Questions of consistency, health and attitude have kept Kyle Lowry from taking the leap from great player to superstar player. He seems to be making the necessary steps this summer to clear up those issues and create a foundation for a special season.
Special. The 29-year-old guard recently said, “I want to be special” when discussing his recent weight loss and his outlook for this upcoming season. An Instagram photo by Kyle O’Quinn revealed the tank of a point guard has lost a significant amount of weight from the 205-pound wrecking ball frame he previously showcased last season.
And last year, Lowry was not able to sustain his All-Star level of play throughout the entire season. With DeMar DeRozan missing a significant amount of time due to a groin injury, Lowry quickly took the reins as the leading scorer and started in the 2015 All-Star Game.
Going into that game, Lowry averaged 18.6 points while shooting 42 percent. After the All-Star Weekend, Lowry only averaged 15.1 points on 37 percent shooting. He seemed to be losing a step as each month passed. By the time Playoff basketball was right around the corner, Lowry was dealing with hamstring, hand, shin and back issues. He missed nine of the final 14 games of the regular season going into the Raptors’ playoff matchup with the Washington Wizards.
That’s when all of Lowry’s grit, edge and firepower disappeared completely. Before the 125-94 Game 4 blowout in which a lot of inconsequential scoring took place that allowed Lowry to finish with 21 points on 53.3 percent shooting, the Raptors point guard averaged 9.3 points while shooting 23.8 percent from the field and 18.8 percent on three-pointers. Ouch. Lowry knows if the Raptors are going to get out of the first round, he has to be able to sustain his All-Star level of play throughout the entire season and into the postseason. (Hey, at least no Paul Pierce in the first round, right?)
Raptors fans obviously won’t know until April and May if this will happen, but Lowry and the Raptors seem to be making the correct changes to get him there. Not only has he shed the weight, his attitude is more positive and focused than it has been in the past. And for the depth behind him, Cory Joseph should certainly be considered an upgrade from Greivis Vasquez. As great as Vasquez was in his role as an efficient deep threat, Joseph proved in San Antonio he can not only change the pace but also fill in as a starter when necessary. If Lowry needs to take a game off here and there in order to last 82-plus games, he should have the luxury to take that break.
Another new addition that will help ease the load for Lowry and the entire backcourt is DeMarre Carroll. Beyond his offense that started to flourish right in the midst of the Hawks’ playoff run, Carroll showed he can be a strong 3-and-D presence for an entire season. Carroll will be able to take on some of the more explosive swingmen and bigger guards, allowing DeRozan and consequently Lowry to avoid exuding too much effort on that side of the court.
Speaking of defense, that is one question that comes to mind in terms of his weight loss. The 6-0 Lowry has used his bulkier frame up to this point in his career to act as an anchor to bigger guards and hold his ground against them. Tying that in with his scrappiness led to a good defensive player. Without this bigger frame, will he take a step back in handling bigger guards?
With the Boston Celtics and New York Knicks as the Raptors’ current competition in the Atlantic Division, it is safe to say Toronto has a decent chance of winning the division yet again. (Last year the Raptors easily won it by nine games.)
But with division winners no longer having a leg up in Playoff seeding due to new adopted rules, the Raptors will need to continue to improve upon their back-to-back franchise-record seasons in terms of wins. And as important as DeRozan, head coach Dwane Casey and all the newcomers are, this season’s level of success starts and finishes with Kyle Lowry.
If the Philadelphia native can in fact finish how he starts, the Raptors might just conquer that elusive first-round Playoff series.
|SLAM Top 50 Players 2015|
Rankings are based on expected contribution in 2015-16—to players’ team, the NBA and the game.