If you watched the Raptors piss away a big early lead on Sunday and then eventually let the Bucks dominate them in the fourth quarter, you probably directed much of your frustration and put a lot of the blame on the poor play of Toronto’s bench, and specifically Kyle Lowry.
Lowry looked like a shell of the player we raved about in the first week of the season or even in his first few games back from injury, as over the last week or so, the point guard that was supposed to inherit the “keys” to Toronto’s offence and future has looked hesitant, slow and generally uncomfortable running the Raptors’ second unit.
As I wrote after Friday’s blowout victory over the Bobcats, it’s great that Lowry is looking for his teammates, sharing the ball and buying in to the selfless mentality that helped the Raptors inch closer to respectability over the last month, but for the Raps to even come close to their ceiling this season, they’re going to need Kyle to play more like…well…Kyle.
On the surface, you look at the raw numbers and see that Lowry’s offensive rating, defensive rating, shooting percentages and assist percentage have all improved since making his return to the lineup in the Raptors’ overtime win in New Orleans. In addition, while the Raptors went 2-14 in Lowry’s first 16 games of the season, they are 5-3 since a much more reserved version of Lowry entered the team’s second unit.
The truth, though, is that other than a big win against the Blazers, the victories since Lowry’s return have come against bottom feeders like the Hornets, Magic, Sixers and Bobcats, so it’s hard to say that the team is better off.
No, the Raptors would actually be better off if Lowry could find a balance between the player that was jacking up rushed shots and gambling on defence during the team’s worst stretch of the season and the player that now seems content to take only a handful of shots per game while often deferring to less capable teammates. I mean it was nice to see Lowry looking for Acy to get the hard working rookie involved up 20 against the Bobcats, but it’s just downright frustrating when Lowry’s passing up his own shot to look for Acy in a close game against the Bucks in the fourth quarter.
Lowry’s at his best when he’s attacking off of the dribble, putting defences under pressure, getting to the rim and then either drawing contact or drawing a second defender before kicking it out to an open teammate. He’s at his best when he recognizes his defender is sagging off of him before quickly dropping a three-pointer in his face. That’s his game, and when he plays that way, Kyle puts up the kind of performances we saw in the season opener against the Pacers (21 points, eight assists, seven rebounds, five steals) or even in his first game back against the Hornets (17 points, eight assists, three rebounds, one steal, two blocks).
Jose Calderon’s perimeter-oriented game is obviously effective in its own right, but it’s not Lowry’s game, and the team shouldn’t be asking Kyle to conform to that style. What the Raptors need is for Lowry to play his own game to compliment that of Calderon’s and to give opposing defences another style to prepare for, not for Lowry to become some toned down version of himself and another version of Calderon.
The six-game homestand and the easiest portion of the Raptors’ schedule is over, and part of the reason they weren’t able to fully take advantage of it (3-3 on the homestand simply isn’t good enough) is because they didn’t have the Kyle Lowry that they traded for anywhere near his best. If the Raptors have any chance of recovering with the schedule getting tougher again, they’ll need that Lowry to show up and steal minutes away from Calderon before eventually supplanting him as the starter again.
That’s not a knock on Calderon, who has been excellent running the first team and whose play helped salvage the season. But the Raptors need Lowry going forward a hell of a lot more than they need Jose. It’s on Kyle to force the issue, and on the team/coaching staff to tell him that they’re okay with him doing it.
Unfortunately, judging by the last few games, that might not happen anytime soon.