This week, I’ll be doing a two separate pieces highlighting the two Toronto Raptors (sorry, Terrence Ross, your obscurely profound 51-point game doesn’t throw you in the mix) who deserve serious All-Star consideration for the NBA All-Star game in New Orleans about three weeks from today.
At this moment in time, the Toronto Raptors are the number four seed in the much-maligned Eastern Conference. Their record of 22-21 may not burst off the page indicating a team on the rise, but rather a team engraved in mediocrity.
However, since the team traded its de-facto pseudo-star Rudy Gay, the team has gone 16-9. Including the development of a legitimate night-in-night-out team defensive unit and an ever-improving offense with signs of showing consistent fluidity. For the first time in years, at least in head coach Dwane Casey’s tenure, the Raptors feature components of players who comprise of a cohesive unit, and not skill-specific players.
To explain, let me go no further than by starting with the Raptor I see as the most deserving All-Star selection: point guard Kyle Lowry. Lowry’s career previous to this season brought plenty of worthy questions to consider. Can he lead a team? Is he better suited as a 6th man? Is he a player a team can move forward with, or can afford to move forward without?
Toronto’s first-year general manager Masai Ujiri came to Toronto to remove the team from its perpetual mediocrity and to recreate a roster with cogs that simply were not meshing. Figuring out what to do with Rudy Gay was the first and most difficult order of business for Ujiri, and since being able to successfully trade Gay to Sacramento, it became Kyle Lowry’s future with the Raptors that now became in question.
Well, since the Gay trade, Lowry has shot better (particularly from three) with the ample floor space now provided without Gay’s ball-stopping style. Interestingly, Lowry’s all-around improved offensive play has coincided with the ball being in his hands at a very high rate. Per NBA.com, only Kemba Walker, John Wall, and Chris Paul touch the ball more per game. Although it’s typically normal for point guards to touch the ball frequently, Toronto’s dependency on Lowry to ignite the offense should not be overlooked nor undervalued.
Lowry’s usage (differs from touches) since the Gay trade can be attributed to being involved in more pick-and-roll situations later in the shot clock as opposed to DeMar DeRozan or Gay isolation, mid-range jump shots. The Raptors’ spacing and ball-movement has been illuminated through Lowry, which is where the team has needed him most.
Defensively, even with Gay, the Raptors were a team showing all the signs of improving on that end of the floor. Dwane Casey finally has the personnel capable of defending one-on-one, while also being accountable for rotations and switches when need-be. Lowry has always been mostly average as a defender, and has continued that dependability.
Now, Lowry’s per game numbers have shown career-highs in points (16), assists (7.5) and steals (1.6). Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving has already been named an All-Star starter, and Washington’s John Wall is a near-lock, as he should be, to secure a spot on the team. Injuries to traditional All-Star names like Deron Williams, Derrick Rose, and Rajon Rondo make Lowry a more plausible selection this year, of course.
But Lowry’s play has warranted All-Star worthy consideration regardless of the weakness / injuries of Eastern Conference guards as a whole. If there’s one Raptor (and there should be at least one) who should be in New Orleans, it’s Lowry.