Toronto Raptors: Kyle Lowry is the NBA’s most unconventional star

Toronto Raptors - Kyle Lowry (Rene Johnston/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
Toronto Raptors - Kyle Lowry (Rene Johnston/Toronto Star via Getty Images) /

The Toronto Raptors have two stars on their roster. It’s easy to see why Kawhi Leonard is so great, but Kyle Lowry impacts the game in subtle ways that are just as important.

The NBA is filled with freak athletes. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid, Russell Westbrook were born different. Not to say they didn’t work to get where they are, but anyone watching them play can see their immense physical gifts. Toronto Raptors star, Kyle Lowry, is not one of those players.

He’s 6’1″. He has below average athleticism compared to other NBA guards. He hasn’t even dunked in a game in ten seasons. Yet, there he is, among the top 25 players in the NBA. How does he manage to remain among the NBA’s best despite underwhelming measurables? By impacting the game in every minor way possible.


Players accumulate assists in different ways. Russell Westbrook breaks down the defense with his athleticism and makes the easy pass. Ricky Rubio has transcendent vision and makes difficult passes other players don’t even think about making. LeBron James does both.

Lowry has above-average court vision, but he’s far from the Rubios and Jameses. He’s certainly not breaking down the defense like Westbrook. Instead, he accumulates his 9+ assists per game through more unconventional means.

One way he picks up a few easy dimes is by keeping his head up at all times.


Lowry knows OG is ready for a skip-ahead pass before he touches the ball. As soon as he grabs it, he fires away.

He’ll do it after makes as well. Here he barely even touches the ball before making the longest post-entry pass in the NBA.


We typically think only of big-men for outlet passes. Legally, I believe I’m obligated to mention Wes Unseld at least once whenever outlet passes are discussed. Lowry gets rid of the ball so quickly it’s almost as if the big is doing so himself.

Another way that Lowry generates assists is through his gravity as a shooter. Lowry attempts some DEEP triples.


I realize that play doesn’t create an assist. However, it leverages the defense, forcing them to commit to Lowry at all costs. Later, when the defense over-commits, Lowry hits the roll-man with an assist.


That play is generated by Lowry’s deep three-point shooting. Marc Gasol is no dummy. Even the smartest of defenders will rush to defend an elite shooter in the pick-and-roll. Stephen Curry is the most significant example of this.

By shooting attempts far beyond the arc, Lowry makes the defense commit sooner, and as a result, generates even more looks.

Other offensive skills

We’ve already seen his DEEP three-point shooting abilities, and even casual fans know Lowry is a great three-point shooter despite his struggles this season. Still, there is so much more into Lowry’s offensive game.

He’s currently averaging 15 points and just under 10 assists per 36 minutes, but that doesn’t tell the entire story. Lowry is the master of a million tricks, and as a result, offenses flourish whenever he is on the court.

Each of the past four seasons, Toronto has been better offensively with Lowry on the floor. This season, their scoring more than 7.1 additional points per 100 possessions with Lowry on the court, that’s among the best marks in the entire NBA (per CleaningTheGlass).

Toronto has an increased EFG% of 4.6-percent whenever Lowry is on the court. That ranks in the 95th-percentile at his position. One of the key signals of competent point guard play, Lowry’s presence consistently improves the shot-quality of his teammates.

Not only does Lowry generate looks for his teammates, but he creates for himself through unconventional means as well.

His motor is unbelievable. His awareness is even better. He finds a way to open himself and others for looks by simply moving at all times.


Second, to perhaps only Stephen Curry, I’m not sure if there is another player who so effortlessly shifts from having the ball to moving without it. It’s eerily reminiscent of Steve Nash, another player who excelled at the minute details of the game.

Another unconventional way Lowry helps an offense is by being the screener of a pick-and-pop.


Lowry doesn’t do anything spectacular on the play above. His screen isn’t fantastic (Pascal doesn’t help him out much either). In fact, if a big were setting the same screen, it likely wouldn’t work. But Kyle’s not a big, and the play does work. As a point guard, Lowry has a couple of advantages as a screener most big men don’t.

First is his ability as a shooter.  His defender isn’t able to provide any type of help unless he KNOWS that he has coverage from the other defender. The slightest bit of breathing room and Lowry will fire. Second is attacking an unprepared defense. Point guards don’t know when to biltz, trap, or drop. They’re rarely coached on these principles. They’re never forced to defend these actions. Because of that, Siakam is matched up one-on-one against Devin Booker.

He’s an impactful screener. He also is great at finding ways to use his body to shield defenders in an unconventional manner.


It would have been easy for Lowry to take a contested layup and he likely would’ve made it. But an even better look is an open Fred VanVleet shot. Here he screens the defender with his backside, allowing Fred to get an easy score.

Rebounding & Defense

Despite his limitations, Kyle Lowry has always been an above average rebounder. He’s averaged more than four rebounds per 36 minutes every season he has been with the Raptors. That’s not Russell Westbrook, but it is impressive.

Like many other aspects of his game, Lowry earns rebounds by being a sneaky pest.


Lowry doesn’t even try to grab the ball. He just smacks hit, preventing the Pacers from picking it up. Increasing the variance of a play can help you get lucky. Lowry’s the beneficiary of that luck with an improbable board here.

When a rebound is not under duress, he knows the situation before he even secures the rebound. Here he kicks it out to an open Fred VanVleet without ever grasping the ball.


Defensively, Lowry has taken a step back the past couple of years. Quicker guards give him trouble, and Lowry isn’t able to match elite athletes step for step. But he can switch, provide help solid help defense, and cause turnovers.

In this clip, he gets switched onto Blake Griffin. All-Star Blake Griffin. 250 lb Blake Griffin.


Stonewalled. Griffin goes nowhere while trying to back Lowry down. In the post, Lowry is like an unrelenting brick wall. He refuses to get bullied.

Lowry is also a rim-protector. That’s right a rim-protector. No, he’s not swatting opponents away at the rim like Rudy Gobert. He’s not even averaging a block per game (Although he does improbably rank in the 87th percentile at his position in BLK% per CTG). Instead, Lowry takes charges.

He currently ranks third in the NBA in charges per game (min 10 games played). He’s first among guards and is among the league leaders every season. Charges don’t look cool or make highlights, but they stop offenses all the same.

Lastly, Lowry causes turnovers by being a nuisance. Here’s a play against Atlanta when no sane player would be causing turnovers. He doesn’t care. He senses the slightest bit of inattention and attacks it. As a result, Toronto earns an extra possession.


This isn’t a rare occurrence. Lowry preys on opponents who let their hair down after a defensive board.


Little things

Lowry understands how important pace is to an offense. He’s always trying to push the pace for the Raptors and is willing to do what’s necessary to slow the opponents break, even if he has to be a bit of a jerk.


That’s fine. They’ll get over it.

Many players don’t shoot jumpers at the end of the quarter to protect their percentages. Kevin Durant admitted that he will hold the ball rather than throw up a heave. Lowry doesn’t care. He’s not trying to protect his percentages. He’s trying to win.


That sounds small. It doesn’t even earn Toronto points in this situation. However, the occasional shot will go in, and more importantly, it shows the rest of the team where his focus is.

Lowry impacts the game in ways that don’t show up on the box-score. His impact is less obvious, and ten years ago, might have gone unnoticed. However, with advanced stats and lineup data, we’re able to see just what type of impact Lowry has.

Lowry has finished in the top-ten in RPM each of the past three seasons. This year, he currently ranks 12th in the NBA.

His raw on/off numbers are even better. So far this season, Toronto is outscoring opponents by 8.1 points per 100 possessions when he is on the floor. They’re being outscored by 0.8 points when he sits.

Next. Ranking the trade value of every Toronto Raptor. dark

Lowry’s doesn’t impact the game by putting up big box-scores. He impacts the game in a more nuanced way. The advanced numbers back that up. The eye test does too if you’re watching close enough.