The NBA was once hailed as the league of the giants. A league where big men dazzled and centers flourished - power and athleticism were residual hallmarks of the dominating talent.
Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan of the Toronto Raptors are among a wave of talent changing that perception.
That might seem a sweeping statement, but let’s look at some facts. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was 7’2”. Wilt Chamberlain was 7’1”. Bill Russell was 6’9. Shaquille O’Neal was 7’1” – all household names.
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It could be argued that Magic Johnson is the greatest point guard of all-time and even he was 6’9”.
Damon Stoudamire, on the other hand, was all of 5’10”. Lest we forget Mighty Mouse, also a former Raptor.
But today’s NBA is a different landscape. The back court is steadily usurping the front and you don’t have to be the biggest guy on the floor to take a game over anymore.
Steph Curry and Klay Thompson are widely regarded as the greatest back court in the game today and their influence on the Golden State Warriors' continued success – which may see them better the Chicago Bulls '95-'96 roster's regular season record of 72-10 – is undeniable.
However, there’s another back court pairing turning heads around the league this season in the shape of Lowry and DeRozan.
The Toronto Raptors duo has been instrumental in their recent run of 15-1 which has seen them catapult to second in the Eastern Conference, only two wins off the Cleveland Cavaliers who set the pace at present.
The one game they dropped was to a 21-32 Denver Nuggets side currently languishing in 11th spot in the West. DeRozan dropped 24 points on the night, but a quiet night for Lowry, who registered just 10 points and two dimes, meant a quiet night for Toronto.
But, Lowry doesn’t have many quiet nights. The Philadelphia native, who turns 30-years-old next month, will start his second All-Star game in a row on Valentine’s Day and is the only Raptor to start period since Chris Bosh back in 2007.
Lowry is also the Eastern Player of the Month for January and it’s no surprise reading his stats. He’s netted an average of 21.1 points across his last 10 games in addition to 5.5 assists and 2.2 steals.
He was traded by the Houston Rockets in 2012, who, after Ty Lawson’s underwhelming debut season combined with Lowry’s rise, perhaps now wish they could turn back time.
Lowry’s partner in crime, Derozan, brings to the table a certain x-factor, too. California-born DeRozan is a habitual scorer from the two spot and has registered an average of 23.2 points a night this season – which is the 10th best in the NBA.
At 26-years-old, the 6’7” DeRozan is just entering the prime of his powers and alongside the trusty Lowry, the Raptors are a potent perimeter force.
Both men have featured in all 51 of the Raptors fixtures this season, which is yet another testament to their influence in the results.
The acquisition of DeMarre Carroll from the Atlanta Hawks and the presence of talented big man Jonas Valacuinas make the Raptors a tantalising prospect, but the latter pairing has only made 57 appearances this season between them.
Curry and Thompson have played in 49 games each this campaign. The continuity both the Warriors and Raptors offer in offense stemming from the back court has played a big part in both teams exemplary records and the Cavaliers are frantically looking over their shoulder.
There’s parallels to be drawn between the NBA champions and the Raptors for sure, but can the Canadian franchise make a deep run in the playoffs this year?
The Raptors have exited the playoffs at the first time of asking for the last two consecutive years, the first of which was the first time they qualified for the post season since 2007/08. Last season they endured a sweep loss to the Washington Wizards after enjoying home court advantage, so what’s changed?
Last season they endured a sweep loss to the Washington Wizards after enjoying home court advantage, so what’s changed?
Should the Raptors go on and finish second this year, they’ll face the seventh seed in the East. They have had home court advantage for the past two playoff attempts, but Lowry and DeRozan are far more polished in their play and their offense has a conviction to it now.
The addition of swingman Carroll is a definite game-changer, too (when he is healthy). The Raptors have better balance than ever before.
Lowry is second to DeRozan in points-per-game this season with an average of 21.1, but after the back court pairing, Valacuinas is next with 12.4, nearly half the average of DeRozan. Lowry also chucks up 6.2 assists per game and 2.25 steals per game, both team bests.
On top of all of that, Lowry holds the franchise record for triple-doubles in only his fourth year. The two-time All-Star is clearly the leader and chief and DeRozan is only going to soar alongside him as he gravitates towards his potential.
Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose of the Bulls are a star-studded back court. Chris Paul and JJ Reddick of the Clippers can be extremely dangerous.
But Lowry and DeRozan are ensuring they are the pair on people's lips this season. After a few shortcomings in recent post-seasons, they have a lot more to prove.