Kyle Lowry Deserved to Be an All-Star

Kyle Lowry’s omission from the 2014 Eastern Conference All-Star team is ridiculous.

There’s no other way to put it, really, because the argument against his candidacy is so thin you can see its ribs. It’s Austin Daye-thin.

There’s really no sense dwelling on his “snub” (not like we didn’t see this coming), but I’m going to any way. No, the All-Star Game doesn’t matter all that much. Yes, Lowry is exactly the kind of guy who might take motivation from this and play even better. No, if he were in the Western Conference, this wouldn’t be a discussion. Don’t care, don’t care, don’t care. Kyle Lowry deserves to be in the All-Star Game, and probably deserved to be a starting guard in the East, at that.

So let’s take a look at the arguments against him.

Coaches don’t like him.
This is almost certainly the reason he didn’t get in, because he’s a prickly player who notoriously feuded with Kevin McHale in 2012. Coaches also probably gameplan for DeMar DeRozan more, and if they were only going to vote for one Raptor (more on that in a second), it was going to be DeRozan. Whatever, it’s not the All-Character Game.

The Raptors don’t deserve two All-Stars.
If third in the conference isn’t worthy of two All-Stars, then just make the East team a Miami-Indiana mash-up and have them play the West. The Raptors are 24-21 and are, by all accounts, one of the four best teams in their conference right now. This ain’t baseball, not everybody gets a representative; the best 12 players should go. I’m not suggesting the Raptors definitely deserved two for their place in the standings, just that their place shouldn’t preclude them from having two.

And, as much as some may disagree, if the Raptors were only getting one All-Star, it should have been Lowry (we’ll flesh this out more below).

He’s 53rd in scoring.
Yeah, let’s just move on from using points per game alone as an All-Star qualifier.

And now, the much more compelling case in favor of Lowry.

He’s been the best guard in the East so far this year, full stop.
It’s true. It just is, and it’s only close with John Wall. He’s the defensive leader on the league’s seventh best defense. He’s scored efficiently, he distributes well and has found the balance between the two, he can play on and off the ball and he leads the league in charges drawn. I’m not really sure how you can make a case that any East guard has been better all-around and more important to their team’s success.

The Eye Test
I put this here because I’m about to use some statistics, but it’s worth pointing out that it’s impossible to watch a Raptors game without getting the feeling that Lowry is the straw that stirs the drink. The man defense, while not elite as it once was, is disruptive, and he’s the second most important part of the offense (and could arguably be the alpha dog if need be, as we saw Wednesday).

Basic Stats
A lot of people will throw out Lowry’s 16.8 points a night as a reason he shouldn’t edge out other guards, but the basic stats bear out that Lowry has a strong case. To wit:

DeMar DeRozan 43 37.7 21.8 4.7 3.6 1.2 0.5 42.8 30.8 7
Kyrie Irving 42 35.1 21.5 3 6.2 1.3 0.4 42.8 36.5 4.6
Arron Afflalo 43 37 20 4.3 3.7 0.7 0 47 42 5
John Wall 45 36.9 19.8 4.4 8.5 1.9 0.4 42.3 32.5 5.4
Dwyane Wade 32 33 18.4 4.7 4.7 1.7 0.6 53.8 40 4.4
Kyle Lowry 45 36.3 16.8 4.3 7.6 1.6 0.2 43.7 40.6 4.3
Joe Johnson 42 33.7 15.7 3.4 2.8 0.5 0.2 44.3 38.6 2.7
Lance Stephenson 43 35.6 14.2 7.1 5.3 0.7 0.1 49.9 34.4 2.6

Yes, Lowry scores less than some of the names on here but only Wall has a more complete overall stat line, and he does so less efficiently, as we’ll see shortly. Lowry might rank sixth in that group in scoring but he stands out as a positive in several categories, too. And these are the East’s elite guards, not cherry-picked comparisons.

He’s not a slam dunk strictly looking at offense – though I’d argue only Wall’s slightly less efficient production here trumps Lowry’s overall – but this is a narrow view of one side of the ball.

Advanced Stats
Just skip this section if you’re anti-stats but please note I’m not making my case from them, they simply support what my eyes have told me all year – that Lowry is an elite East guard. To wit:

East Guards GP MPG PER TS% Rb% Ast% TO% USG% ORtg DRtg WinShares
Kyle Lowry 45 36.3 20.4 58.7 6.8 35.4 13.6 20.6 122 104 7.3
Lance Stephenson 43 35.6 15.9 56.3 11.2 24.6 16.9 19.3 109 98 5.2
John Wall 45 36.9 19.8 52.1 6.9 39.4 15.8 27.5 106 104 4.5
DeMar DeRozan 43 37.7 17.9 51.7 7 17.9 9.5 27.9 107 105 4.4
Kyrie Irving 42 35.1 20.2 52.4 4.8 34.2 11.1 29.2 108 109 3.8
Arron Afflalo 43 37 17.6 58.6 6.4 18 11.7 23.8 111 111 3.8
Dwyane Wade 32 33 21.3 57.8 8.9 24.5 15.4 27.1 108 104 3.1
Joe Johnson 42 33.7 14.9 55.3 6 14.9 8.9 21.7 110 112 2.6

Lowry blows away the field in Win Shares, which can be fickle in smaller samples but begins to tell a pretty convincing story at this point in the year (and when his lead is so sizeable). His PER is second to only Wade, who has played far less, and nobody tops his true shooting percentage because he hits so many threes and gets to the line fairly well. Only Wall bests his assist rate but Wall’s turnovers and usage are also far higher (note, too, that Lowry’s low usage here actually makes him “hanging” in the basic stats even more impressive). His team also performs better with him on the floor than any other player, a huge nod to his importance to the Raptors.

If you like your stats really advanced, Talking Practice’s RAPM ranks Lowry 35th overall, behind only Wade and George Hill among East guards. An ASPM measure ranks Lowry as the seventh best player in the NBA this season and tops among East guards, too, and ESPN’s Estimated Wins Added (offense only) ranks him 18th overall and first among East guards.

All of this is a fancy way of saying that spreadsheets back up what a large chunk of the Raptors fan base has been espousing the last month or so: Lowry’s an All-Star.

Smarter people than me agree.
Maybe I’m just a homer and I’m too close to the team (and Lowry, who I’ve long been a fan of). While it’s not unanimous, much  higher authorities than myself agree that Lowry’s an All-Star.

Grantland’s Zach Lowe is the don mega of basketball analysis, and he had Lowry listed as a starter.

Toronto fans are clamoring for DeMar DeRozan to make the team, and while he does have a case, Lowry has been the team’s best player — and probably the best all-around point guard in the Eastern Conference this season. He’s taken flight offensively since the Rudy Gay deal, and he’s found a way to reconcile his havoc-creating gambles on defense with Dwane Casey’s larger scheme.

ESPN’s Tom Haberstroh agreed, and he’s about as bright as they come.

If Wednesday was Lowry’s audition for the All-Star Game, he might have been automatically removed from the ballot. He shot the ball 10 times and missed every single one of them. Luckily for him, it wasn’t an audition. It was one horrible game for Lowry, but in the other 40 he has played, he has my vote for the East’s best point guard.

He ranks right up there with John Wall (20.2) and Kyrie Irving (20.1) in PER with a 19.5 rating, but unlike those two, Lowry actually cares about the defensive end. Synergy Sports tracking tells us that he has stepped up for a sum of 50 charges, a huge number that is almost more than entire teams. Of course, the box score doesn’t acknowledge those, but we should acknowledge that Lowry deserves to start the All-Star Game based on merit for his work on both ends of the floor.

While Matt Moore (HPBasketball) disagrees, two of his co-workers from Eye on Basketball support the cause. Fellow facial hair model Zach Harper and the esteemed Royce Young have my back, respectively.

Why have the Raptors been such a nice surprise? Once Rudy Gay was traded, Lowry turned his and the team’s season around by destroying opposing backcourts.

OK, so make it two All-Stars for the Raptors. At this current moment, in terms of impact on the floor, you could make a strong case for Lowry as the top point guard in the East this season. His PER is only slightly behind Irving’s, but considering the defensive end… you know what I mean.

And here’s Young again, after the reserves were revealed:

But Lowry has a strong case as being the best point guard in the Eastern Conference. Lowry’s averaging 16.8 points, 7.6 assists and 4.3 rebounds with a stout PER of 20.43. As the Raptors have made their recent push, he’s upped those numbers to 18.6 points, 8.3 assists and 4.8 rebounds.

Plus, when you consider the kind of bulldog defense he plays on a nightly basis, and the fact he’s the clear heart and soul of the 24-21 Raptors, he had a strong case. And probably is the biggest snub of all.

If you check out ESPN’s 5-on-5 about snubs (man, do I hate that word), four of the respondents listed Lowry as the most glaring omission.

Non-experts also seemed really shocked at Lowry’s exclusion (that is, it doesn’t take an expert to realize the mistake here).
Twitter can be a bit of an echo chamber of sorts, but consider the response this tweet got.

Embarrassingly, that’s my second most retweeted tweet of all time. That matters little, though, except to remind me of my insignificance. Within an hour or two of the announcement, over 200 people who happen to follow me (or someone who RTd it) agreed Lowry got the raw end versus Joe Johnson.

Oh yeah, Joe Johnson.
And here’s the biggest gripe. Lowry didn’t lose out to feel-good-breakout-story-on-the-league’s-best-team Lance Stephenson, which would have at least had an explanation behind it. Instead, he lost out to Joe Freakin’ Johnson who is putting up middling stats at league-average efficiency for a 20-23 team. What in the hell could be the justification here? Maybe Brooklyn “deserves” an All-Star in the eyes of some, but why? And is Joe Johnson the worst seven-time All-Star in league history?

Honestly, someone make the case for me, please. Eye test? Nope. Defense? Nope. Record? Nope. Advanced stats? Hell no. Basic counting stats? Not even then. It is, in a word, ridiculous.

In summation…
Basically, any way you choose to spin it, Lowry belonged on the All-Star team.

Literally any method of player comparison you use shows Lowry as an elite East guard, and most would even point to him being one of the two best, if not the best guard in the conference so far. It doesn’t take a math degree to figure it out and it doesn’t take having played the game to be able to see it on the floor. Lowry deserved an All-Star spot, full stop, period.

So what do we do about it?
Obviously, we riot. We march to New York and burn the league office down and then we face-punch every single Eastern Conference coach.

That, or we do nothing. There’s an argument to be made that this could be a good thing, that it will push Lowry even harder. While he does seem like someone who would keep a chip on his shoulder, it’s also kind of hard to imagine him playing better. He’s in a contract year, he’s always seemed hyper-competitive and he’s been playing out of his mind; whether this slight could push his performance further is unclear.

In any case, it doesn’t matter all that much in the grand scheme of things. As Lowry himself said earlier Thursday, all that matters to him is that the team is winning, and now he can go away somewhere warm for the break. A five-day vacation doesn’t seem all that bad as a consolation prize.

From a fan perspective, it does kind of suck to have your top player go unrecognized. At the same time, the fact that we’re able to argue for two Raptors to make the team feels like a borderline miracle, and if you suggested as much in September you would have been laughed at. The Lowry snub doesn’t invalidate an impressive first half from the team, it simply serves as a reminder that there’s still work to be done.

Indignation is probably the proper reaction but let’s not harbor on it longer than is necessary.

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