As Kyle Lowry begins his seventh season with the Toronto Raptors and 13th as a professional the dynamics are vastly different. His best friend and co-captain DeMar DeRozan exited via the trade for top five talent Kawhi Leonard. Likewise, Dwane Casey, the only head coach Lowry has played for over his Raptors tenure was fired.
Although teammate Jonas Valanciunas shares the longest serving Raptors mantel with Lowry there are no delusions of who this team’s de facto leader is – it is Kyle Lowry.
DeRozan’s exit and Lowry’s subsequent silence on the subject coupled with rumors of ignoring management led to speculation of the point guard being disgruntled. Frankly, Lowry was caught in a catch 22 regardless of what he said or did concerning the DeRozan trade. Defend the Raptors brain trust to remove the head of the snake tied directly to playoff failures and disappoint the presumed strongest friendship in the Association. Or, publicly support his friend which would make him appear disenchanted and no doubt fuel rumors he’d be a problem. His silence, while not ideal for media and fans looking for insight was the appropriate action.
Nor should his reluctance to opine on this or any deep probe be a surprise. Aside from Russell Westbrook, Lowry is arguably the least enamored NBA star when it comes to talking to local press about losses. And, just like ‘The Brodie’, Lowry’s media snarl is not indicative of his on court effort.
Reflecting back, shortly after the historic ‘Masai 2014 summit’ Lowry was less demonstratively verbose in media settings. Sure, there were still the antics with DeRozan or occasional sarcastic snaps and glares, but for the most part he kept things professional. When he did offer sound bites, his actions reflect the sentiment of his statements.
Post Cavaliers sweep he was asked how to foster belief in the system in 2018-19
“I think the most important thing that I felt for me personally, for our team, was the physicality and toughness and making them uncomfortable, which they were…I think we can definitely install it, and work on it all year. You look at Memphis from years ago, the grit and grind, those guys just every game, they added a couple pieces but everyone was tough like that. That team got toughness, or instilled toughness. (as per Blake Murphy’s original article)
On DeMar DeRozan being gone: ‘Our relationship is bigger than basketball‘
Let’s not forget Rudy Gay is the godfather to Kyle’s oldest son. When Gay was traded, it proved to be the catalyst for improvement. Lowry adjusted then, and similarly he’ll adapt to this change.
If there is truth to the post playoff 2017 meeting, the issue for Lowry was DeRozan’s defense. Considering the player additions this offseason it’s logical to presume Lowry will recognize the upgrade in this area specifically. Furthermore, given his penchant for wanting a tougher, grittier team come spring time, this new Raptors iteration should appease his stated desires.
As for Nurse, for as much as Lowry and Casey had a mutual respect, the fact Nurse wants Lowry playmaking more and seemingly is more willing to adopt player input, theoretically it should bode well for their working relationship.
On what to expect this season “I know when it’s time to go, I’m gonna go.”
While Lowry may have avoided cameras and microphones to start the season, he still was at the arena hours before practice, helping Fred VanVleet work on something specific within the new system. And, in the preseason Jazz game, there he was mixing it up with Jae Crowder as if it was a late April contest. Say what you will about Lowry’s surliness, when the ball is tipped the bull dog is on full display and the one thing you can bank on is that Lowry hates to lose.
Trio becomes a single:
The past five seasons are without question the most successful period in franchise history. With success however, come loftier goals. While winning is far more enticing than being stuck in middle ground purgatory, the next stage is upon the franchise. There are mixed feelings over the DeRozan departure as he will always be tied to the magical period of Raptors success and because he unabashedly embraced Toronto. Yet, simply winning games in season is not the goal. As Lowry is quick to point out – winning championships is the only thing that matters.
Nor should it be surprising Kyle Lowry is the lone remainder of the trio who spearheaded the Raptors ascent. Gentleman Casey will forever be tied to introducing the culture reset. DeRozan holds a bevy of franchise records and was the primary scoring option. However, a rested Lowry was the only one of the triad who met expectations this past postseason. Casey failed to make prompt in game adjustments. And, DeRozan’s defensive short comings relegated him to the bench in the close out series.
Lowry’s low key dominance:
One of the first statements Nurse made following his appointment was regarding Lowry’s role. Even before the trade, Nurse cited Lowry needing to be a bigger part of the offence and to have greater autonomy within it. Nurse has good reason for his desire to expand upon Lowry’s role. Although last season’s offensive revamp to become more free flowing worked (at least in season) and DeRozan recorded a career high in assist per game (5.2) his overall affect on his teammates was only slightly improved.
Proving this point is the chart from Todd Whitehead’s brilliant Nylon Calculus article. DeRozan’s impact on teammates shot quality (+0.6) was only 0.2 better than the previous season and still less than his previous best of 2015 (+0.8). Conversely, although the ball was in Lowry’s hand less he ranks ninth over the past four seasons. The eight players ahead of him include five MVP winners (Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, LeBron James, James Harden, Kevin Durant) and three others: John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Klay Thompson. Moreover, when Lowry was more involved as the ball distributor his impact is palpable (such as his +3.2 rating in 2016).
Player Impact on Shot Quality:
Coincidentally, the four players Lowry failed to register a positive impact were the two point guards and two players no longer with the team (Lucas Nogueira and Jakob Poeltl). Arguably, this discrepancy is more a factor of Lowry playing less of a role with the reserve line last season. Another interesting insight from the chart is while Lowry registered a positive affect on DeRozan, his impact was greater with Serge Ibaka, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, C.J. Miles and Norman Powell.
KL Squared factor:
For all the pondering of how Kawhi & Kyle will fit on and off the court there could be an argument made this move may present yet another opportunity for Lowry. Since Leonard is known to shy away from interviews the platform for Lowry to be front and center, particularly for lighter National media fare is ever present. As for the duo’s chemistry, the small preseason sample offers optimism as the pair appear to be gelling well.
The key for Nurse and Lowry will be finding a happy medium between how involved Lowry is, especially in terms of minute distribution. Clearly, his 5.2 minute reduction last season paid dividends in the playoffs. Despite the sweep to Cleveland, Lowry was the best Raptor on the court. Lowry increased his APG (8.8) while shooting 57.1% from the field and a blistering 45.8% from the perimeter.
As per Lowry’s “grit’ comments the Raptors may finally have someone as tough as Lowry. (Instantly the image of Lowry taking a head on LeBron charge which invariably gets called a block comes to mind). Presumably, if Leonard is fully healthy he fits the bill given his two Defensive Player of the Year titles.
At 32, Lowry’s wear and tear isn’t as substantial as one might think:
Some will cite Lowry’s age and mileage as concerning, but is it really? Lowry will turn 33 in late March (25th), yet his early years were punctuated with backup minutes and injuries. In 12 seasons he played 26,247 regular season minutes plus 2,083 playoff minutes for a total of 28,330.
Comparatively, Chris Paul will turn 34 in May. CP3 has logged 31,493 minutes plus 3,403 playoff minutes (total: 34,896). That’s 6,566 more total minutes than Lowry. Similarly, current MVP James Harden (29) enters his 10th season with 26,889 total logged minutes (23,239 + 3,650 playoffs). Remarkably, Harden has just 1,441 fewer minutes than Lowry despite having played 3 fewer seasons.
Considering Lowry played the third and second most minutes per game in 2016 and 2017 respectively, these totals are surprising. Granted, caution comes with age and the reduced work load last season netted spring benefits. The point is, don’t assume Lowry will break down based on his career usage.
Lowry is poised to regain more control and this Raptors iteration is the most versatile and defensively adept he’s had in Toronto. All that’s left now for him to do — is grab that gold ball.
*For Lowry’s career Toronto stats, awards and achievements see below.
Raptors career stat line:
Accolades and Awards:
- Five times top nine Offensive Box Plus/Minus. In each of the past five seasons has finished between sixth and ninth
- Three time top 10 Box Plus/Minus, 2013-14 (7th), 2015-16 (7th), 2017-18 (9th)
- Three times top 10 in 3-point field goals made: 2013-14 (8th), 2015-16 (5th), 2017-18 (3rd)
- Two time top 10 total assists (2013-14/2017-18)
- Four time top 10 assists per game, 2013-14 (7.4), 2014-15 (6.8), 2016-17 (7.0), 2017-18 (6.9)
- Three time top 10 VORP, 2013-14 (5.7 – 6th), 2015-16 (6.3 – 6th), 2017-18 (5.0 – 8th)
- Four time All-Star, one as a starter
- Five time Player of the Week honors (one with Rockets)
- Two time Player of the Month
- 2015-16, All-NBA
- Gold medalist with Team U.S.A.