Kyle Lowry started the season in a funk, but things have begun to change, and the Toronto Raptors are better off because of it.
After polishing off a 125-116 win over the New Orleans Pelicans, the Toronto Raptors are playing their best basketball of the young campaign. They’ve strung together two-straight victories, with the initial being a 16-point victory over the Houston Rockets. Now, Toronto has gone 4-1 over their last five games after starting the season 5-4. Not so coincidentally, the improvement has come because of Kyle Lowry.
To say that Lowry was slumping would be an understatement. He looked terrible. There was minimal aggression, and he looked much worse because of his inability to put anything in the basket. Over those first nine games, Lowry averaged 11.9 points while shooting 37.6 percent from the floor. Just disgusting. He chalked up his struggles to the new offense Dwane Casey was implementing, a system that relied less on Lowry and worked him away from the ball more. That didn’t work. Having a free-flowing offense is ideal. But not when it alienates your best player.
Last season, the 12th-year man averaged 85.0 touches a night, which is down to 74.1. That’s a significant drop considering only 29.1 are coming while in the frontcourt. Casey, who’s an outstanding coach, seems to have noticed that the team plays better when Lowry is more involved — who knew!? Over the last five games, Lowry’s touches have entered the 80s, sitting at 81.6. The frontcourt touches, 30.0, haven’t increased much, but that’s fine because he’s at least initiating the offense. Earlier in the year, there would be possessions where the Raptors just excluded Lowry entirely. And that’s bizarre.
DeMar DeRozan is still the team’s best scorer, so it’s right for him to get the most shots. Over the last five games, he’s averaging a cool 26.6 points a night while shooting 46.9 percent from the field. (DeRozan’s also made seven threes at a 36.8 percent clip. I’m sure Raptors fans are beyond giddy reading that stat.) Lowry’s right behind him at 19.0 a night. His aggression is slowly starting to come back, and that’s a pleasant sign. Lowry’s gone to the line 23 times, with 21 of them coming in the three most recent contests. He’s missed one free throw. The other big part of Lowry’s game is the three-ball, which he’s not shy about. Of the 60 shots that he’s attempted since Nov. 7, 39 have come from downtown. That’s not a problem because 15 have fallen, but that wasn’t the case to start the season.
It makes sense that Lowry had issues adjusting to the new offense. When someone of his caliber has been the focal point of a team for the last four years, there are going to be growing pains when attempting to wean him off of that. The shortened preseason only added to the discombobulation.
Before the scheduling change, the Raptors’ campaign would’ve been in its infancy still, and we wouldn’t have made a big deal over Lowry’s struggles because they wouldn’t have lasted as long. There was an 18-day stretch where Lowry’s season-high in points was 19. In less than a week, he’s matched that total twice, and he surpassed it Wednesday when he dropped 22.
Both Lowry and the Raptors have tweaked the system to be advantageous to both sides, but another massive change is concerning the pick-and-roll. Last season, according to Synergy, Lowry averaged eight possessions a night as the ball handler and was in the 95th percentile. That’s tremendous. Having those opportunities cultivates chemistry between the two players running the set, and Lowry can learn little things like where his man wants the ball. It’s easier to read the defense when you’re less worried about delivering the pass. This year, however, things are different. Lowry is down to just 4.1 ball handler possessions a night, placing him in the 69th percentile (nice).
Toronto’s rotation is different than last year. That impacts the learning curve. Have you ever tried to study for a class by borrowing a buddy’s textbook? It’s tough. (I never did because I never studied. But it’s still a challenge.) If you don’t have access to the resources, your success rate drops, and that’s what we see with Lowry.
Unfortunately, you can’t break up the Synergy data on the NBA’s website into smaller samples. I don’t have concrete evidence that says Lowry is running more pick-and-rolls over the last five games, but, if he has the ball in his hands, he can do whatever he wants so long as that power doesn’t get abused. Players know where they’re most useful. Point guards have a luxury because they can attack their strengths almost at will because they have the ball. Since Lowry’s a veteran, Dwane Casey should have confidence in him doing what’s best for the team. Not being in a slump falls into that category.
Kyle Lowry’s number to start the season are an eyesore. Thanks to some systematic changes, he’s had a hard time adjusting and hasn’t looked like himself. Over the last five games, however, Lowry’s been more aggressive, more comfortable having a lesser role. I don’t know how long this will last, but we know that Lowry can play at an All-Star level, and the uncharacteristic start seems like it was just a fluke.
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