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The Far Too Early HOF Pitch – Kyle Lowry

When the Iron Age kicked off and people started riding horses instead of just using them to pull things it was pretty obvious that, that was the way to travel. When the Mesopotamians invented the wheel (albeit for pottery related things) it was no doubt a huge step for civilization. When LeBron James and Michael Jordan dominated basketball it was pretty clear how big it was for the game, and by proxy, necessitated their inclusion in the Hall of Fame. All these things are undeniable. Kyle Lowry’s Hall of Fame case can be denied, and not in even in a way where people should throw their hands in the air. However, with the right pitch, the case can certainly be made for his inclusion.

The first thing to get out of the way is that the HOF isn’t reserved exclusively for players who win MVPs or can throw their name in the ‘GOAT’ conversation. The HOF recognizes unique inductees, winners, and people who left a mark on where they played. Walt Frazier – who has moved on from a HOF basketball player to a HOF broadcaster – is a great blueprint for Lowry’s candidacy. He was never the league’s top scorer, but he was recognized as one of the great players in the league, and that translated to winning with the Knicks, as it did for Lowry and the Raptors. Lowry will never have the resume of Chris Paul (top-5 PG all time) or Russell Westbrook (former MVP), but he has one thing that neither has, and that’s a ring. I’ve never been a “rings or bust” guy, I love great regular season players and teams, but championships speak volumes when you’re talking about the HOF. Lowry is an NBA Champion and an Olympic Champion.

The hall also rewards game-changers, players or teams that leave an indelible mark on history. Lowry’s larger-than-life basketball brain has been at the helm of the Raptors longest sustained success, and his quirks and disposition have leaked into the franchise in meaningful ways. He’s cemented himself (in my opinion) as the greatest Raptor of all time, and his legacy with not only the Raptors, but the country of Canada will continue to grow. There’s a recognizable wave of basketball talent growing outside of America. Even though Kawhi Leonard is considered the team’s best player from the championship run, Lowry’s place as Captain and emotional leader can never be questioned. He’ll forever be a talking point when discussing basketball in Canada.

It’s important for his candidacy that his forward-thinking game doesn’t get lost in the shuffle. Lowry, similar to Steph Curry, was an early advocate of the deep pull-up. He’s been one of the league’s best decision makers in the spread pick ‘n roll (the most important play in the league) and his shot selection is more conscientious than the majority of his peers. In a league that has fallen in love with the three pointer, Lowry has ranked both 3rd (17-18) and 5th (15-16) in threes made over a season. He’s specialized in the shots that have come to define the league in the past ten years, and he was ahead of the curve.

A drag screen for a deep ‘PU3IT’ in clutch time. In 2012.

Being dominant is a benchmark that most players have to meet to get into the hall, and that’s why it’s worth mentioning that in his time with the Raptors, Lowry has been for the most part, a top-15 player in the league. His peak (2015-16) had him hovering between 5-8, and his valleys put him somewhere between 15-20. He’s damn good. Watching him this year gave you a taste of how good he was at manipulating defenses with minimal effort, but in 2015-16 he was a terror attacking the rim and getting to the line. He put pressure on defenses like few others league-wide.

He gets to the rim like he’s shot out of a cannon. An elite mix of explosion, finesse, and guile. 

Perhaps the thing most fans and pundits want from HOF level players is an “on” switch. Something they can activate to elevate their game to another level. Lowry has long been clowned on for his perceived lack of productivity in the playoffs. I say perceived because Lowry, like many other players, doesn’t put up better numbers in the playoffs than the regular season. There’s a very short list of players who can do that, but Lowry joins them in another way; the Raptors rely on his presence a great deal more in the playoffs than in the regular season.

It has long been the case that the Raptors lose playoff games when Lowry is off the floor. There’s a bunch of numbers and film you can watch to validate that stance, and I think it bears out. There have been excellent articles written by people far more clever than myself, who have articulated this point wonderfully. Basketball has always been bigger than putting up gaudy scoring numbers and there’s been a lot of players who have won championships and created long careers by paying attention to the nuances of winning basketball and executing them. Not many of those players have the high-water mark that Lowry has, though.

So for the people who wanted Lowry to command a defense as a 6-foot guard, to set backdoor screens on offense for diving big men, collect an exorbitant amount of loose balls, create the easiest of looks for his teammates, and score in volume in the biggest of games, you got your wish. After Lowry spent most of this past regular season allergic to the basket and a little bit gun-shy from deep, albeit while running a gorgeous offense and looking every bit the part of a floor general; Lowry turned the clock back in the close out game of the Finals. He did what great players do, and he elevated his game.

The aforementioned trepidation Lowry had in his game had washed away. There was no more reason to protect his aging body, or his sprained thumb. He took Kevon Looney to the bucket, he hit three triples – the first on a beautiful relocation after Nash-ing the pick n’ roll, the second came while fading out of bounds over the outstretched arms of Andre Iguodala, and the third after snatching back a nasty cross on Curry and burying one in his eye – and he scored the first 11 points for the Raptors as they marched to their first NBA championship. He finished with 26, 10, and 7. He put to rest any argument against his playoff acumen.

Lowry’s candidacy will ultimately rest on how the public opinion on advanced stats and analytics progresses and evolves going forward. As of right now, there’s a bit of a disdain for it coming from the old guard. He’s routinely recognized as top-10 player (sometimes top-5!) in the league by those metrics. He has the championship, he has the gold medal, he helped set a trend and dominated within it, he has gaudy numbers, and he has huge performances.

Peugeot, the company that makes cars, may not be referred to as often as the creation of the wheel. But the legal fiction that is Peugeot, the ‘limited liability company’ that it operates as, and was created as, had massive implications for how businesses would operate going forward in the ever-changing economy. Lowry has tediously chosen the parts of his game that he wants to represent himself going forward, and they’ve all been terrific barometers for where the NBA is headed. He won’t ever be referred back to like the wheel, or LeBron James, but he has a place in the NBA’s history the same way Peugeot has in our human history. ‘KLOE’ has done everything in his power to elevate himself to HOF status, and when the time comes, I hope he’s recognized as the player he’s always been.

Have a blessed day.

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