Much like a quarterback in football, a point guard in basketball is a very critical component of a successful team. A good point guard should be unselfish, smart, and most importantly, a great leader. Toronto Raptors’ star Kyle Lowry, after many seasons of mediocrity, has finally established himself as an elite point guard and great team leader in the NBA. The Raptors are Lowry’s team, and they can make all of the moves they want but ultimately, Toronto needs their All-Star to be at his best if they want to make it where they want to go.
Last season as a whole was a success for Lowry, resulting in his first ever All-Star appearance. Lowry was voted in as a starter, much to the credit of the fans in Toronto and Canada. However, the 6’0” guard did not quite have a perfect season.
Lowry started the 2014-2015 campaign on fire. From the beginning of the regular season through December, Lowry was averaging 20.6 points and 7.7 assists per game. He was playing his best basketball during this time frame, and his performance came along with a 24-8 record for the team. As soon as 2015 rolled around, Lowry’s production dropped dramatically. In the months of January through April, Lowry averaged just 15.3 points and 6.0 assists per game. The 29-year-old’s struggles may have been related to fatigue and injury but in the NBA there is no room for excuses. Lowry’s poor performance in 2015 resulted in a 25-25 finish to the Raptors’ season. Lowry’s play last year evidently dictated the Raptors’ performance as a team.
Efficiency was critical to Lowry’s game in 2014-15. During the 70 games he played last season, Lowry averaged 14.0 field goal attempts per game in wins and 16.4 field goal attempts in losses. Lowry averaged more points in wins (18.0) than in losses (17.5) despite putting up 2.4 fewer shots on average. His shooting percentages in all categories were significantly higher in wins as well.
In losses, the veteran point guard’s field goal percentage was seven percent lower than in wins, his three-point percentage was eight percent lower, and even his free-throw percentage was 13 percent lower. Lowry was much stronger moving the ball and involving teammates in wins as well. In the 43 victories Lowry took part in, he averaged 7.3 assists while averaging just 5.9 assists in 27 losses. It is clear that when Lowry is distributing the ball well and is not forcing any shots, he leads his team much more effectively, and it translates to wins.
Lowry’s worst struggles came in the playoffs and, no coincidence, Toronto got swept. The first time All-Star was very inefficient in the playoffs, posting averages of 12.2 points on 32 percent shooting and 22 percent on three-pointers, as well as just 4.8 assists. These are not the kind of numbers that a playoff team needs from their best player and leader. Lowry needs to be better if he wants to lead his team past the first round and deeper into the playoffs.
The Raptors were an inefficient offensive team as a whole last year with players like Lou Williams, Greivis Vasquez, DeMar DeRozan, and Lowry. The Raptors played the most isolation sets in the NBA, and these players were known for having poor shot selection, including many threes. Williams and Vasquez will not be returning to Toronto this year, and the Raptors also added players like DeMarre Carroll and Cory Joseph this offseason. These two players are coming out of systems that were known for having exceptional ball movement and being very efficient. The new personnel around Lowry should help him play better team basketball and ultimately improve the team.
Lowry came into training camp this year in fantastic shape. He put in a lot of work this summer and has lost some weight. Lowry’s transformation has made him a much slimmer and quicker player, and it is showing in his game this preseason. So far, Lowry has played incredible. He has taken part in three out of five games, and averaged an incredible 44 points per 36 minutes on 66 percent shooting, including 65 percent from three-point range. In the three games that Lowry played, Toronto won. In the two he did not, they lost. Again, Lowry’s production is directly linked to Toronto’s performance as a team. Yes, it is just preseason and a lot can change, but if Lowry can keep it up through the season and playoffs, the Raptors will find success.
The Raptors have been a competitive team in the Eastern Conference for some time now, and it is time for them to get it done in the post-season. Toronto has the talent to make some post-season noise. It is now just a matter of living up to their potential, and it all starts with Kyle Lowry. It is going to be a huge season in Toronto, and it is crucial that the Raptors get the best out of Lowry, consistently, throughout the course of the first 82 games and further.