There is a streakiness to Kyle Lowry's play, and particularly his shooting, that keeps him out of the discussion of the NBA's best point guards.
There is also a stark decline in his raw figures. From 22.4 points per game last year and 21.2 in the season before, Lowry is down to 16.5 points per game only this season, a sizeable 5.9 point per game drop that would normally discount someone's All-Star candidacy. It sure looks like a decline on a cursory examination.
However, as a total body of work, this is not a significantly declining Lowry. This is merely the next step in the continued evolution of a much-developed player who did not stop just because he aged.
Turning 32 next month, Lowry is now one of the All-Star elder statesmen. Only LeBron James and LaMarcus Aldridge are older; by virtue of being one of the few NBA All-Star calibre players these days to actually make it to his sophomore season, Lowry is older than both Goran Dragic and Al Horford. It should be remembered that Lowry, drafted way back in 2006, is actually into his twelfth NBA season.
The Raptors came into this season vowing a change of playing style as a team. Gone, it was said, would be much of the often-excessive Isoball that Lowry and DeMar DeRozan would play, with in its stead being a renewed focus on team-basketball and three-pointers. DeRozan has certainly upheld his end of the bargain, as has Jonas Valanciunas of all people, and although occasional Iso-heavy moments still show Lowry's occasional struggles at changing the habits of a lifetime, he too is mostly obliging.
Lowry is also competing in the Three-Point shootout this Saturday, which for him by this point in his career is the most normal thing in the world. For a man whose career previously was built on slashing, athleticism and a reckless abandon, Lowry has instead learnt to shoot the outside jumper, to the point that his offence is now built around it. He still drives the ball enough to play off of the jumper, yet the threes are going up with increasing regularity (60.6% three-point rate) and good accuracy (38.6% three-point shooting).
This, perhaps, runs the risk of looking quite apathetic. After all, taking and missing a jumper with time on the clock looks often like settling for a favoured look rather than an efficient one, something at odds with the team concept. But when dealing with a player and shooter of Lowry’s calibre, this lazy assumption should not be overthought. If Kyle Lowry is shooting a lot of jumpers, he is meant to.
Lowry also has had a career-long affinity for taking every opportunity he can to, shall we say, enter into a discourse with referees. If there is a non-zero chance of a call being reversed, Lowry will give himself that chance. This would be more noble if it did not mean engaging with a lot of 1% shots that do not go anywhere. But it, too, should not be mistaken for poor leadership or a lack of commitment.
Instead, measure Lowry’s commitment by the effort he puts in on the court, how much of the court he covers, and how hard he tries. Let us not confuse the ageing and the streakiness for any lack of hustle. Even into the back half of his career, Lowry is still always to be found trying his best, and to adapt as best he needs to.
As he ages and slows, Lowry still puts in the miles and the intensity defensively. The team’s ability to cover for him given the excellent point guard depth offered up by Delon Wright and (in particular) Fred VanVleet can preserve Lowry better for down the stretch of the season, when all of this matters most.
Ultimately, the aesthetics of the Kyle Lowry Experience should not detract from what and he truly offers.
Kyle Lowry the player is a leader. The self-same drive that sees him moan at every referee sees him do his best on the court, even as his touches and time are cut down, even as his pick-and-roll opportunities dwindle, even as he slows. "Go be mostly a shooter", they have said, and so he has done so. Cut rather than handle. Be prepared to shoot and play less, but still be just as good. And to all that, Lowry has said only "OK".
He has to, with some urgency, translate all this to the postseason. It only truly means anything there, and the Lowry-era Raptors have not been able to carry it through. Every bit as good as the Boston Celtics at the top of the East, or at least very nearly there, the time is now for the Raptors to come through. They did not make a move at the deadline of note – we will hereby not count swapping Bruno Caboclo for Malachi Richardson – which implies there is belief that he team already has enough. And it will need to. Kyle Lowry, we must remember, is an elder statesman now.
Nonetheless, Lowry has improved with age, and is primed and ready to lead his team in this way. There is much more that goes into an All-Star CV than just the scoring; there is also how you get them. In learning a new skilll then relearning how to apply it, Lowry has proven his class.