Let's jump straight to the point on this one: Kyle Lowry is by far the Raptors' best player. Jonas Valanciunas might be the young talent that provides the most hope for the franchise moving forward, and DeMar DeRozan might be the first option (and is having a career year), but Kyle Lowry is the franchise player right now.
This one is going to be more praise than analysis, so let's just go point by point. All rankings within the team will be from among the regulars (James Johnson playing time and up).
1) Lowry leads the team in PER, assist rate, steal rate, win shares, WS/48, offensive box-plus-minus and overall box-plus-minus.
2) Additionally, he ranks 2nd in individual ORTG, individual DRTG, usage rate, defensive box-plus-minus, and third in TS%. His on-court vs off-court impact is second on the team (to JV) in ORTG (+7.8).
3) Lowry's 5.9 win shares ranks 6th in the league, behind Steph Curry, Kawhi Leonard, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and LeBron James.
4) Lowry's 23.0 PER ranks 15th in the league, ahead of players like Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony, Paul George and Jimmy Butler.
5) Lowry's +7.4 box-plus-minus ranks 5th in the league behind Curry, Westbrook, Leonard and James.
6) Lowry's .201 WS/48 ranks second all time for the Raptors' franchise behind Vince Carter's .208 in the 2000-01 season.
7) Lowry's 5.9 win share season ranks 38th all time for Raptors player seasons. And he's only 39 games in (WS is a counting statistic that goes up every game, like total points scored). Prorating to 82 games he is on pace to hit 12.4 WS, which would rank 2nd all time (again to Vince's 2000-01 season).
So, Lowry's been truly amazing this year. He's really good every year, but why is he so much better this year?
Well, first, he's done the same thing DeMar has, cut down on midrange jumpers, but he did it from a starting point where he already didn't take many midrange shots.
Season | Percent of Shots from Midrange
The last few years tell a real story, huh? He continued his career long progression of fewer and fewer midrange jumpers, but then completely forgot how to play good basketball last season, which is a huge factor in the team's collapse last year. But he is back this year, and with a vengeance.
That overall midrange number is very impressive, but even more impressive is that those long two's, the 16+ foot jumpers that rarely go in, those are way down this year. Only 11% of his shots come from that range, and that's by far a career low (13% was his prior career low, and his career average is 15%).
Here's an interesting point: Lowry's average shot distance this season is 15.1 feet, the shortest it's been since 2009-10. And yet he's taking as many threes as he's averaged over that time (44% of his shots). It's because all those 16+ foot jumpers are going one place - shots at the rim. 37% of Lowry's shots this year have come in the paint. So that's 81% of his shots that are either in the paint or worth three points. Not a bad distribution at all.
Final point: when looking at player pairings, and how the team performs with those pairs on the floor, Lowry is kind of great with everybody. He is one of only two players on the team to have a positive net rating with every teammate he's played with (among the actual rotation players) - the other being JV, and Lowry's played the entire season. Looking at the top sets of three-man lineups in terms of on-court net rating (with at least 100 minutes played together), Lowry is in 11 of the top 13 lineups.
Any way you slice it, what Lowry has done this season is amazing, and he's the key to this team's current success.
All stats from NBA.com and basketball-reference.com.