Since the NBA season kicked off on October 19th versus the Chicago Bulls, the Toronto Raptors have played a total of 26 regular season games — compiling an 18-8 record to date. It’s been two quick months since then and unbelievably so, we’re almost a third into the season.
Over the years, both the Raptors organization and Lowry have constantly mentioned making it a “priority” to rest Lowry as much as humanly possible. That hasn’t necessarily been the case. In fact, since the 2013-2014 season, Lowry has averaged a strenuous 36.2, 34.5, 37.0, and 37.4 minutes per game respectively. For clarity, that ranks the point guard 13th, 24th, 3rd, and 2nd amongst his NBA peers in MPG.
This season is a totally different story with Kyle Lowry. He currently sits at a pretty 33.2 mpg as the Raptors organization and its star PG have finally come to terms on a healthy, effort-maximizing minute allocation. Despite being so used to playing such a heavy load of minutes, Lowry still gives the nightly ‘bulldog’ effort — an effort that mirrors a young prospect eager to prove himself to the world. For a 31 year-old guard, that isn’t the norm (or anywhere near it). To be frank, 31 is roughly the age where NBA players begin to leave (or have already left) their prime years behind. Nights get taken off. Minor injuries start piling up. The dreaded early-30s slowly lay the foundation for an NBA player’s decline. With Kyle approaching his 32nd birthday in just three short months, it has become imperative for the Raptors to ultimately fulfill a promise they made years ago.
From now until January 11th, when LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers come into town, the Raptors currently face a remarkably favorable schedule — they play the Nets, Kings, Hornets, 76ers twice, Mavericks, Thunder, Hawks, Bucks, Bulls, Bucks again, Nets, and the Miami Heat. The total win/loss record combined from those teams? 196 wins and 206 losses.
Raise your hands if you’re in favour of that schedule.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that within an 11 game stretch in the NBA, that’s as weak a strength of schedule as you’re going to get. This set of games has a bearing on potential opportunities to rest Lowry. Delon Wright should return from shoulder injury within this week — if not, the latest being the following week. Wright looked the part when playing in spot duties earlier in the season while Fred Van Vleet — the original backup’s backup — has starred in his role off the bench since Delon’s injury. Once Wright returns and assumes his regular backup position at point guard, Dwane Casey and his staff should weigh their options versus teams like the Hornets, Mavericks, Hawks and Bulls.
Now, of course DC won’t rest him for all four games, but the Mavericks (December 26th) and Bulls (January 3rd) specifically should be options taken into serious consideration. The Raptors play the Thunder in Oklahoma City on the second game of a back-to-back after travelling from their game versus the Mavs. There’s no reason for Lowry to potentially play 30-35 minutes versus a Western Conference minnow like Dallas, and travel to OKC the night after and guard up Russell Westbrook.
You thought Lowry was slim-thicc before? Wait until you see him guard Westbrook off a back-to-back. I don’t know about everyone else, but I’d rather not watch Lowry sweat out an entire snack-size caramel-oreo McFlurry on an NBA court.
Versus the Hawks, Toronto travels all the way from OKC back home with just one single day of rest between the two games. Another opportunity for Casey to rest Lowry — if he hasn’t already in Dallas — lies in a game that features an Atlanta squad led by a Chance The Rapper clone. In all seriousness, Casey and his staff have finally delivered on a promise that Raptors fans have gullibly believed and been let down before.
Kyle Lowry is playing his least amount of minutes per game in five years. At this point in his career, maintaining career longevity is of utmost importance. It falls on the organization and Lowry himself to keep it that way before we see another patented burnout in the approaching NBA Playoffs.