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What you need to know about COVID-19: August 7, 2020
This almost isn’t fair.
I really should begin this with an apology to my cohort Ryan Wolstat.
Not only did I suggest this exercise but I immediately declared I was taking Kyle Lowry leaving Wolstat a tough argument to make no matter which other Raptor he chose.
Lowry hasn’t dunked a basketball since the all-star game was in New York, but this is definitely a slam dunk.
Lowry leads this team in every possible way.
He’s a leader on the court where he’s taking charges, setting up the offence, providing the offence, defending his posterior off or basically doing whatever needs to be done to ensure a win.
There are actually a number of players on this Raptors’ squad that share Lowry’s fearlessness but it all stems from his demeanour. He just doesn’t back down.
Generously listed at 6-foot-0, Lowry plays like a 7-footer, taking on men of that size in an area they are supposed to dominant often beating them or battling them out of a spot in the paint.
Lowry is ideally suited for the Raptors, which is probably because the team is built around him.
He’s an up-tempo player who thrives at top speed even if he’s no where close to the speediest guy on the floor.
The Raptors are in the top half of the league in team pace, but without Lowry they aren’t anywhere near that.
Often times teams can’t even get turned around to face the Raptors offence, let alone get set up defensively to stop it before Lowry is over half court with a head of steam looking for a lane or lobbing it over their heads to a streaking Pascal Siakam for the easy lay-in.
Lowry can distribute the ball with the best of them, score inside or out and when you need points in a hurry he can do that too with his three-point game.
His IQ, an area basketball people don’t credit nearly enough, gives him a head start in plenty of areas. He’s quick to jump a lazy pass and take it the other way or anticipate which way the ball is going and simply step in front.
Year after year he is among the very best in the league at drawing charges, a skill he has perfected.
Defensively he uses his low centre of gravity and stocky core to keep opponents from getting to where they want to go. Again he’s not fast by any means, but he is quick and agile enough to stay in front most ball handlers. He’s also fearless going for rebounds
The other part of his game that a Siakam or a Fred VanVleet or even a Serge Ibaka can’t match is in experience.
Lowry turns 34 four days from now and is in his 14th NBA season. When he says there almost nothing he hasn’t seen on a basketball court, you best believe him.
That experience means big moments don’t rattle him anymore. There was a time even in his first four or five years with the Raptors where he could get caught up in the moment of a big game, or trying to do more than he was capable of doing because it was a big game.
You don’t see that anymore with Lowry. He’ll — and we’ll steal his pet phrase here — gladly take what the defence gives him and make that work.
The championship run a year ago took that ability and multiplied it again because it was new territory for Lowry who had never been to a conference final or an NBA Finals.
Even off the court Lowry is a guy who sets the tone for the Raptors. While not always a willing participant when dealing with the media, Lowry is a guy who steps up most when times are toughest for the team. Lose a couple in a row, something that hasn’t happened much the past few years, and it’s Lowry that faces the cameras and the microphones to calm the waters and make sure any panic within the media does not seep into the locker room.
Lowry is not above dressing down a reporter if he thinks this is occurring.
He’s also not afraid to call out any of his teammates. If he doesn’t think someone is performing up to par or the standard they have set for themselves, rest assured they will hear about it from him before a coach ever gets to them.
Not everyone can be that guy and maintain the kind of team chemistry this team has thrived on. Lowry can because he has the respect of everyone in the room. He works on his game outside of team mandated practices and shootarounds and walk-throughs as much as anyone on the team.
His unwavering discipline when it comes to keeping his body right is well-known and again sets the standard for the rest in the locker room.
Lowry hasn’t always been this ideal leader, but he has perfected the role over time and the Raptors are reaping the benefits of that these past few years.
No one man is going to win games by himself, but we’re confident in saying the Raptors win more because of Kyle Lowry’s presence than any other player on the team and that is what makes him the most important Raptor.
For years Kyle Lowry has been the engine of the Toronto Raptors, the general leading the way for one of the NBA’s most successful clubs and reigning champion.
While Lowry remains a pivotal player (basketball-reference.com has him ninth in its MVP tracker), if the 2019-20 season eventually starts up again, Toronto’s fortunes chiefly rest on how Pascal Siakam performs. Siakam, the NBA’s most improved player and an MVP candidate himself before he hurt his groin and missed significant time, is now the team’s best player and also its most irreplaceable one.
We’ll start with the latter point. If Lowry goes down, Toronto still would have an excellent point guard in Fred VanVleet to rely on, as well as another guard who was turning in a career season, sixth man of the year candidate Norman Powell. Subtract Siakam up front and you’d either have to play Serge Ibaka out of position beside Marc Gasol, or elevate OG Anunoby to power forward, giving the Raptors a tiny lineup, less defensive oomph overall and no proven primary option scorer.
Toronto’s won better than 70% of its games this season, but sports just a 6-5 record (including the miraculous comeback against Dallas in December) when Siakam has been sidelined. Without Lowry, Toronto’s won 10-of-12. That doesn’t solve this whole mystery, but it sure provides a few clues as to why Siakam is now the most valuable Raptor.
While Lowry pressures defenders with his ability to pull-up on a dime for a three-pointer or attack downhill, Siakam’s nearly a foot taller and is an even more nightmarish offensive threat for opponents. He runs the floor like a deer, finishes with either hand, has a lethal spin move, high-end athleticism and an ever-running motor. Siakam’s also added a pull-up long-distance jumper of his own this season. In fact, he’s now nearly as deadly as Lowry on those shots (34.5% accuracy for Lowry on pull-up three-pointers, vs. 34.3% for Siakam.
Siakam leads the Raptors in points and usage rate, is second in blocks and rebounds and third in assists. He’s an elite defender who can guard almost every position and leads all players in contested three-point shots per game, a full shot contest a night ahead of second-place Anthony Davis. Toronto’s had the second-best defence in the NBA this season with a system that gives up a lot of three-point attempts, but aims to get a long-limbed defender flying out to challenge them. Nobody in the league has been better at that this year than Siakam.
And he’s not even a finished product yet.
The story of how fast Siakam’s game is progressing is oft-told, but amazingly, during the championship season, he only attempted eight pull-up three-pointers, connecting on only one of them. Now, it’s a lethal part of his arsenal, a weapon he goes to more often even then his superstar former teammate Kawhi Leonard.
You know what you’ll get every night from Lowry — and it’s quite a bit — but, again, nobody knows what levels Siakam can still reach. At minimum, he’s an all-star starter who can do things few other big men can.
The next step for Siakam is finding more consistency against top opponents. He generally hasn’t been as good against them, laying some stinkers along the way. His shooting splits have dipped about 10% in Raptors losses as opposed to when they win. Toronto’s gone 20-1 when he shoots 50% or better from the field. He’s even said that when his shots aren’t falling it sometimes leads to weaker play at the other end. When Siakam’s not hitting, the Raptors have been at their worst.
That’s not a coincidence.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020