Maturing Lowry key to Raptor future success

Since the Rudy Gay trade, Lowry has averaged 18.2 points, eight assists and 1.5 steals per game while shooting 44 percent from deep and 46 percent overall (Photo: Gary Dineen/NBAE/Getty)

Let’s get this out of the way right off the bat: Kyle Lowry missed a potentially game-tying free throw in the dying seconds of Toronto’s 100-95 loss to the Bobcats on Monday. Many Raptors fans are probably still miffed about that and, as a result, aren’t likely to be too receptive to the argument I’m about to make—that Lowry is the perfect man to run the show in Toronto.

But don’t forget that it was Lowry’s ridiculously difficult finish through Al Jefferson—a player who has 10 inches and more than 80 lbs. on him—that got him to the line at all. Or that it was Lowry’s 14-point fourth quarter that got the Raptors back into the game in the first place. Or that it has been Lowry’s inspired play that has led the Raptors to such an impressive turnaround since Rudy Gay was dealt to Sacramento in December.

One thing that should be forgotten is that free throw. Instead, let’s focus on the immediate future of the Raptors’ franchise, which for the time being rests in Lowry’s capable hands.

In the 22 games since the Gay trade, the six-foot guard is averaging 18.2 points, eight assists and 1.5 steals per game while shooting 44 percent from beyond the three-point line, 82 percent from the foul line and 46 percent overall.

Those are stellar numbers, and Lowry credits them, and his general on-court development, to “just growing up, man.”

“I have a son; I have a wife; I have a family. [Y]ou hit that moment and it’s just like, ‘Hey, you’ve got to grow up sometime.’ This summer was a big summer for me, I got a chance to really work as hard as I wanted to and I got a chance to relax my mind and clear it,” Lowry told reporters last week in Toronto. “It just seems to be working.”

Lowry hasn’t always been a model locker room presence. During the 2011-12 season, he famously had a falling out with Rockets coach Kevin McHale after he was benched in favor of Goran Dragic. Ultimately, Lowry told reporters during exit interviews that he believed their relationship couldn’t be salvaged and that he expected to be traded. Publicly, McHale was taken aback by the comments, but come summer time, Lowry was traded to Toronto—a team that had been known to shy away from players with character questions.

Initially, it wasn’t clear the Raptors’ gamble would pay off. Lowry impressed in his first handful of games with the team—playing like a man with something to prove—but two separate bouts with injuries left him once again consigned to a backup role.

As had been the case in Houston, Lowry didn’t seem to take the demotion lightly, and rumblings emerged about a possible rift between the point guard and head coach Dwane Casey. But the clouds seemed to blow over when former-GM Bryan Colangelo moved Jose Calderon in the trade for Rudy Gay, leaving Lowry as the sole survivor at point guard.

Since that time, the Villanova star has been on a mission to prove the critics wrong and now, given a full opportunity to play his style of game, he is doing just that.

“This is the best I think he’s played,” Casey said last week. “I don’t think he’d tell you that, but he’s grown into that role of being a leader. He’s matured as a man. Fatherhood, being a husband, that type of thing has really matured him. He’s being a positive leader; he’s doing all of the right things.

“Those were the only question marks with Kyle as far as other coaches were concerned. He’s grown up and he and DeMar both—I am going to keep preaching for them to have All-Star considerations.”

Lowry’s excellent play of late leaves the Raptors with a tough decision to make this coming off-season, when he is set to become an unrestricted free agent.

Sure, it could simply be a case of a player overachieving in a contract year, knowing a potential payday is on the line. But this situation feels different. Lowry’s numbers and style of play are indicative of a player who has bought into the team concept and is ready to do whatever it takes to help his team win. It’s not the ‘me first’ style we’ve come to expect from a typical player gunning for numbers—both on the statline and the paycheque—which tends to comes at the expense of the team.

I’d argue that signing Lowry long term must be a priority for Masai Ujiri and the Raptors. Point guard is perhaps the most important position in basketball and finding another one capable of playing the way Lowry has will be no easy task.

In just under a season-and-a-half in Toronto, Lowry has proven that he can grow up and into the type of player the Raptors thought they were getting when they sent a lottery pick to Houston two summers ago. He has become the kind of player that you trust with the ball in his hands late in the game, the kind of player you want leading your team on and off the court.

Lowry has become exactly the type of player the Raptors need going forward.

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