2013-14 Team: Toronto Raptors
Previous Teams: Houston Rockets, Memphis Grizzlies
Key Stats 2013-14: 17.9 points, 4.7 rebounds, 7.4 assists,1.5 steals, 42.3% FG, 38.0% 3FG, 81.3% FT on 4.9 attempts/game
Estimated contract: 4 years, $48-52 million
Matters to No One But Me …
Kyle Lowry is the reason sports cliches exist. The undersized city kid with an awkward build, who bounces around ungratefully with a metaphoric “chip on his shoulder” until something “clicks” and his undeniable talent finally intersects with team success. Lowry’s “chip” was his own stubbornness and the “clicking” was a season’s worth of verbal massaging and challenges from head coach Dwane Casey and general manager Masai Ujiri in Toronto. It’s a true Hollywood script with an unwritten ending that will play out in July as Lowry hits the open market as one of the most attractive unrestricted free agents this summer.
There’s a jagged rhythm to Lowry’s game that was seen nationally (well, NBA TV) for the first time in Game 5 of Toronto’s first round series with the Brooklyn Nets. Lowry had 36 points and six assists including five straight points after the game was tied 106-106 with 1:04 to play. Lowry “willed his team to victory” with obsessive attention to details that became habit over the course of a season. Details like lunging backwards on every layup attempt to create space and draw a foul, never missing a two-for-one opportunity to end a quarter, rushing referees to approve the inbounds pass in hopes of catching the defense in transition, drawing charges and taking opportune pull-up threes. Lowry’s game is jagged because it’s improvised and not dogmatic. Its rhythm is sustained by relentless effort and its beauty is in its effectiveness, not style.
Lowry was the best player on a superb defensive team that won 48 games this season. He was the voice, spiritual leader and captain of the Raptors by every measurable and immeasurable metric. He’s the soldier on the frontlines who also doubles as the infantry Chaplain. Maybe this is all cliche but maybe it’s a rare example of cliches being undeniably true.
Fits with the Pistons because …
It took tough love from Ujiri, Casey and Chauncey Billups and the departure of Rudy Gay for Lowry to have a breakout season this year. In Detroit, he will have Billups as a mentor and Josh Smith, a player with similar, ummmm, attributes (mainly taking a ton of isolation jumpers) as Gay. So he will lose 75 percent of what propelled him this season if he joins the Pistons. It’s unclear whether Lowry’s success is the product of the culture that Ujiri and Casey created or part of the natural career arc for a seven-year veteran. Lowry’s relationship with Billups is well documented and should be a plus should the Pistons pursue him in free agency. Whether or not he can duplicate the success he had in Toronto without the appropriate management and structure is uncertain.
As documented by Dan Feldman, Lowry can succeed playing off-ball with another point guard and did so in the fourth quarter of all seven playoff games versus Brooklyn. Greivis Vasquez was the primary ball-handler for the Raptors for long stretches which allowed Lowry to curl off screens for open jumpers or drives in the lane. Lowry makes great cuts off-ball and to the basket and is a bruiser when he gets in the paint, which puts immense pressure on the opposing defense. It’s feasible for Lowry to play alongside Brandon Jennings for short stretches but not ideal considering their lack of size and duplication of skillsets. Lowry can complement Jennings but it’s doubtful, based on past history in Milwaukee, that the relationship will be reciprocal.
Lowry will stretch the floor for the Pistons to create more space for Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe to work in the paint. Detroit’s perimeter and team defense will also improve as long as players are receptive to getting yelled at by Lowry with the understanding that it comes from a place of passion and not disdain.
Lowry will be the best player on the floor for Detroit and will infuse an on-court ethic and direction that the team has lacked since trading Billups in 2008.
Doesn’t fit with the Pistons because …
Lost in the madness of Toronto’s heartbreaking (seriously, my heart was shredded) Game 7 loss to Brooklyn on the final possession of the game is how many open shooters Lowry missed in the fourth quarter. Lowry has a tendency to go exclusively into attack mode rather than reacting to how the defense is collapsing on him in the paint. This tenacity is his greatest strength but also a weakness – a minor annoyance considering the enchanting harmony of his game.
Lowry also struggled to find his bigs versus Brooklyn’s trapping pick-and-roll defense. He was too small to throw it over the trap but the bigs were also at fault for not slipping, lingering around the three-point line or holding the screen too long rather than diving to the rim to force the defense to rotate.
When faced with more traditional pick-and-roll defense, Lowry also has a tendency to look off bigs and attack the rim (see: tenacity above) more often than anticipating a dive or an easy alley-oop/lay-up opportunity. This could be troublesome on a team constructed with bigs who can finish at the rim.
Free Agent is …
… seeking a lucrative long-term contract. Lowry is 28 years old and this is likely his only opportunity to cash in on the prime of his career. He has emphatically expressed his love and passion for his teammates and the City of Toronto. However, it’s fair to assume that he would leave for the right contract despite Celine Dion’s insistence that he stays.
Best known for …
Ending Deron Williams forever … Go home, Deron. You’re done here. See you in another life.
Up Next: Luol Deng.