Toronto Raptor Kyle Lowry Home in TO

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Kyle Lowry has found a home with the Toronto Raptors of the NBA
Kyle Lowry has found a home with the Toronto Raptors of the NBA
Kyle Lowry has found a home with the Toronto Raptors of the NBA
Kyle Lowry has found a home with the Toronto Raptors of the NBA

Raptor’s Point Guard Achieving More than Most Thought

TORONTO – SPORTS – One of the most glaring omissions of the NBA All-Star Game this season was Toronto Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry.

In a way it was almost fitting, Lowry, like his team, was given little chance of having much success this season. Lowry, like the Raptors, doesn’t get his due despite achieving more than ever before in his career.

As much as DeMar DeRozan is the most gifted offensive threat on the Raptors, but no other player personifies the way this team has over-achieved this season quite like Kyle Lowry.

Before being acquired by the team shortly before the 2012-13 season, Lowry had been written off as a guy with “attitude problems” during his stints in Memphis (2006-2008) and Houston (2008-2012).  In fact, the Rockets went so far as to acquire Goran Dragic in 2011 to take minutes away from Lowry who has increasingly seen as a “distraction” to the team.

His mercurial interviews often critical of the teams he played with and his famous public arguments with Rockets coach Kevin McHale over playing time contributed to those perceptions of Lowry.  The fact that Houston let the young point guard go after he set a career high for PPG, almost equalled his career mark of APG and made more of an effort to defend than he had in the past spoke volumes about how much weight the perception of Lowry having a “bad attitude” carried in Houston.

He then found himself traded to Toronto after Steve Nash, whom the Raptors had been pursuing for the entire off-season, opted to head to Los Angeles to play with the Lakers.  If being a consolation prize wasn’t bad enough, Lowry went from one point guard controversy with Dragic, to another with Jose Calderon in Toronto. Soon the old “attitude problem” and “distraction” comments began to pop up in the Toronto media and Lowry was quietly shopped before it was Calderon who was ultimately dealt in the deal that brought Rudy Gay to the Raptors.

To say that Kyle Lowry’s first season in Toronto didn’t go well would be an understatement. Beyond the controversy with Calderon, the team as a whole put on a listless, lifeless performance on the court and limped to a 34-48 record, last in the Atlantic Division and 10th in the Eastern Conference.

Coming into the 2013-14 season, expectations weren’t much better for the Raptors. New general manager Masai Ujiri unloaded underachieving former number one pick Andrea Bargnani to the New York Knicks and popular thinking was that the Raptors would unload other veterans and look to build for the future around Terrence Ross, Jonas Valanciunas and whatever draft pick the team managed to land in the talent-laden 2014 draft class.

That looked to be the narrative after the Raptors traded high priced veteran wing, Rudy Gay to the Sacramento Kings last December. The popular thinking was that Lowry would be the next player to be dealt, and he nearly was to the New York Knicks in a deal that fell through, but then a funny thing happened.

The Raptors started winning. A lot. Enough to give them the third best team in the Eastern Conference.

The loss of Rudy Gay meant that the possessions that he was eating up with a low shooting percentage and poor shot selection were now going to Lowry, DeRozan and Terrance Ross on the wing.  The result was more scoring and efficient shooting.  Additionally, without a gunner like Gay in the rotation, the Raptors were free to starting moving the ball. In so doing, their once stagnant offence became one of the most dynamic in the Eastern Conference and it all ran through their point guard.

The trade also brought the Raptors one of the deeper benches in the East adding Patrick Patterson, Greivis Vasquez, John Salmons and Chuck Hayes in exchange for Rudy Gay plus Quincy Acy and Aaron Gray. In addition to a revamped offence, the Raptors suddenly enjoyed one of the deeper benches in the East.

The undisputed leader of this turnaround has been Kyle Lowry. Beyond handling the ball and distributing as a point guard, Lowry has been enjoying the best offensive season of his career. He’s averaging just under 17 points a game, nearly 8 assists per game, while shooting 38% from three point range and 42% from the field.

Lowry has also been playing the best defence of his career. Constantly hustling back to defend his position as well as contesting shots on the perimeter and being a physical presence on the floor for the Raptors. He’s been nothing short of a warrior for the team on D and has brought the fans at the ACC to its feet many times coming up with a big steal during crunch time. Lowry has a career best 94 steals on the season and many of them have come at key moments for the Raptors.

The attributes Kyle Lowry possesses that were once labelled as “a bad attitude” have instead been revealed to be a passion for the game and intensity when playing it. He wears his heart on his sleeve on the floor whether its trash talking opponents or arguing calls with officials, but he backs up that talk by putting his body on the line. The one image many fans will take away from last week’s triple overtime game against the rival Washington Wizards was Kyle Lowry limping on a tweaked ankle into the final overtime with a look of equal parts pain and determination on his face.

Kyle Lowry isn’t just a leader for this team, but the best kind of leader in sports. One who leads by example.

As the     Raptors are enjoying one of the best seasons of the team’s nearly 20 year existence, a question looms over the team. This is the final season of Lowry’s contract.  The Raptors have finally established a winning culture in the locker room and on the court, it will become imperative to keep one of the key pieces of the team in Toronto.

Kyle Lowry has finally found a place he belongs in the NBA.

 

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Josh Kolic is a sportswriter who lives in Toronto. When he's not at the Air Canada Centre catching the Raptors or at the Rogers Centre watching the Toronto Blue Jays, you can usually find him at home following his beloved Habs or Lakers.