Kyle Lowry’s absence will have ripple effect on Toronto Raptors

Toronto Raptors - Kyle Lowry (Photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images)
Toronto Raptors - Kyle Lowry (Photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images) /

Out indefinitely with a lower back injury, the Toronto Raptors will be without Kyle Lowry for the foreseeable future. His absence will have significant ripple effects throughout the team.

Replaced by Kawhi Leonard this season, Kyle Lowry was previously the Toronto Raptors best player for half a decade. He’s never led in points per game, he doesn’t look like an elite defender, and yet his advanced & on/off numbers show his impact.

The Raptors will be without that impact for the foreseeable future. On New Year’s Day, the Toronto Raptors announced Kyle Lowry received anti-inflammatory injections in his lower back. He currently has no timetable for his return.

Toronto will miss Lowry’s 14.4 points per game. They’ll miss his 9.8 assists as well. However, Lowry also impacts the game in a more subtle way, and his absence will cause a cascade of ripple effects.


Kyle Lowry’s shooting doesn’t just impact his points per game. His elite three-point shooting opens up the entire court. Lowry has one of the deepest ranges in the entire NBA. Whenever he is on the floor, he changes the geometry of the defense.

Lowry isn’t afraid to launch shots like this:

With that type of range, Lowry needs to be picked up from 28 feet. Other than Stephen Curry and Damian Lillard, there might not be a player in the NBA who attempts more consistent difficult attempts from distance. Fred VanVleet and Delon Wright are good shooters. It’s not like Kyle is being replaced with Elfrid Payton. But they don’t demand the same attention as Lowry does on a consistent, play-by-play basis.


Kyle Lowry is a 6’1″ 32-year-old point guard. At this point in his career, he shouldn’t be a positive defender. Yet, as of December 31st, Lowry ranked fourth among point guards in Defensive RPM. How is he able to do this? By being smarter, stronger, and caring more than anyone else.

Despite being an All-Star point guard, Lowry isn’t afraid to give his body up (As he misses time with a lower back injury maybe this isn’t quite as good as we think). He is perhaps the best player in the NBA at taking a critical charge.

He’s also a great switch defender. Watch Blake Griffin attempt to post-up Lowry, only to be immediately stonewalled.

Point guards aren’t expected to have that type of strength. Kyle Lowry isn’t supposed to be able to defend Blake Griffin.

With Kyle out of the lineup, Toronto is missing one of the team’s best defenders, even if you don’t view him that way.

Bench impact

The one saving grace of Lowry being out for the foreseeable future is that he is being replaced by replaced by a more than competent backup in Fred VanVleet. FVV is an above-average defender, good-to-great three-point shooter, and incredibly smart. Sound familiar?

Unfortunately, VanVleet already has a role with this team, and if he’s asked to fill-in for Lowry, someone else will need to fill in for him.

Those minutes will likely be attributed to Delon Wright and Norman Powell. Neither of which are Fred VanVleet. Without FVV’s presence on the bench, the second unit loses some of its playmaking, spacing, and toughness. Lowry’s impact hurts the starters, sure. He might be hurting the bench just as much.

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So far, the Raptors are 6-3 without Lowry, slightly worse than their 71.8-percent winning percentage. If they’re able to keep pace with 66-percent, consider it a win. However, as Lowry’s absence starts to make its effect on the team, Toronto will just need to hold on.