Aside from Andrea Bargnani, Kyle Lowry has been the biggest wildcard on the Toronto Raptors this season.
Lowry has spent the majority of the season seemingly struggling to strike a balance between distributor and scorer. Last night though, he seemed to finally find that balance as he scored 14 points and had 10 assists in the Raptors 102 -98 victory over the New Orleans Hornets.
Lowry began his tenure as a Toronto Raptor by scoring more than 20 points in three straight games before injuring his ankle in a blowout loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder. He did have some notable performances after that point, but he was wildly inconsistent and eventually found himself coming off of the bench behind Jose Calderon.
In the five games since Jose Calderon was traded, Lowry has started all five games and has -- with varying degrees of success -- fluctuated between distributor and scorer. In most cases -- with the exception of the game against Boston and, of course, Sunday night's game -- Lowry simply has not been assertive enough and it has hurt his team.
Against the Hornets on Sunday Lowry did an excellent job of creating for others and ensuring that both Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan got their touches on offense, while also not passing up open shots or opportunities to score. In 29 minutes, Lowry was 4 of 7 from the floor -- including 2 of 3 from beyond the arc, which is an area where this team desperately needs his help -- and 4 for 4 from the free throw line. Those numbers alone indicate that he was aggressive offensively.
With the addition of Gay and the return of Bargnani to a lineup that already features DeRozan on the wing, the Raptors are stocked with scoring options. But even with all of those options, Kyle Lowry remains the most important player on the Raptors roster. If Lowry can continue to mix up his game and remain aggressive, he makes this Raptor squad a much better team.
On the flip side, if Lowry fails to have an impact during his time on the floor, the team will falter -- on most nights, John Lucas is not going to be able to pick up the slack off of the bench and that puts a great deal more pressure on the Lowry's back.
It will be interesting to watch as the new additions to the Raptors' starting lineup continue to build chemistry together. It will take some time before things click on a regular basis, but helping to facilitate this process is part of the challenge that Lowry faces as the the leader of that first unit. The talent is there and it may be just a matter of time before it all comes together.
As a result of the Rudy Gay trade, the Raptors bench has been a little thinner, specifically at the point guard spot. The Raptors have relied heavily on John Lucas III and Alan Anderson to carry the bench for long stretches of games and it hasn't exactly worked out for Dwayne Casey and company. Sunday evening however, both Lucas and Anderson gave the Raptors a huge lift.
Anderson had 11 points off of the bench - albeit on 4 of 12 shooting - and played some solid defense. Anderson was a big reason why Toronto was able to turn around their season after an abysmal start and he remains a huge part of the team's bench attack. It will be important for the club that he gets back on track.
Likewise, Lucas' contributions to the team are extremely important as Casey is now relying on him to be the full-time backup to Kyle Lowry. Lucas answered the call against the Hornets, scoring 10 of his 19 points on the evening in the final quarter. Like Lowry, Lucas is going to need to find a level of consistency in his new role on the team.
Jonas Valanciunas returned to the starting lineup for the first time since he suffered a broken finger in December. The pairing of Amir Johnson and Valanciunas was an effective one, combining for 25 points and 17 rebounds on the night. These two big-men present an interesting challenge for opposing frontcourt due to their size and speed.
For the fifth consecutive game, Gay scored at least 20 points. Gay has been every bit the scorer that he was advertised to be prior to his trade to Toronto. Efficiency though, has been an issue in the past two games -- Gay made just 9 of his 25 shots in Indiana on Friday and just 8 of his 19 shots against New Orleans -- but in both instances, the inefficiency did not hurt the team as the Raptors were able to come away with the win.