Toronto Raptors: Leonard and Lowry must start playing together

Toronto Raptors - Kyle Lowry and Kawhi Leonard (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
Toronto Raptors - Kyle Lowry and Kawhi Leonard (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) /

Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry haven’t played together very much this season, but they need to start if the Toronto Raptors want to win in the playoffs.

The Toronto Raptors need Kyle Lowry. The Toronto Raptors need Kawhi Leonard. Both have played enough to keep the Raptors near the top of the East, but will need to play more together before the start of the postseason.

Kyle Lowry is easing himself back into the flow of the NBA season after missing extended time due to injury.  He himself will admit that he is not yet back to 100%, and that he still needs time to regain his early season form.

Despite injuries to Lowry and Jonas Valanciunas, the Raptors still lead the league in wins, and have found the production they need from their bench players.

There is, however, an issue that has gone mostly unnoticed because of the team’s overall success, and it’s the fact that of the Raptors’ 48 games played this season, Lowry and Kawhi Leonard have only played in 25 of those games together.

Having your team’s two best players play together in only half of your games is a bad sign no matter who you are.

Players need time and many reps before they develop the chemistry needed to succeed together.

Unfortunately for the Raptors, this is the first season that Leonard and Lowry have ever played together, which means that those 25 games are all that those two have under their belts as teammates.

Of those 25 games, some (if not many) were blowouts.  The Raptors are a very good team and there are many instances in which they run up the score on bad teams.  Those games aren’t when star talent can develop chemistry, that’s when star talent watches from the bench.

So, in practical terms, more than halfway through their first, and possibly only year as teammates, Kyle Lowry and Kawhi Leonard have played fewer than 25 meaningful games together.

Comparatively, last season, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan played together in 86 of the team’s 92 total games (including playoffs).

Other star duos in the Eastern Conference have stayed healthy for the most part, and have played together for much of the season.

Players   Team Games Games Duo has played
  Kyrie Irving & Jayson Tatum4247
Joel Embiid & Ben Simmons   4448
Giannis Antetokounmpo & Eric Bledsoe/Khris Middleton43/4146
Kyle Lowry & Kawhi Leonard    4825

When the playoffs roll around, the teams who have best developed their star talent into a unit that can work together will be the teams that win. Playing as many games as possible before the postseason starts is the only thing that can make that happen.

The Raptors do have time to fix this problem, and smart, talented players like Leonard and Lowry have the ability to figure things out, but they have to start now.

Assuming Lowry can stay healthy for the rest of the season, Leonard’s habit of sitting out on the second night of back-to-backs might be more trouble than it’s worth.  Back-to-back games are when the Raptors are most vulnerable, and when the score is more likely to be close at the end of a game.

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Leonard and Lowry need to start playing together in those close game situations because that’s exactly what they will face in the playoffs, and as of right now, they won’t be ready for it.

Please note: Game totals and amounts were as of 1/23/2019.