When the Toronto Raptors reported for media day before the new NBA season, one thing dominated the agenda; the transformation of Kyle Lowry.
NBA media days have become common for topics on weight loss and players getting in shape, but the new-look Lowry was a story that couldn’t be ignored.
Here was a player who dedicated a considerable amount of his time to shedding weight and working hard in the off-season in order to be in the best physical shape of his life ahead of the new campaign.
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A picture posted on Instagram by Kyle O’Quinn of the New York Knicks was the first glimpse everybody got of the slimmer Kyle Lowry and his teammates admitted even they were surprised by his new physique.
“It was a shock. It was a shock to everybody, it was a shock to me. So I made him come see me in L.A. to see if it was real,” said DeMar DeRozan, via CBS Sports.
Raptors head coach Dwayne Casey had nothing but praise for how Lowry spent his summer.
“My hat is off to him for doing that because he could have relaxed and took the summer off. But he didn’t. He knew what he had to do, and he did it,” he said, via the Globe and Mail.
So, at the age of 29 and after eight years in the league, what were the reasons behind it at this stage of his career?
“I worked on my body because I wanted to work on my body. Personally,” said Lowry, per CBS Sports. “Honestly, that's the truth. Because I wanted to do something different, and I know what I can be.”
One obvious reason for the change could be the way the previous season for the Toronto Raptors ended. Lowry had a blistering start to the 2014/15 NBA season, playing with a chip on his shoulder and looking eager to make up for the disappointment of a game seven loss at home to the Brooklyn Nets in the opening round of the playoffs in 2014.
As a free agent in that summer, Lowry was courted by a number of teams but he opted to re-sign with the Raptors for another four years.
Before the all-star break of that campaign, he was averaging career highs in points (19.8), rebounds (4.9), assists (7.5) and steals (1.62) and was largely carrying the offensive load with DeRozan sidelined for a lengthy period. He was duly rewarded with a first All-Star appearance.
Things changed after the All-Star break for Lowry, however, and the point guard’s numbers dropped and he missed several games due to a back injury. Despite making the playoffs, the Raptors were once again bounced in the first round, this time being swept by the Washington Wizards.
Lowry took much of the criticism for the team’s collapse and speaking on media day, he admitted he used it as motivation to come back a better player, but he also didn’t disagree with what was said.
“I read everything; I see everything. I know every person who said something bad about me. I don’t need the motivation from that, but I use it,” Lowry said. “Always, it’s extra fuel when you’ve got people bashing you. “It was true; I know how bad I played. I want them to say those things. Early in the year, they were saying, ‘Oh my God.’ Now I’ve got to go back to making them say, ‘Oh my God.’”
69 games into the current regular season, they are once again saying ‘Oh my God’.
The hard work appears to have paid off for the 29-year-old as he enjoys the best season of his career. He’s averaging a career-best 21.9 points, 6.4 assists and 5 rebounds per game and the Raptors, who are currently 48-21, are on course for a franchise-best record.
The two-time All-Star has forged a strong relationship, both on and off the court, with DeRozan and they have established themselves as one of the best backcourts in the NBA.
The Raptors are the experts’ pick to meet the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference finals and optimism is high in the Canadian city for how far the team can go. But Lowry knows better than most the disappointment of being knocked out in the first round in their last two playoff appearances and the importance mentally, of overcoming that barrier when the post-season begins again in April.
Understandably, there are sceptics who still point to their previous playoff failures and need convincing of the team’s potential to contend for a championship. It is down to Lowry and his teammates to turn any doubters into believers, but for now, Lowry’s weight loss has definitely been the Raptors’ gain.