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Player Review: Kyle Lowry, the Toronto Raptor ideal

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The Raptors know struggle, and they know pain. So does Toronto. As a result, no partnership between city and player has been more fulsome, and more complete, than the one between Toronto and Kyle Lowry.

NBA: Toronto Raptors-Championship Parade Gerry Angus-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Lowry is not an NBA superstar. At least not in the traditional sense. Lowry can’t dunk, his shooting is selective, his personality in front of the camera can be spotty at best. For the most part, Lowry is what he appears to be: a 6-foot nothing late-blooming point guard. He’s a player who might merit a discussion for the Hall of Fame some day, but could just as easily fall into the category of “very good player lost to history.” There’s no shame in that — even for an NBA champion. After all, not everyone gets to be a legend.

Except in Toronto. Where Kyle Lowry will always be legend, will always be over everything.

Much has already been made of Lowry’s journey through the NBA to Toronto. Drafted 24th overall in 2006 by the Grizzlies, he became the back-up to Mike Conley in Memphis before being traded to the Houston Rockets to eventually become... another backup, this time to Goran Dragic. His trade to the Raptors was supposed to change things, except Lowry once again found himself playing for the starting role (against fan favourite Jose Calderon) while also eyeing the door. The rest is history: the almost-trade to the Knicks, the friendship with DeMar DeRozan, the Rudy Gay trade, and then six straight years of continued and sustained excellence, including All-Star Game appearances, weekly and monthly awards, and a spot on the All-NBA third team in 2015-16. All this, plus the 2019 NBA championship. By any conceivable metric, Lowry made it.

The setbacks in the story make the ultimate results so much sweeter, for both Lowry and those of us who never strayed in our belief. We could be disappointed in various outcomes, disappointed in the potential ceiling we were all facing, disappointed in Lowry himself at times — but there was no quit there. Lowry wouldn’t allow it, even as the team was getting dismantled in the playoffs seemingly year after year. In 2017, before signing his current deal, Lowry made it clear he was interested in at least seeing what the NBA thought of him in free agency. The answer he got back? Toronto is for you, and that’s it. It’s funny to remember this now, to see Lowry looking around for something better and realizing it was going to be him and the Raptors right to the end.

This strikes me as a Toronto sentiment, one we just have to own. Toronto wants to be seen as an international hotspot, the place to be, cooler than those other cities in America, Europe, or anywhere else across the globe. Lowry, in practice, is not as thirsty as all that, but he is defiant, he wants that level of respect. He is ready to say “look at my numbers” to remind us all that he has in fact been on the winning side of the ledger — even when his team was losing — more often than not. In that sense, Lowry’s Raptors, and the journey the whole franchise has been on these past seven years, is something to which we can all relate. We’ve looked around, we’ve wondered why we can’t have nice things, we’ve struggled — but it’s us and Lowry, right to the end.

So how will we remember Lowry’s 2018-19 season? As per usual, the numbers don’t quite do it justice. Lowry appeared in only 65 regular season games, and averaged a mere 14.2 points in his 34 minutes per. His shooting numbers were down across the board, but his assist numbers were up. And for large chunks of the season, it often felt like Lowry was having trouble figuring out how best to accommodate his new teammate, and true superstar, Kawhi Leonard. For it all to work in Toronto, the Raptors would need those two to work not as isolated systems but as an integrated whole. It was a challenge — but what is that to someone like Lowry?

There are some individual games, of course, the times Lowry decided to run the show and put another team on ice by himself. He wouldn’t have to score a ton of points; he would just make every play — a drawn charge, a steal, a hit-ahead pass, a timely three — for the Raptors and that would be it. Then there are those heroic playoff performances, the ones his doubters said he didn’t or couldn’t have — jumping in for the loose ball in Game 3 against the Magic, shooting the lights out in Game 1 vs. the Bucks, his masterpiece in Game 6 with the title in his grasp. We’ll remember the imperfect moments too, the zero point outing against the Magic in Game 1, the bizarre nutmeg attempt in Game 2 against the Sixers with the game on the line, that useless shot at the end of Game 5 in Toronto — for the title! — against the Warriors. That’s part of Lowry’s story, and his appeal, too.

Lowry gets it. It’s why he showed up to the championship parade in a Damon Stoudamire Raptors jersey, as if to remind us all about the lengths we’ve had to go to get to this moment. Stoudamire, if you recall, was unhappy with how things were going in Toronto — and he had good reason to be. Toronto, and the team, were not ready for his level of brilliance and it was best for him to shine elsewhere. Lowry is different, a perfect fit for the aspiring and insecure city that he now calls home. And while he’ll never quite be considered an NBA superstar, Lowry will always be our superstar. That’s what makes him the Raptor ideal.