The current edition of the Raptors are often described as a team that stumbled into chemistry and quality by complete accident. No player has been so emblematic of that reality than the engine behind this team, Kyle Lowry.
You know the story by now. For the trade to Toronto to take place, it needed a failed effort to sign a creaky Steve Nash back in 2012 (hello Landry Fields). He then lost his starting job and regained it from Jose Calderon. He had his bags packed for New York until James Dolan was tired of being shamed by Masai Ujiri in the trade game. Three consecutive playoff appearances later, we’re looking at one of the great careers in franchise history (faint praise, yes).
The most impressive part of Kyle Lowry’s late 20s has been how much he’s improved over the course of his tenure in Toronto.
And all of this has taken place despite his usage rate skyrocketing each year, peaking at last year’s 26.1 percent. In his age 30 season, here’s the company Lowry kept in terms of RPM, a metric that measures on-court impact based on teammates, opponents, and point differential.
Four years ago, you wouldn’t have imagined Kyle Lowry would evolve his game to the point that he was a deserving All-Star starter two years in a row, and an All-NBA performer at a loaded guard position. Admittedly it still feels weird to think about Lowry as a bonafide star in the NBA. Then you remember that he saved three of the greatest performances in Franchise history for Cleveland, Golden State and Game 7 against Miami.
The 4-year, $48 million contract that the Raptors were able to sign him to has more than paid off, and has actually looked like a bargain for all of the past two years. As he enters another contract year (he is going to opt out) and turns 31 in March, the discussion around Lowry requires as much nuance as ever. The doubts that creep in this time around aren’t about a lack of track record, but about the eventual age-related regression that’s due to come soon. There have been articles written about trading him and passionate defences for keeping him, but the Raptors are not nearly as formidable without him.
The Raptors sustained success needs Lowry as the fulcrum to build around. To maximize Lowry in his 30s, and make the most of the hypothetical extension he’ll get at the end of this season, it behooves the Raptors to start taking his usage, minutes, and rest far more seriously than they have in the past.
Once Delon Wright is healthy, having four competent point guards (assuming Fred VanVleet gets the final roster spot) is a major plus for the Raptors to start finding spots for Lowry to rest. Lowry averaged 37 minutes per game in 77 games last year, 35 minutes per game in 70 games two years ago, and 36 minutes per game in 79 games 3 years ago. The wear and tear on his body should be one of the main talking points over the course of season, especially considering niggling injuries have plagued him during each of the past two playoff runs.
Kyle Lowry is an amazing basketball player. You’ll find plenty of statistical and empirical evidence to back that point up. But as we enter what could be Lowry’s final year in Toronto, it’s important to point out the visceral nature of what he’s meant to this franchise. Without Lowry, there is no 56-win season, no playoff series win, no Tupac dancing in the streets of Toronto, and definitely no talk of just how well-run the Raptors are.
So, with apprehension on the horizon for what’s to come beyond this season, the Raptors are fortunate that they’ll have a borderline top-10 NBA player on their roster for at least one more year. And for Kyle Lowry, it’s a chance to continue cementing his case as a top-2 player in franchise history.