Before the season started, most people pegged the Toronto Raptors as a fringe playoff team in the Eastern Conference. The team got off to a 6-12 start when swingman Rudy Gay was shipped off to the Sacramento Kings in early December. The move was recognized as the first of a full-on tank job for a high pick in the stacked 2014 draft.
Almost two months later, the Raptors find themselves atop the Atlantic Division with a 24-21 record (third in the east). If the coaches get it right, a representative from Toronto will get an All-Star nod.
“A Raptor deserves to be in the All-Star game,” TNT analyst Charles Barkley said. He maintained that both DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry had played well. “I think you can go either way.”
On the surface, DeRozan seems like the obvious pick. He leads the team in points with a career-high 21.8 points per game (11th in the NBA), shooting 43 per cent from the field in 38 minutes. Lowry said he thinks there’s a 100 per cent chance DeRozan, who tallied 131,228 fan votes, makes his first All-Star team.
As for himself? “Personally, I don’t think so,” Lowry said on Sportsnet 590 The Fan. “But as long as we get DeMar in there, that’s all that matters.”
That’s Lowry being Lowry. Toronto’s starting point guard has been the most selfless player on the roster this season. He also happens to be the team’s leader and most valuable player. He deserves to be an All-Star as much as, if not more than, DeRozan.
The point guard propelled the Raptors to a 98-83 win over the Magic last night. With DeRozan sidelined with an ankle injury, Lowry fell just shy of a triple-double after recording 33 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds. In the game that preceded, Lowry led the way for the Raptors with 31 points, seven assists, five rebounds and five steals against Brooklyn. He is the only player in the league to record 30-5-5-5 in a game this season.
“I really just go out there and do my job,” Lowry said. He maintains he doesn’t look at the numbers he puts up or compare stats.
If he did check the boxscores, he would see he is having a career year. The Philadelphia native racks up 16.8 points per game (second best on the Raptors), shooting 44 per cent from the field. He’s a threat from behind the arc, where he hits 2.5 3-pointers per game, shooting 40 per cent. His true shooting percentage, which factors in field goal, 3-point and free throw numbers, is 59 per cent.
Lowry embodies the spirit of the NBA All-Star Game. He’s an exciting offensive player that can make it rain from deep. He often finds himself running the fast break. When he’s leading, he usually finishes at the rim. When he’s trailing, Lowry throws lobs to high-flyers like Derozan and the defending Sprite Slam Dunk champion, Terrence Ross, to ignite fans at the Air Canada Centre and stun audiences in arenas south of the Canadian border.
Lowry dishes out 7.6 assists (third among east guards) and records 1.6 steals per game, both team highs. He has assisted 34 per cent of all his teammate’s field goals. Lowry leads the team in PIE (estimated player’s impact on games), with 13.9 per cent, tying him for 26th league-wide.
On the other end of the court, Lowry is a high-energy, hard-nosed defender. Last season, he butted heads with coach Dwane Casey over the risks he takes on defence. The guard had a tendency to reach in for the steal while his opponent blew by him. Lowry has since learned from that. He plays smarter defence and leads the league with 22 charges taken, according to play-by-by recaps on ESPN.com.
Lowry’s win shares per 48 minutes (the estimated number of wins contributed by a player) is .209, which is more than double the league average. In comparison, DeRozan and John Wall are nose-to-nose at .128, the latter of whom is considered a lock for an eastern guard reserve spot.
Lowry’s numbers since the Gay trade are even more impressive. Since December 8, Lowry is averaging 18.4 points (a true shooting percentage of 60.6 per cent), 4.9 rebounds and 8.3 assists. Over this span, his PIE is 15.6 per cent, the highest among eastern guards.
The seventh-year guard out of Villanova has been recognized by the league with a couple of honourable mentions for Eastern Conference Player of the Week. He hasn’t won one yet this season. One fan had this to say of Lowry’s numerous, yet fruitless, nominations:
Some snubs can be overlooked, but an All-Star snub for the catalyst of a team’s startling success would be downright deplorable. The Raptors have been on a roll, and they have Lowry to thank.
Head coaches around the league have been drawing up plays to contain Toronto’s dynamic point guard. They submitted their votes last Sunday. The All-Star reserves will be announced tonight at 7 p.m. ET on TNT.