Top five reasons to keep watching the Toronto Raptors this season

Toronto Raptors - Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam and Marc Gasol (Photo by Brock Williams-Smith/NBAE via Getty Images)
Toronto Raptors - Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam and Marc Gasol (Photo by Brock Williams-Smith/NBAE via Getty Images) /
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Toronto Raptors
(Rick Madonik/Toronto Star via Getty Images) /

Phase Three Kyle Lowry

We’ve seen two different versions of Kyle Lowry in Toronto.

There was 2014-2018 Lowry, the second fiddle to DeMar DeRozan in scoring, but first in just about every other way. Lowry was the team’s leader and most important player throughout that five-year stretch. He also took the scoring load when needed, like when DeRozan missed 21 straight games in the 2014-15 season; the Raptors managed to go 12-9 in that stretch.

Then, there was 2018-19 (eventual NBA champion) Lowry: annoyingly moody for the first several months, passive almost to a fault, the third offensive option behind Leonard and Siakam. Yet, he remained the emotional leader. He took on a new challenge as a facilitator, damn near topping the league in assists per game. He stopped being passive-aggressive after February, and despite some early playoff hiccups, he peaked at the perfect time and scored plenty when it mattered most.

In 2019-20, Lowry is in a somewhat strange position. In a way, though, it’s as familiar as ever. He’s the leader of a mishmash of young players and seasoned veterans. He’s likely expected to be the secondary scorer behind Siakam, and the only guard who can consistently create shots for others – possibly a troublesome roster issue. Remember: As great as Lowry was in the absence of DeRozan in that 2014-15 season, he also ran out of gas early, getting hurt and experiencing the worst failure of his Raptor career in the 2015 playoffs.

This season is a chance for Lowry to spread his wings in an offense that won’t be anchored, so to speak, by a high-volume isolation scorer like DeRozan or Leonard. Last year, we saw a clash between the Lowry-led offense and the Leonard-led offense early in the season. While the team eventually found the right balance, the unselfish style that Lowry orchestrated was usually more effective during the regular season.

Of course, Leonard’s ability to create his own shot was invaluable. It became more important than anything in the playoffs when the Raptors will feel his absence most sharply. The Raptors almost certainly won’t win 58 games again this year.

But over the course of a long regular season, they’ll do just fine as a team that thrives off Lowry’s pick-and-roll game and playmaking.