It’s a 5-point game with three minutes and some change left in the 4th quarter. The Wizards are surging behind Bradley Beal’s explosive shooting. The wily Pascal Siakam skies over a couple Wizards to get to an offensive rebound. Ball in hand with the Wizards defense pressed in around the paint, he finds Kyle Lowry above the break for three. The shot goes up and caroms off the rim, Siakam tracks it down again. With no shortage of confidence in his point guard, Siakam shovels the ball to Lowry. The ball goes up, and in. This willingness to gun from downtown helped setup Lowry for a slew of layups late in the game to close out the Wizards. A sub six-foot guard, closing out the game at the rim.
In a league that is seemingly clamouring for more and more uber-athletic players, there’s a counter culture of high-iq players that are dominating. Of course athleticism isn’t simply running and jumping, but guys like Joe Ingles, Nikola Jokic, and PJ Tucker are all great. Jokic is the obvious breadwinner of the group, and they all succeed in different ways, but that’s the point. There is so many things happening on a basketball court at any given time, that taking advantage of everything you can, can composite into something great. Lowry dominates in all the smallest areas.
Lowry tore his ACL in college whilst playing in a streetball tournament. His game is notoriously low to the ground, and his only dunk as an NBA player came in the All-Star game. Dunking has never been a pre-requisite for NBA point guards, but most can throw down in a pinch. So how does a player like this shoot so well at the rim?
Shoot the ball, Shoot it well
As Raptors fans we’ve all witnessed what it’s like to see a star player have defenses continuously go under the screen on them. If the player isn’t willing and capable of punishing them from behind the arc, it can stagnate the offense for long stretches. The baskets you start getting are only because of incredible shot-making. There’s been no shortage of that in Raptor-land, but we want better for our team. The Raptors fanbase is very analytics-friendly and no one is saying no to that route. You’ll find large swaths of fans clamouring for more Lowry pull-ups.
Lowry succeeds at the rim the same way an incredible athlete like Victor Oladipo does. Opposing defenses know Lowry is always a threat to pull-up from downtown, this is important. Viable 3-point shooters part the lane like Moses did the Red Sea. Defenses are loathe to give up good shots from 3-point land, and players like Lowry burst into that space. Norman Powell driving is the antithesis of Lowry driving. There’s no changing speeds, he finishes off the same foot every time, and the paint is often crowded.
Watch the feet
Lowry is proficient finishing off his left foot, right foot, and both feet. This is incredibly important for one massive reason. Shot blockers count the steps, and time their jump accordingly. When Lowry is 1-on-1 in the paint with a big man, going up at the same time isn’t an option. Guys like LeBron James and James Harden can go up and throw their weight around in the air, but Lowry is not them.
What you see above is a normal spread pick and roll. Lowry gets the edge and starts making his way into the paint. Seeing as how he’s not an elite aerial attacker, he has to come up with something. Thaddeus Young is waiting for him in the paint. Seeing Young lurking with one foot outside the paint, he sees his opportunity. Lowry gathers his dribble and enters running back mode.
From Young’s position, he has two priorities. He has to eliminate the layup for Lowry; getting close enough to block the shot or create a lob to Bismack Biyombo that is high enough that the help from behind can swat it away.
When Lowry picks up his dribble earlier, he beats Young to the rim for the layup. Had the layup been taken away, Lowry’s change of speed creates a larger surface area for the lob to Biyombo. This is all made possible because of Lowry’s ability to finish off his right foot. If Lowry goes up off his left he likely finds himself smothered. With the right foot finish, he creates an easy layup.
This one’s a bit simpler but it’s just as important. Obviously you see Lowry take off from his right foot. The end of the play is what’s important though. You can see Markieff Morris had entered his approach to swat it at the rim, it just came a step late. He was left skipping under his own basket because Lowry took off a step earlier than Morris had anticipated. Most right-handed players are left-foot dominant, and most defenders adjust for that. Lowry’s footwork allows him to create quality looks for himself where other players can’t.
As any young basketball player knows, the jump-stop is quintessential to navigating the lane. It’s a great way to shift momentum quickly, and Lowry is great at it. It’s extremely useful to throw your defender off balance while maintaining your own. Something Lowry is known to do is using the jump-stop, and immediately using his pivot to create a passing lane that wasn’t previously there. Sneaking pocket passes in to one of Jonas Valanciunas, or Serge Ibaka.
Lastly, for the two-foot finish, when Lowry snakes the pick and roll – one of the tactics that allows DeRozan to be a top tier pick and roll option – or gets the edge on someone (anything in which the defender is behind him.) He uses his booty as the first point of contact against trailing defenders. You can’t imagine how hard it is to jump to contest a shot when Lowry has just slammed his rump into your thighs. Of course the benefits are two-fold because he also creates contact where he might get a foul call as well.
I don’t want to address the left-foot jump, because that’s the first thing most players learn. He’s good at beating defenders to the glass with it though, as he’s a very quick jumper.
The things detailed here are very much the difference between elite finishers and bad ones. Not every player is gifted with the length of Kawhi Leonard, or the fast-twitch explosiveness of Powell. Players like Lowry have to build themselves in a myriad of ways, and Lowry’s built himself into an All-NBA player. You’ll see a lot of early metrics showing him love as an MVP candidate, and it’s in large part because of his brain.
Hope you enjoyed the piece.
Have a blessed day.