Toronto Raptors: Where Has Kyle Lowry Gone?

The recent struggles of Kyle Lowry have underscored the need for the Toronto Raptors to have their All-Star playing at his best.

Kyle Lowry had an explosive start to the season. He was averaging a career-high, league-leading, 11 assists per game while turning the ball over, well, nearly never. His assist to turnover ratio was a disgusting 4:1. He was arguably the best player on the Toronto Raptors.

He had eight double-doubles in the first thirteen games, including nine straight games with at least 10 assists. Sure, he was shooting and scoring less, but he was getting his teammates involved. And that mattered with two new, key pieces getting integrated into a new offence. He was the floor general, leading the NBA best Toronto Raptors. There were calls for MVP. Yeah, we know, we got Kawhi. But we might have another MVP candidate on our team.

Since then, Lowry has dropped off. Significantly. And the team has, in unison, shown some glaring problems. While the team has continued to win, Lowry’s struggles have underscored the fact that when he struggles, the Raptors look, beatable. Just ask the Brooklyn Nets.

Don’t get me wrong, the Raptors are still an elite team. They have an MVP calibre player in Kawhi Leonard and depth, length and versatility that most coaches would kill for. But if you’re going to go far, you need two All-Stars. Right now, they got one. And while Lowry certainly doesn’t need to return to the way he played in the first 15 or so games (that productivity might not be sustainable) the Raptors will need him to be better than he has recently in a lot of ways.

Here are some thoughts on Lowry and his recent struggles.

Three-point Shooting

In the past five games since (and including) the Warriors win, Lowry has shot 5 for 27. That’s a 3PT shooting percentage of 19%. In the five previous games, Lowry shot 15 for 35 or 43% from deep. The drop-off has left only two Raptors hitting threes at a clip that’s anywhere near acceptable and that’s Leonard, who has been lights out shooting 50% from three over that stretch (17 for 34) and Danny Green, who has hit 10 for 25.

If the Raptors are struggling from downtown, some obvious problems emerge. Defences can back off, cut off passing lanes, daring Lowry to shoot. Spacing and time disappear.

As a result, Raptor three-point shooting has been bad to terrible in those same five games. Consider their three-point percentages over that stretch. They have shot 29.4-percent over the five games, including only two individual games over 30-percent. The 37-percent they shot against the Warriors was their highest. C.J. Miles, resident three-point expert has been brutal, shooting 3 for 11 over that stretch. Fred VanVleet has been even worse, shooting 4 for 21.

Kyle Lowry and the Raptors are going to have to be better from deep. In a “live by the three, die by the three” offensive philosophy, you just can’t continue to miss like this.

Crunch Time

If the Raptors are going to do something special this year, they are going to need their floor general protecting the ball and taking the shots when it counts. Though Lowry is still averaging 9.5 APG, his turnovers are uncharacteristically high during the four-game span since November 29th. He has had 13 TO in those four games, averaging nearly three per game.

Lowry’s ‘absence’ has been missing at the end of games too. The Raptors are going to need a second and third threat when it comes to the final plays of close games. Right now, they have one. In what is giving fans nightmares of Lou Williams dribbling out the clock only to heave up a shot at the buzzer, the Raptors of late have been too predictable in crunch time.

How often have we seen the ball going to Leonard in an iso and letting him create his own shot (don’t get me started on that final play against Brooklyn)? Without a doubt, if there’s a guy who can do that, it’s Leonard but when you are playing against a Golden State or a Celtics squad in a seven-game series, you are going to need more options.

This is where Lowry needs to be that number two guy. As of late, he has been absent. Passive. Not aggressive enough when it matters.

“I’m too passive right now.” Lowry said after the Brooklyn loss. “But that’s for me to figure out. I’m definitely too passive. I got to figure it out sooner or later.”

It’s unlike Lowry to want the ball when it counts. He needs to be more engaged in these final plays.

Injury?

Lowry’s toughness dictates his game. Whether it’s taking a charge or driving inside amongst the big men, Lowry has never been afraid of contact. He has also been known to play through injuries. Lowry played through a wrist injury a couple seasons back (including playing a golf game during All-Star Break) that cost him quite a few games.

Might Lowry be suffering through some back pain now that is hindering his game? Lowry missed the Cavs game last week due to back spasms. If there are lingering issues, they certainly would be affecting his ability to impact the game when it matters. A nagging injury would limit his ability to shoot from deep as well as prevent him from wanting to take that key shot at the end of the game.

Rest Schedule?

After logging some major minutes in the previous seasons, the Raptors decided to play Lowry considerably less in 2017/18, with the hopes of avoiding fatigue and injury and giving him fresh legs come playoff time. Last year, he averaged five fewer minutes than the previous two seasons and looked rested and injury free come the playoffs (the Bench Mob helped him reduce his minutes as well, granted).

However, this season his playing time is back up, averaging 34.2 MPG second on the team to only Kawhi Leonard.  He is twelfth in the league in minutes played. He has missed only the Cavs game so far but should’ve sat out more, including the Nets game. This leads this fan to wonder if it’s time to start giving Lowry more rest?

The Raps could certainly figure out a schedule to rest him on days that Leonard is in. The Raptors did well in the game he sat out, with VanVleet scoring 15 points in 33 minutes in the starting role. Might the occasional Lowry rest be enough to re-ignite VanVleet’s missing game?

The rest also would increase the chances that Lowry is healthy come playoff time and would cost the Raptors little. As Raptor fans know, the regular season means nothing.

When playoff time arrives, you want three things: health, chemistry and home court advantage. The Raptors could achieve those things with Lowry sitting out every here and there.

The Sky Isn’t Falling

Kyle Lowry’s poor play this week has been unexpected and slightly worrisome. When Lowry is making his shots, he not only boosts the three-point shooting percentage but he gives other guys more space to execute as well.

He becomes your number two option at the end of the game and gives Kawhi more room to do what he does. The fact that Leonard has been so superb this week is a testament to his ability to create his own shot but the Raptors need other guys to get involved in order for the team to be effective. That all trickles down from Lowry’s success.

But, Lowry and the Raptors will be fine, in time. This week has been an eye-opener (and probably a good one) for the team. They will have to remedy these ailments before the games really start to matter. Thankfully for them, there’s still plenty of time.