Are Raptors Lowry and DeRozan best leadership duo in NBA?

As NBA franchises build super teams Raptors Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are proving dual leadership may be equally as important to achieving success.

Two days after Donald Trump was elected as the 45th president of the United States, I found myself pondering the definition of leadership.

Amid the turmoil that ensued I fielded calls from anxious American friends inquiring on Canadian immigration laws. Granted, sports and politics are not something I generally mix, but nonetheless the topic of leadership was top of mind. So, as I watched Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan lead the shorthanded Raptors to victory over the Association’s fourth-ranked defense, it reminded me of a debate I recently had.

For years, NBA championship teams were noted for having superstars that were also able to lead their squads on and off the court. Bill Russell, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, and Magic Johnson stand out as solo leaders who won MVP awards and captained their squads to multiple titles.

Following Jordan’s era, it became trendy for teams to feature dual stars like Kobe and Shaq. This was followed by the ‘big 3’ of the Celtics, Spurs, and Miami Heat. Then this summer, the Warriors decided to create the league’s first big 4.

Coinciding with the talent on court, teams who had deep playoff runs last season predominantly had another commonality. They all featured dual leadership. More specifically, an alpha male and a quieter, but no less important sidekick. I refer to it as the yin-yang partnership. The yin is the alpha, and the yang is often a player who demonstrates leadership via action, as opposed to words. Lowry and DeRozan from my perspective have blossomed into one of the most successful examples of this dual leader partnership in the NBA.

In Chinese philosophy, yin and yang (also yin-yang or yin yang, dark—bright”) describe how seemingly opposite or contrary forces may actually be complementary, interconnected, and interdependent in the natural world, and how they may give rise to each other as they interrelate to one another.

In fact, as I scanned my preseason 2016-17 team ranking, I noted in almost every case I gave the edge to teams with dual leadership. Sure, there are teams without this denominator, but most fail to clear hurdles in the post season.

The perfect example of this would be the Los Angeles Clippers, who boast Chris Paul as their solo leader. Although Paul has long been regarded as an ideal leader, he’s struggled to take his team to the next level. In eleven seasons and eight playoff appearances, he’s never been past the second round. For as many pundits who say a team can’t win a title without multiple superstars, I’d counter the Clippers three star talents provide fodder for my argument.

The Yin-Yang Leaders:

I’ve begun referring to my theory as the yin and yang leader strategy. In essence, I believe chemistry and leadership bears as much weight as star talent to achieving ultimate success. Teams who have clearly delineated this type of leadership are:

  • Cleveland Cavaliers: LeBron James – Kyrie Irving.
  • Golden State Warriors: Draymond Green – Stephen Curry.
  • San Antonio Spurs: feature an oddity in that coach Gregg Popovich is the alpha yin to Kawhi Leonard’s yang.
  • Portland Trail Blazers: Damian Lillard – C.J. McCollum.
  • Part of the reason I selected the Detroit Pistons to rise in the East is Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond offer another yin-yang partnership.

More teams who could find success this season or in the near future offer the potential for this phenomenon:

  • Oklahoma City Thunder: while Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant wage their silent war, it’s possible the yang to Westbrook’s yin was lying in wait in the form of Stephen Adams.
  • The up-and-coming Minnesota Timberwolves have the charming alpha Karl Anthony-Towns paired with Andrew Wiggins. Like DeRozan who is known for his offseason work ethic, Wiggins spent the summer perfecting his perimeter shooting. The result? Wiggins leads the league boasting a gaudy 63.6% from deep.
  • Though James Harden and Dwight Howard could never find common ground in Houston, both are seemingly finding early success without each other. Perhaps Eric Gordon and Paul Millsap have provided the perfect yang partner they needed all along.
  • Long underrated for his quiet leadership and locker room prowess, George Hill may be the perfect yang if one of Rudy Gobert, Derrick Favors or Gordon Hayward can step into the yin role. Likewise, Paul George may find the loss of Hill ultimately leaves a hole no current Pacers member seems poised to fill.

Duos missing part of the yin-yang:

Many teams feature two or more of one side of the yin or yang without the other. Case in point, Kemba Walker and Nicolas Batum are both yang leaders. The Knicks feature three yin leaders in Carmelo Anthony, Derrick Rose, and Joakim Noah. Likewise the Bulls have Jimmy Butler, Rajon Rondo, and Dwayne Wade.

The irony of the Bulls is Dwyane Wade, who in my opinion, is the only player capable of playing either leadership role. Under his tutelage, he allowed LeBron to become the leader he is today by stepping back into the yang role. In fact, I’d argue Wade is the lone NBA player capable of providing sole leadership to counter any duo partnership.

This makes me wonder, would John Wall, Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins thrive if they found their yang counterpart?

Lowry and DeRozan lead the way:

The evolution of Lowry-DeRozan’s yin-yang partnership has resulted in the best qualities of each rubbing off on the other. Lowry’s offseason conditioning may have been fostered via DeRozan’s off-court work ethic example. Whereas the confidence and swagger of DeRozan (the current NBA points per game leader) no doubt was partially influenced by Lowry’s bulldog demeanor. Yet the real benefit is how the pair’s best qualities permeate the team as a whole. To that end, around the Association, there are countless squads who feature stars and youthful talent, but consider why they aren’t recognizing similar success.

Entering the third week of NBA play, only 3 teams ranked in the top ten on offense, defense, and net differential: the San Antonio Spurs, Atlanta Hawks and Toronto Raptors. Following Wednesday’s games the Clippers have edged into the tenth spot offensively to become the fourth team. Obviously this is a small sample size, but of those 4 teams Toronto has played the toughest defensive competition.



Considering the Raptors are tied with Portland as the second youngest team in the NBA (25) the leadership of Lowry and DeRozan merits even greater recognition. Only the Sixers have an average roster age that is younger (24.6). Furthermore, the Raptors have been utilizing their youngest players either due to necessity or injury of core players. So, the Raptors continued excellence speaks to the relevance of DeRozan and Lowry’s leadership.


It’s oddly reminiscent of Spurs’ teams from seasons past when youngsters would naturally transition into the line-up. Much of that success could be reasoned was due to the leadership of the Spurs triumvirate of leaders in Timmy Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker. Given the rather large rock that sits outside the Raptors locker room and purposeful decision to emulate the Spurs template, perhaps this ascent upward was inevitable. Or possibly Toronto’s success can be attributed to the continuity of sticking with a core unit in order for them to grow together. In reality it’s probably a mixture of all factors. That said, there is no denying equal credit lies with the All-Star backcourt.

Although April is a long way off there is reason for optimism. I’ve noticed I have less anxiety this season watching the Raptors. Even when they fall behind early or lose key players to injury there remains a belief they will prevail. I credit that to Lowry and DeRozan who seemingly know which button to push and when it’s time to push it.

Last night these yin-yang leaders marched into Oklahoma City who were unbeaten at home and possess the Associations fourth-best defense. Lowry came 1 rebound shy of grabbing a triple-double on Mr.Triple-Double’s court and DeRozan scored 37 points making it look relatively easy. Both made sure to involve their teammates and be cognizant of the two rookies who are now in the starting line-up.

Of their next 9 games Toronto plays 7 on the road. Moreover, tough tests await including a back to back set against last season’s finalists and several games versus top 10 offenses and defenses.

In spite of this, I feel confident in the squad who showcases a chemistry seldom witnessed on the court, let alone off it. I credit my faith in Lowry and DeRozan’s yin-yang leadership. It’s reassuring to feel that confident in a leader, or rather leaders.

And, if you don’t believe me, just ask your American friends.