It feels like a long time ago, but at the beginning of the season there was a lot of concern about Kyle Lowry. If you looked at his shooting numbers through the first handful of games, it would’ve been understandable to worry a little bit. Lowry, after all, had been the rock of the Raptors franchise for a few years now, and seemed like he just couldn’t score. Through the first six games of the season in October, the Raptors had a respectable 4-2 record with tough, but understandable, losses to the Spurs and the Warriors, two of the league’s elite, but KLOE had yet to be seen, shooting just 36.8% from the field and 33.3 from downtown. While backcourt mate DeMar DeRozan seemed to be fully embracing the new offense with his assist rate and scoring efficiency up from years past, Lowry didn’t look as comfortable, his usage dropping and not hitting the shots he did take, often deferring to other guys.
The hot takes came through as well, with speculation on everything from “Playoff Lowry arriving early” to “old age showing up”, and with Lowry on a new 3-year, $90 million dollar contract, there was some worry about whether the team would also see some decline if their three-time All-Star couldn’t figure things out.
Then November showed up. Sure, there was two rough games against Washington in which the Raptors got the split, and a 4-12 game at Houston where the Raptors blew out the Rockets, who are now viewed as one of the best teams in the league. Aside from that though, Lowry has looked like his old self(but not an old version of himself), making it look almost too effortless. Maybe that’s why there hasn’t been much fanfare about his return to form, because he doesn’t blow the doors off with highlight reel plays when he’s on. It looks almost too easy for him, whether it’s 36 points on 18 shots against Charlotte in a win that he never really allowed the Hornets back into, or 22 points on 12 shots in a blowout victory over the Knicks, a near triple double against the Pelicans where he missed by an assist, it’s simple dominance.
There has been some debate in the basketball statistics community over how a 50/40/90 season should be calculated. Is it field goal percentage, or two-point field goal percentage? If you use the base field-goal number, it seems to punish guys who take a large number of their shots as threes, as Lowry’s 61.7% three-point attempt rate this year can attest to. It’s not that his only hitting 45.2% of his field goals is a low rate, it’s just that when nearly two thirds of your shots are threes, it’s hard to do much better than that. However, when he does take it inside, he’s finishing 51.6% of his two point attempts, and 65.5% of his attempts at the rim.
Lowry has always been a little shortchanged when it comes to award talk, whether it’s because the Raptors are seen as overperforming expectations year-in and year-out or because he splits the attention with his backcourt partner, but if he can keep up his play of late, he might suddenly find himself back in some of those conversations, or at least he should. There will always be flashier guys, players who get more attention due to obvious fourth quarter heroics or massive scoring outputs, in bigger markets. I’m not sure, though, that there’s a tougher point guard in the league than Kyle Lowry.
Whether it’s putting the team on his back taking over when the offense is struggling or defending a post-up where he gives up a foot and a hundred pounds off a switch and forcing the ball-handler to pass out because they can’t gain ground, Lowry always gives everything on the court, and that can be a tough experience as a fan. It’s hard watching him take hard falls on what feels like a nightly basis and always worrying about the potential for him being sidelined by injury, but that’s what makes him the leader he is.
KLOE returned in November. Maybe you missed it, maybe you didn’t, but the narratives around the league don’t seem to have caught up yet. DeMar DeRozan hasn’t lost his passing touch, the new Raptors bench is great and the kids are fun, but this has always been a team that rises and falls with their diminutive guard who doesn’t stop fighting, and if he can be this guy the rest of the way it’s going to be a fun season in the north.