There are those who think of “KLOE” as less of a nickname, and more of a gear.
I’ve had friends say to me, “When is Lowry going full KLOE?” and “KLOE better show up tonight, we’re gonna need it.” Thinking of the term that way is not unusual—we constantly look at players in the league and ask whether or not they have that next gear that can help them meet or surpass the ability of opponents in the playoffs. But for Kyle Lowry, that gear—KLOE—has appeared so little this season that some fans have wondered if he can even shift into it anymore.
They wondered, that is, until last Saturday.
On the second night of a back-to-back, on their last West road trip of the season, the Toronto Raptors matched up with the Minnesota Timberwolves, who were missing key pieces Jimmy Butler and Jamal Crawford. But it didn’t matter so much for the T-Wolves, who forced Jonas Valanciunas into early foul trouble to essentially remove him from the game, and who didn’t see the typical well-roundedness from Toronto’s bench that has been a staple this year.
Something about this situation, whatever it may be, was the trigger for KLOE. Something in this game ignited that gear that we have so rarely seen and have been salivating for. He finally looked comfortable, and he played within the offense to drop his 40 points instead of falling back into the isolation sequences of yesteryear.
One of the issues Lowry has brought up before when asked about adjusting his game to the new style of offense is that the ball is simply in his hands less, and so he can’t read defenses in the manner he’s become accustomed to. This is true, of course, with Lowry posting his lowest usage percentage (22.1) since the 2012–13 season. But against Minnesota, that no longer seemed to matter—he kept the ball moving, made decisive reads, set screens, and, most notably, picked his spots to score.
Lowry was most deadly in two ways, as the Timberwolves can attest to. The first was his proclivity to push the ball in transition and aggressively attack the hoop, blowing by whoever was in front of him and scooping the rock up into basket. He did this at every available opportunity, and in the chaos of fast breaks, no one on Minnesota could figure out how to stop him. This was a welcome sight, as Lowry’s drives per game are down from 12.9 attempts in 2016–17 to 8.9 attempts this season. Attacking in transition not only allows for a higher likelihood of scoring, but also a lower chance that he’s going to get creamed in the paint by multiple big men.
That’s not to say, however, that Lowry didn’t play aggressively in the half-court. On more than one occasion he made a concerted effort to get to the rim, getting hacked in the process. He went to the free throw line seven times, where he made six of his shots. This season, Lowry has seen a significant drop-off in his free throw attempts, averaging just 3.7 shots as opposed to the 6.1 he took last season (the second-highest mark of his career). A higher free throw rate means a more engaged Lowry, and one who now understands and utilizes the opportunities the offense allows him to attack.
The second deadly aspect of KLOE is his spot-up shooting, as opposed to launching shots off the dribble. If the offense lends anything to Lowry’s game, it’s this. With Lowry becoming acclimated to roaming off-ball, he now has the awareness to drift to the corners or spring to the top of the arc instead of hovering in just one spot while the ball whips around. If he’s open, more often than not the ball will find him, and if he’s not, then his gravity is probably allowing for a drive to the hoop or another open shot off of a kick-out. Lowry is shooting 41 per cent from deep this season on catch-and-shoot looks, easily making him the biggest threat in that regard.
The greatest benefit to the Raptors’ new system is, of course, that Lowry doesn’t have to put the same amount of stress on his body as he did in years past. As things stand, he’s only playing 33 minutes a night, a number that hasn’t been lower since 2012–13. The goal is to save Lowry’s best for the playoffs, and bring him in healthy and happy.
That last part is the most important, because if Lowry isn’t happy, if he isn’t comfortable, then we won’t see KLOE. And if KLOE is indeed a gear, then it’s one that only exists in comfort.
The good news? It seems Lowry’s finally getting cozy.