As university students slowly receive their final marks for their classes, we here at The Raptors Insider decided to grade the players of the Toronto Raptors.
From May 18th to June 3rd we’ll be releasing a report card for a Raptors player, giving our opinion on their individual performance.
I was never a fan of getting my report card, in fact I actually dreaded it.
But now I’m the one doing the grading! That’ll show my high school teachers!
Nevertheless, for our inaugural Raptors Insider report card, who better to start with than Kyle Lowry.
Like the Raptors season as a whole, it was a weird year for the Greatest Raptor of All-Time. He saw his six-year All-Star streak snapped and played in only 46 of the Raptors’ 72 games.
But does that mean Mr. Lowry had a down season? Does this mean the 35-year-old is beginning to decline? Is this the demise of North Philly’s Finest?
Yeah, Lowry isn’t falling off at this end.
Despite missing the All-Star Game, Lowry had one of his best offensive seasons in his 15th year. Factoring in the departed Norman Powell, Lowry was the team’s third-leading scorer and led the team in assists once again.
I could end that here and it would probably be enough justification for his high grade, but Lowry deserves more, he deserves more recognition for his greatness.
Old man Lowry was as efficient as ever in year 15.
His 54.6 percent effective field goal percentage was the third-highest in his career.
His 59.3 percent true shooting percentage was the third-highest.
Even if we want to keep it simple, it was his second-highest field goal percentage (43.6), third-highest three-point percentage (39.6), and for good measure, his second-highest free throw percentage (87.5).
He can still get it done at a very high level, and the Raptors benefitted from it as usual. They were plus-2.3 points per 100 possessions better offensively when Lowry was on the floor.
What stood out to me most, however, was that his finishing at the rim was still as good (if not better!) than ever before.
Although Lowry got to the rim at the lowest rate of his career (21 percent, per Cleaning the Glass), he finished at the highest rate in his career (64 percent).
Some of this can be attributed to the spacing that he had around him, giving him easier paths to the rim. The spacing in lineups with Lowry were near the 78th percentile, per BBall Index. That’s the fourth-highest on the Raptors of anyone who played 1,000 or more minutes.
Lowry was still a force getting to the rim in transition — the Raptors have a fantastic transition offence, after all — but I liked how they used Lowry off-ball early in the season.
Having Lowry come off of a double screen forced the Spurs to quickly navigate who switches on to Lowry. It certainly wasn’t going to be LaMarcus Aldridge. I think Keldon Johnson actually does a good job to close out and take away the three from Lowry, too.
But with Aldridge (who is already a poor rim protector) being the only big on the floor and dragged out to defend Boucher, it opens a lot of driving room for Lowry. He also went around best friend DeMar DeRozan, so that’s nice.
There’s also still absolutely zero fear from Lowry attacking the rim.
I think my one criticism of Lowry would be that I wish he was a bit more aggressive at times to find his shot. He’s a very good rim finisher for his size and he is very good at drawing contact to sell fouls (also known as grifting). For a team that can struggle with their half court offence, Lowry is a guy who can find ways to get his shot consistently.
He’s going against one of the best teams at defending the rim and simply does not care.
Obviously that just isn’t who Lowry is, but he has those games ever so often (his final game this season against the Lakers being the primary example) that remind you what he can do when he decides he’s scoring that night.
I won’t go too much into his shooting but I want more Lowry/Siakam two-man game, please.
This is how you know I’m not biased, right? Two clips against the Milwaukee Bucks!
I’ll start with this: I think Lowry is still the best passer/playmaker/facilitator. Whatever word you want to use, I think he’s still the best at it on the Raptors.
However, I think he is giving up some of those playmaking reins to VanVleet and Siakam.
Lowry still had a very high assist rate and I don’t think he’s taken a step back by any means, but seeing the development from the rest of the core (especially Siakam) in this area, eases the burden on Lowry a little bit more.
The man still knows how to ping the ball around the court and find his teammates for good looks. It’s why I have a hard time complaining that he doesn’t look for his own shot more often because he’s so good at creating for others.
This may shock you, but Lowry has some pretty good chemistry with the core of this team he’s played with for multiple years.
Obviously Lowry and Siakam (or VanVleet, or OG Anunoby, or Norman Powell) have a good rapport, they’ve been doing this for at least three years as high-level teammates.
What was more impressive was the instant
Khemistry chemistry he found with Khem Birch, especially in pick-and-roll.
Lobs are usually plays that take a bit of time to find chemistry on, but Lowry and Birch had multiple of them pretty early on in their on-court relationship. Then there are plays like this.
Birch being able to recognize that Lowry is caught, won’t get a great shot off and then giving him an outlet to dump the ball off is a small thing but it’s also the difference between what ended up as a made basket or a turnover.
All in all, Lowry hasn’t lost a step at all on offence and if (when) he’s back next season, you can expect that to continue. Sure his turnover rate is up the last three years but he more than makes up for it.
Oh, one thing. The rate at which he draws shooting fouls dropped from 13.4 percent last year to only 9.5 percent this year. Get back on that grifting grind, Kyle. It’s what I love most about your game.
Alright, everyone come in real close. I have a secret to tell you.
No, no, closer than that.
Kyle Lowry has lost a step defensively.
Before you all come for my throat, I’m not saying Lowry has become an outright bad defender or even a below-average defender.
And as it was pointed out to me, Lowry could also have not been trying as hard defensively because of just how “in-the-tank” the season was at a certain point.
However, he’s not as good as he was before and that’s fine!
An example: Lowry is traditionally a very solid post up defender for a guard. Last year he only allowed an absurd 0.56 points per possession on post ups. This year it went up to 1.07. He’s been under 0.95 PPP the last five years.
Lowry also saw significant decline in defending spot ups as well as players coming off screens.
The Raptors were also plus-1.4 points per 100 possessions better with Lowry off the floor defensively, per Cleaning the Glass.
That’s all to say, there were still positives in Lowry’s defensive profile.
His numbers defending pick-and-roll ball handlers and players coming off handoffs also remain about the same.
No one should be panicking or thinking this is Kyle Lowry slander. He’s 35 years old and he’s not going to be able to compete at the level he did even two or three years ago. He’s still an above average defender and is by no means a liability.
Lowry was also victimized a few times on possessions like this where the close out is good, but his man just makes the shot.
He also doesn’t need to be the best defender on the team. He is surrounded by three annual All-Defence candidates in VanVleet, Siakam, and Anunoby. That allows him to guard some of the other teams lesser offensive options and focus more on his offence.
This is also all with the caveat that it could entirely be him not taking the Tampa season seriously by the end and wanting to get the heck out of there.
Oh, I almost forgot the most important aspect of his defence: taking charges!
Lowry was, once again, top three in charges drawn per game this year. CONSISTENCY!
OFF COURT: A+
You aren’t going to find better mentors and leaders than Kyle Lowry.
I don’t even have to write anything, I could just show you this.
The entire argument around keeping Lowry at the deadline and now as he enters free agency is his leadership and mentor ability.
Ok and that he’s still very, very good.
But a lot of it is that he’s a great mentor for the younger players like Malachi Flynn and Jalen Harris.
By all accounts he’s a fantastic teammate and it shows on-and-off the floor.
Despite numerous trade rumours and it being the last year of his contract, Lowry was Lowry. He didn’t let that bother him or let it effect the team. He was the same guy from beginning to end.
And who can forget when he was lobbied to be a player-coach as the Raptors coaching staff missed their first game with COVID-related issues.
Even the new guys noticed it! When Birch was asked about Lowry’s leadership, he was very complimentary.
“I’ve never seen anything like it. Probably Vassilis Spanoulis in Greece is the last time I’ve seen a guy like this. But he’s just a great guy, and unselfish and he’s like the heart and soul of this team. You know, it’s just funny, I’m playing with Kyle Lowry I never thought in my life I’d actually play with a guy like that. So it was a very good experience. And he’s kind of someone I look up to and hopefully in the future I can be the same type of player in terms of personality and that kind of character.”
You can’t give someone like that anything other than an A-plus, especially in a year like the Raptors had where his leadership was as valuable as ever.
It’s funny when I hear people say that what Kyle Lowry does can’t be quantified by stats.
Because it’s both true and false at the same time.
He’s an analytics darling, the numbers love Kyle Lowry. But he also brings things to the table that numbers don’t show.
That part of him was on full display this year. You could see his leadership and mentorship abilities every game and even in media availabilities, he’s become more open.
And then on the floor, he’s still the same Lowry he’s always been for the most part. Sure he’s getting a littler older but he’s aging like a fine wine. Still a force on offence and his defence remains solid.
His future may be uncertain (I’d be surprised if he wasn’t a Toronto Raptor next year, for what it’s worth), but if this is Lowry’s last season with the organization, it was a vintage year from the GROAT.