Toronto is 1-4 without point guard Kyle Lowry this season after he injured his ankle Nov. 6 against Oklahoma City, and now the Raptors (2-6) have to deal with his absence for another 1-2 weeks. The team announced the wait-and-see approach to his bone bruise today while handing the reins to Jose Calderon, a capable backup who even had a triple-double in his last game. Even that, though, doesn’t account for the void Lowry leaves in the short term as one of the most eye-opening point guards in this young NBA season.
Lowry is averaging a league-best 33.82 PER, according to Hoopdata, far and away better than Chris Paul‘s second-best 28.0 and the best guard rating since 1992 among non-outliers. No small part of that is Lowry’s 55 percent shooting, made all the more impressive because two-thirds of his 18.3 points per game this season have come off jump shots. Personally, I take true-shooting percentages and efficient shooting rates to be complementary statistics, not the Holy Grail, but there’s no reason to see why his 70 percent TS overall and 65 percent eFG on jump shots are anything but jaw-dropping. Only Ray Allen and yes, former “Ason” Jason Kidd join Lowry as above 70 percent in true shooting this season. Lowry is the absolute No. 1 eye-opening guard this season, which is a testament to how well he’s played when you consider he has been a known commodity and fantasy wonder in past seasons. As his shooting has gotten better, his status as the best rebounding point guard in the NBA has not changed â€” he’s grabbing more than 19 percent of available defensive rebounds this season when he plays. Improve the good and minimize the bad has been not just Lowry’s plan, but reality.
Feel free to start the “small sample size” chant at any time, because these are based off solely what we have seen. I’ve tried to rank these with consideration to keep them out of what might be seen as an anomaly, but some might look that way. They’ve been eye-opening for a reason. The next four surprising guards are …
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2. JASON KIDD, KNICKS
Kidd’s phenomenal shooting was mentioned earlier, and if that’s surprising for the player not known for his jumper, here’s something will surprise you that shouldn’t â€” Kidd’s handle is the league’s most secure. Kidd is turning the ball over just 4.5 times per 100 possessions. In the Mavericks’ title season of 2011, that number was 22.13. You read that correctly: One of the league’s best ball-handlers has become even more sure-handed en route to a 24.86 PER â€” All-Stars hold around a 20 for a full season. When he is on the floor the Knicks net 38 points more every 48 minutes than when he isn’t, a figure you could easily say comes from his 50 percent three-point shooting and 57-percent shooting from the floor, averages insanely high over his career averages of 40 percent shooting from the field and 35 percent from three. Are these anomalies? They absolutely could be but, given he’s never been used less in an offense in his career (just a 10 percent usage rate, nearly half his average), I believe Kidd will continue to take good shots that come off ball rotations when focal points Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler and J.R. Smith are stuck. I don’t trust his jumper to stay molten hot, but I do trust that putting him in the best positions gives him the best chance. As of this writing, Kidd has only attempted one field goal that hasn’t either been a three or attempted inside nine feet.
3. KEMBA WALKER, BOBCATS
Despite playing on an almost incalculably bad Bobcats team his rookie season, Walker played surprisingly well â€” 16.1 points, almost six assists and five rebounds per game with only 12 turnovers per 100 possessions. This season, however, his bump in production has mirrored Charlotte’s own 4-3 record. The payoff: A PER of 22.41, a number better than Deron Williams, Rajon Rondo, Tony Parker and Russell Westbrook so far. With anyone in a Bobcats uniform so far is the biggest caveat there is. Long is the season and many are the opportunities for this team’s weaknesses to surface and then break under the pressure of the more than 70 games to play. Walker is no exception, either. However, one reason to believe in Walker includes his improved ball security, turning the ball over just 9 possessions per 100, the third-lowest turnover rate of all NBA guards averaging 20 minutes per game this season.
4. DARREN COLLISON, MAVERICKS
That the Mavericks’ offense has been a surprise this season has been noted before at Dime by Sean Sweeney. The ringleader is one-year rental Collison. Collison has accumulated an 18.26 PER, the best of his career and far above his 13.6 last season, with the help of only turning the ball over 10.2 times per 100 possessions, a figure that ranks him among the best of point guards and slashes six turnovers per 100 from last season. More possessions means more opportunities, especially for a Rick Carlisle-coached offense that’s fifth-best in the league. He’s responsible for a good chunk of that offense’s efficiency, of course, in that he’s attempting more shots than ever at the rim and making them at a 68 percent clip, a career high. He was so dangerous at UCLA because his speed allowed him to run into areas that other point guards couldn’t. Some of that is returning this season as his turnovers drop.
5. CHRIS PAUL, CLIPPERS
Paul is a giant of the game not limited to his position, which can be distilled, at least to me, thusly: a player from whom greatness is expected still delivers plays and abilities that can surprise and stupify. With Paul you know he will be one of the best set-up men in the NBA, but did you know he has an assist on 39 percent of his possessions, second-best among point guards (second to Rajon Rondo, who, like Paul, should be on every point guard list possible) and that he’s assisting on more field goals than ever at a quarter of L.A.’s buckets? You know he’s been one of the best ball-handlers, but did you know he’s turning the ball over eight times per 100 possessions, a career low? That he’s doing much of this despite not having the ball in his hand that often, at just 20th in usage among point guards? Many of these sentiments aren’t surprises and as I wrote before, Rondo could easily be here, as well despite a PER that’s eight points lower. Both are, after all, elite guards. The difference has been the Clippers’ performances in big games â€” convincing wins against the Lakers and Heat â€” that all can be traced back to Paul. Just ask his coach.
So, what do the Clippers call their offense? Does it have a name?
“Yeah, Chris Paul,” Del Negro said, referring to his All-Star point guard. “All these names and all that stuff – you just put the ball in the best player’s hands. I’m sure the ball is going to be in LeBron’s hands. –
“You just try to get the guys to buy into what you’re trying to do.”
What do you think?
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