Toronto’s Best Player Is Facing The Biggest Step Of His Career

By: 11.28.12

Kyle Lowry

To start this season, Lowry shot 24-for-44 from the field to go along with his incredible defense, passing and rebounding. It looked like he was finally ready for the monster season that would see him elected to his first All-Star team while garnering the ensuing praise that always follows. Except, since he’s gotten back from the ankle sprain, he’s gone 26-for-72 from the field while stumbling to mesh with his new Raptors teammates. There’s also yet another guard looking to steal some playing time from the unlucky Lowry.

The Raptors already had a pretty decent point guard, if not a really capable backup, before they lucked into Lowry this offseason. Jose Calderon is a member of the elusive and exclusive (sorry to get all Clyde on you) 50/90/40 club (over 50 percent from the field, 90 from the free throw line, and 40 percent from deep), which he achieved during the 2007-08 season. Currently, Calderon is still getting over 30 minutes a night either backing up Lowry, or playing beside him as an off guard. So not only does Lowry have to find his groove with his still new Raptors teammates, but he again has to contend with a more-than-capable backup that could rob him of much needed floor time. The anger Lowry sometimes lets peek out on his face might be a result of his tumultuous six years in the league, but it might also be what separates him from the rest of the pack.

Watching Kyle Lowry is a study in giving a crap. When he man-marks his opponent, there are very few guards that can handle his hard-nosed and borderline – late ’90s – hand-checking defense. He’s a whiz at picking opposing guard’s pockets (he’s currently fourth among point guards in steals, per Hoopdata), and his 6-0 frame is packed with 200 pounds of muscle, so you’re not gonna take him into the post and back through him. He shoots efficiently both at the rim and from long range (per Hoopdata), and he sinks his free throws. Through the first month of the season, he has the highest alternate PER (alternate includes actual assisted and unassisted field goals combined with Hollinger’s complicated PER metric) of any point guard in the league, even the highly-efficient Chris Paul.

Last night, as Lowry’s former team in Houston was stomping his current team into the ground, the camera panned to Lowry on the Toronto bench late in the game. It appeared for a split second like steam was emanating from Lowry’s bald dome, as if what he was witnessing had caused his head to spontaneously combust. His face was somewhat lax, with his tongue lolling out a bit, but his intensity was ever-present in eyes that never blinked as they took in the blowout. Earlier in the game, when his replacement in Houston, Jeremy Lin, stripped him of the ball from behind and it led to another Houston dunk at the other end, Lowry’s disgust with his own play was palpable. As the seconds ticked down to another Toronto loss, the fifth loss in a row since Lowry’s return from injury, Lowry looked like he wanted to deck a guy. While that might be the fuel that provides him an extra oomph of effort, we’d like to see him happy for a change.

Kyle Lowry has managed to channel his perceived anger into some of the most impressive advanced point guard stats in recent history. If he stays injury free for the remainder of this season, and doesn’t lose any significant minutes to Calderon, that disgust and anger that could’ve been roiling around inside him for the last few years could be just the thing to take him into the upper echelons of the point guard position in the NBA. Or it could be the very thing that leads to another disappointing season. We’re betting on the former, if only because we think if Kyle Lowry can catch a break, all NBA fans of hard-nosed basketball will be better off because of it. Kyle Lowry plays angry, and that’s not such a bad thing. Still, we’d like to see him smile on occasion too.

How good is Kyle Lowry? Is he elite?

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