Raptors Cage

What has gotten into Kyle Lowry?

After what can be modestly described as an eventful offseason, Kyle Lowry seems to have found yet another level.

Whether it’s been scoring, passing or defending, Lowry has provided it all. All of his 21.5 points/game, on a scorching .766 true shooting percentage, have come in the games’ biggest moments. There is no one in the NBA averaging more assists than Lowry’s 10 per game. His +56 plus-minus rating through only four games is indicative of the brand of winning basketball he plays, and it is only barely outdone by Kawhi Leonard’s and Danny Green’s +57 and +60, respectively.

Even if you’re not the type to look at boxscore lines, Kyle Lowry’s presence has been impossible to ignore. He’s been unguardable.

Lowry scored 27 points against Cleveland in the season-opener – only missing two shots and featuring unstoppable plays like this crafty halftime buzzer beater layup. (4:46 mark)

He near-singlehandedly iced the vaunted Boston Celtics in the clutch on Friday night with an incredible sequence. He first forced Celtics wunderkind Jayson Tatum into a charge with a savvy move; then nailed a coldblooded three, and then turned off the lights with a midrange dagger over Tatum – all in just over a minute. (9:06 mark)

The very next night, on a back-to-back against the playoff hopeful Washington Wizards, and without Kawhi Leonard in the lineup, Lowry replicated that same magic.

The Raptors were up five with three minutes to go when he forced another late-game charge – this time on Wizards star Bradley Beal. After that, it took him all of 21 seconds to drill the clutch triple.

Lowry finished that Kawhi-less 117-113 win against the Wizards with 28 points and 12 assists – there was no other player on the court who performed better. But his recent dominance did not end there.

Against Charlotte on Monday, Kyle was like a surgeon performing his thousandth appendectomy. He, along with a rested Kawhi Leonard, made it look so easy – the Hornets never really looked like they had a chance. In just 31 minutes of game-time, his lowest of the young season, he scored 16 points on just nine shots to go with a game-leading 14 dimes. Any time the Hornets tried to fabricate a run to get back into the game, Lowry and Leonard promptly shut them down.

 

You could not have asked for a better start to the season from The Pitbull. He’s playing the game with a fiery attitude; constantly barking out assignments to his teammates.

This all comes after an offseason in which many seemed to question his desire to play in Toronto – he’s had attitude issues in the past, would the trade of his best friend and longtime back-court mate, DeMar DeRozan, bring those issues back?

The speculation that he wouldn’t be motivated to play started to gain steam after his comments at Team USA’s minicamp, where he refused to talk about his relationship with freshly-acquired Kawhi Leonard.

Speculation of Lowry’s malcontent with the Raptors only continued to grow after it was reported by TSN’s Josh Lewenberg that he dodged calls and texts from the team all summer. But at media day, Lowry attempted to clear things up.

“You know how it is, I come to work. You know, no matter what, this is a business, right? And, you know I understand the business. I’ve been traded before, I had a point guard drafted [over me] on draft night, this is a business and I’ve always understood that. So me coming in here, I come to work. I understand [that] moves are made to try to make a team win a championship, and that’s what it is. For me, I have to come in and be in the best shape I can be; the best player I can be; the best individual talent I can be to help my teammates, and to help our team win a championship” – Kyle Lowry

Whatever idea people had of Lowry not being motivated to play has been totally vanquished by his stunning start to the season. And perhaps the most important sign of all – him and Kawhi Leonard seem to be gelling.

Forget about how important the Lowry-Leonard dynamic will be in Leonard’s upcoming contract decision. The on-court chemistry of the two stars will play a major role in how successful the Raptors can be this season.

The early results have been about as inspiring as any mid-August Raptors fan could have hoped for. Lowry has, on multiple occasions, made a concerted effort to get Leonard involved in the offence. And Leonard, somehow looking like one of the best players in the NBA while still looking like he has rust to shake, seems to be developing an appreciation for Lowry’s game.

“My teammates motivated me to keep going, starting with Kyle. He’s doing a great job just letting me be comfortable on the floor and just playing the game” – Kawhi Leonard

The acquisition of someone as talented as Kawhi Leonard has put more eyes on Toronto than ever before, and so far Kyle Lowry has risen to meet them.

Remember, it was just two seasons ago that Lowry averaged 22 points/game on a vicious .623 TS%. He’s been among the most efficient point guards in the NBA for three seasons now, and he’s only continuing to solidify his case as one of the greatest three-point threats in NBA history.

The debate about how the Raptors stack up versus the other top teams in the league has largely centred around Kawhi’s MVP potential. We’ve already seen Kyle’s ceiling, haven’t we? Or is it possible that we’ve been overlooking something?

It has to be said that it’s only been four games. His efficiency is not sustainable, and one or two bad games would be enough to crater his stat-line. He might just be in the midst of a hot stretch. Maybe he’s just fired up to prove all of this summer’s naysayers wrong. But what if the answer for his great play is less convoluted than that? What if this outburst is simply the result of him being dropped into the most favourable situation of his career?

Over the past five years, the Raptors have been starving for more shooters. Now, they’re overflowing with them.

Until now, Lowry, 35th in all-time three-pointers made – and climbing – has never experienced the luxurious spacing that playing with four other three-point threats should yield. If Pascal Siakam can figure out his shot, as he’s clearly been trying to, there will not be a single player in the 10-man rotation that can be left alone at the arc. This should, in theory, open things up and allow Lowry to create opportunities for himself and others with an efficiency that hasn’t been seen from him before.

The best part, though, about all these shooters? Most of them can defend their ass off. And great defence leads to opportunities in transition offence – an area of the game in which Lowry has always thrived.

A youthful 32 years-of-age, Lowry has already defied a lot of odds throughout the course of his now-13 year NBA career. Above-average players who get labelled as locker room cancers early in their careers, as Lowry was, aren’t supposed to suddenly become an all-star as a 28 year-old on their third team. Nor are they expected to then become an Olympian gold medallist for Team USA’s vaunted basketball program. They are especially not expected to become a historically good three-point shooter and the core leader of one of the best teams in the NBA. Those players are supposed to be the ones who fizzle out of the league. But Kyle Lowry has very passionately refused to conform to anyone’s expectations. His will to improve himself has been extremely impressive.

If there exists a perfect scenario in which an aging Lowry can once again improve, it’s this one.

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