,426. Far less than someone like Lawson with just as much if not more upside. At only 24 years old when he signed this contract he still has more opportunities to increase his salary, whereas in all likelihood by Kyle’s next contract, his effectiveness and salary will be on the downswing. Conley is another effective example of a player showing growth after signing a big deal. This year, Conley has improved his scoring ability, something he began to develop last season. When he signed this current contract, he wasn’t nearly the player he is today, however his contract has grown well in comparison each year to his skillset due to the increasing scale of the deal structured. This contract seems to leave the franchise flexibility and has that interesting “possible incentives” thrown in as well. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find details about what activates the incentives, only that they are worth an extra $200,000 each season. Im curious how incentives affect the cap if at all and if there’s a limit to how large they can be.

Deron Williams – Previous contract for 3 years = $43,623,857 Current contract for 5 years = $98,772,325

Season

Contract

Age

MPG

PPG

FG%

FT%

AST

REB

STL

PER

TS%

AST%

USG%

WS

‘08-09

$5,069,449

24

36.8

19.0

.471

.849

10.7

2.9

1.1

21.1

.573

47.8

24.7

8.4

‘09-10

$12,323,900

25

36.9

18.2

.469

.801

10.5

4.0

1.3

20.6

.574

44.5

23.8

10.3

2011-12

$16,259,805

27

36.3

21.0

.407

.843

8.7

3.3

1.2

20.3

.527

46.6

30.1

4.1

2012-13

$17,177,795

28

36.4

18.9

.440

.859

7.7

3.0

1.0

20.3

.574

37.5

24.4

10.9

In contract years, the ball seems to go through Williams exclusively. He wants to be the floor leader and have things go his way.  Fresh off olympic gold medal performances both times, it was easy for him to impress. After signing his first extension, his numbers increased as did his ego. At least that was part of the excuse for Jerry Sloan leaving the Jazz and also why ultimately he was traded to the Nets where he has stayed. After he resigned his latest contract for the Nets, things began to go south.  Each season has seen a steady drop in his numbers across the board, and currently his contract vs output is one of the very worst in the NBA . His current deal includes a 15% trade kicker, which all but insures him staying with the organization until the 2016-17 season where the team has an Early Termination Option which will most likely be used if these trends continue. This is an excellent example how the worth of a player can fluctuate from of a combination of repeating injuries and a change in personnel, having to defer shots and touches to other players, making his contract a warning of what can come to pass when giving out large cash for a player. At times throughout his career, Williams attitude has come into question, something we’ve heard rumors of in Lowry’s old stomping grounds, but has been proved to be just the opposite all season long in Toronto.

Brandon Jennings – Current contract for 3 years = $24,000,000

Season

Contract

Age

MPG

PPG

FG%

FT%

AST

REB

STL

PER

TS%

AST%

USG%

WS

‘12-13

$3,179,493

23

36.2

17.5

.399

.819

6.5

3.1

1.6

16.1

.468

29.1

23.7

5.8

‘13-14

$7,655,503

24

34.3

15.7

.376

.756

7.7

3.1

1.4

16.2

.444

34.8

23.4

4.0

Though younger than Lowry, he has a similar game as a scoring guard, a poor man’s kyle if you will.  Before this season began, both were thought of as among the best of the second tier of point guards around the NBA. Jennings was at his best during his contract year. The only negative, a drop in points from the year before, was solely on the fact he was one of only two good players on the team and defences were able to key in on his game. Despite that, he managed to shoot a career best .375 from behind the arc as well as earn a career high in assists before it was bested this season. Not ground breaking numbers but highs nevertheless. Having more talent around him this season in Detroit, has made Jennings take a career low in shot attempts. Perhaps its for the best as his shooting touch regressed from the contract year across the board. Right now, Jennings could be a window of what could be, if this season’s performance was all about the money for Kyle and he decides to cruise afterwards. It also shows how the mindset of the players around you can hurt the perception of your game.

Jose Calderon – Previous contract for 5 years = $45,484,610 current contract for 4 years = $29,000,000

Season

Contract

Age

MPG

PPG

FG%

FT%

AST

REB

STL

PER

TS%

AST%

USG%

WS

‘07-08

$2,471,604

26

30.3

11.2

.519

.908

8.3

2.9

1.1

20.5

.575

42.3

16.8

10.2

08-09

$7,438,018

27

34.3

12.8

.497

.981

8.9

2.9

1.1

18.8

.561

41.0

16.9

7.5

2012-13

$11,046,591

31

29.6

11.3

.491

.900

7.1

2.4

0.8

18.8

.594

39.8

17.0

7.4

2013-14

$6,791,570

32

30.8

11.5

.453

.839

4.9

2.4

0.9

15.4

.597

23.2

16.0

5.9

Nothing is similar in these two player’s games other then they play the same position. Since Jose was the last PG of the Raptors, it only seemed right to look at Calderon to try and learn from any monetary mistakes. Both guards are effective in their own way, but overall Lowry is an upgrade from Calderon. Lowry’s time with him last year seemed to help Kyle learn to be a better vocal leader and a more effective assist man as well. On the other end there’s no comparison,  Jose will always be an all time Raptors favorite of mine, but the man’s defence left much to be desired. It wasn’t that he didn’t give effort, it’s just that it didn’t help. Efficiency is the name of his game and in his contract years Jose stayed true to form. This season has seen the Mavericks ask him to become more like Lowry, using his high percentage shot to pop 3’s and spread the floor instead of racking up assists for the team. If Calderon is any indication of what Lowry will do after signing his contract, there would be nothing to worry about as Jose is as professional as they come. Despite this, his contract was too high for producing below average defense, even with his efficiency and leadership. A contract similar to this could be a high end offer to land Lowry and have everyone be content, if Lowry continues to perform at his current level. With today’s salary cap as it is, Lowry would have to maintain his current standard of play to make it worth it though.

Jeremy Lin – Current contract for 3 years = $25,123,938

Season

Contract

Age

MPG

PPG

FG%

FT%

AST

REB

STL

PER

TS%

AST%

USG%

WS

‘11-12

$762,195

23

26.9

14.6

.446

.798

6.2

3.0

1.6

19.9

.552

41.0

28.1

2.7

‘12-13

$8,374,646

24

32.2

13.4

.441

.785

6.1

2.6

0.9

14.9

.538

29.4

20.8

5.4

Perhaps no one has had a more impactful contract year then Jeremy Lin, who took the NBA by storm in a wave of Linsanity. He posted career numbers in almost every category that season and left the whole world inthralled. Despite his minutes going up after the signing, all of his numbers have taken a hit, in part due to a healthy and talented team around him taking up most of the touches. As fine a player as he is, Lin certainly never lived up to the hype. Most will never taste the juice he had over the span of 35 games. That said, his current contract is overpaid for what he does. Perhaps they make it back with international broadcasts and advertising, but it doesn’t represent what he brings to the team. When looking at his numbers it could be interpreted that he’s let his foot off the gas after signing the dotted line. This is a danger when giving a large reward off such a small sample size. When looking at Kyle’s entire career we should notice that only this season shows consistent high-end play, which would also constitute a reasonably small sample size as well.

Eric Gordon – Current contract for 4 years = $58,365,563 (player option in 4th)

Season

Contract

Age

MPG

PPG

FG%

FT%

AST

REB

STL

PER

TS%

AST%

USG%

WS

‘10-11

$3,016,680

22

37.7

22.3

.450

.825

4.4

2.9

1.3

18.5

.566

20.7

26.5

5.7

‘12-13

$13,668,750

24

30.1

17.0

.402

.842

3.3

1.8

1.1

15.4

.523

19.3

29.4

1.1

In the 2010-11 season, Eric Gordon showed signs of being a devastating player in the making. A big time scorer with an ability to find his open teammates and hustle on the defensive end as well. In 2011-12 Gordon’s actual contract year, he was set to make $3,831,184. He started out where he left off, but found himself injured  for the season and was traded from the Clippers to the Hornets/Pelicans for Chris Paul in the off season. Eric later signed an offer sheet to leave New Orleans, but was retained as a restricted free agent by them after matching the offer. Since then, he has appeared to be unhappy about the organizations decision to retain him and he has since spent their time and money playing uninspired ball. Gordon’s numbers have regressed two years in a row, as he continues showing little interest in competing. The lesson here is to retain players who actually want to be in the organization and have the integrity to compete regardless of their situation. Being bitten after giving a large contract based on a small sample size and potential, strikes again.

Steve Nash – 2 Previous 4 year contracts: 1st = $40,250,000 The 2nd = $47,375,000

Season

Contract

Age

MPG

PPG

FG%

FT%

AST

REB

STL

PER

TS%

AST%

USG%

WS

‘03-04

$5,750,000

29

33.5

14.5

.470

.916

8.8

3.0

0.9

20.5

.590

38.3

19.5

8.8

‘04-05

$8,750,000

30

34.3

15.5

.502

.887

11.5

3.3

1.0

22.0

.606

49.2

20.5

10.9

‘07-08

$11,375,000

33

33.6

16.9

.504

.906

11.1

3.5

0.7

21.1

.641

47.3

22.0

10.5

‘08-09

$12,250,000

34

36.4

15.7

.503

.933

9.7

3.0

0.7

19.5

.615

42.4

21.1

7.3

I bring up Nash because he aged like wine and most of my examples have been of players younger than Lowry. Both contract years above were signed as an older player then Kyle is now, showing that there can be nothing to fear with signing a 28 year old player. After all, Nash answered his first contract signing by winning back to back MVP titles in 2004-05 and 2005-06. He followed those years by increasing his assist average as well as his field goal and three-point percentages. Nash is a fantastic example of what hard work, dedication and focus can accomplish. He was worth every dime of his contracts in Phoenix. With Lowry entering the prime of his career, perhaps this is the time where everything will click and take his game to the next level. An interesting note, Deron Williams current 5 year deal is worth over $11,000,000 more than the 8 years of Nash where he won Back to Back league MVP’s and was considered by many as the greatest point guard of the generation.

In Conclusion…

There is no crystal ball, no future seer who can tell us what is in the heart and soul of a player. No GM can ever be certain what will happen after they make that deal. A player can step up or step out, they can play hard or they can get hurt. That’s why numbers can’t really tell you the whole story. They can be misinterpreted as the totality of a player, but rarely can they show us the whole picture, what’s inside a player, the integrity of an individual. So, what does Kyle Lowry want from the prime of his career? Is it just money? Or is it more, does he want to compete for something big and be on the front lines for it? If he does, then he must concede to a smaller contract. If we look at the 13 contracts from the 10 players found above, they averaged a 4.08 year contract earning $48,737,738 or $11,945,524 per year.  Not all of those contracts have panned out to be of good value either. Deron Williams’ second, Jeremy Lin, and Eric Gordon are all looking like badly overpriced deals. Calderon’s contract with Toronto and Rondo’s were both overpaid as well, but at least they were keeping their team interested in competing, unlike the others mentioned before. When looking at the cross section of player chosen, Lowry ranks 1st in Win Shares when comparing his contract year to all the other contract years found above. If I was asked to give a number I’d like to see Lowry sign for (and yes, I would like the Raptors to try and sign him to a new contract) I think a 4 year deal for $32,000,000 to $38,000,000 would be fair for both sides, leaving some cap room for others like 2Pat and later for JV and T.Ross down the line.

When I look at Lowry this season I’m reminded of another Philadelphia native, Alvin Williams.  Alvin always sacrificed himself for the good of the team, not a contract. He wanted to give them everything he had and did just that. He was an ultimate competitor for the Raptors, something we’ve seen from Lowry this season. I don’t think Kyle’s trying to deceive anyone, he isn’t just playing hard for a contract only to relax once it`s signed. I don’t think he wants to go elsewhere either. He`s been in other organizations and has seen first hand how easy it was for him not to fit in with other players and staff and how easily he could find himself on the bench. He certainly comes off as a player who wants to spend his time on the floor competing for a win, not sitting on the bench counting his benjamins. Supposedly he’s always asked a lot of his teammates, confronting them and holding them accountable. These things rubbed players the wrong way in other cities, but here his teammates responded with success. They buy into his leadership and feel comfortable following him into battle each night. Lowry and DeMar coexist as the Raptors leaders and mesh well together. It’s a good scenario for Lowry, with a solid core of young athletic players wanting to compete around him.

Only time will tell what will become of Lowry`s future.  For now, I plan on enjoying the Raptors in the playoffs and choose to believe that come next year, Kyle Lowry will be suiting up for the Raptors, ready to be that tenacious  bulldog we’ve come to expect. Hopefully it can be done at a reasonable cost.