For a guy who was going to spend a year or so in Toronto and then get on with his life, Kyle Lowry has become something of a fixture around these parts.
The 33-year-old Raptor, the longest-serving member of the team that beat the Orlando Magic 104-95 at Scotiabank Arena on Monday night, is rambling up the franchise list for games played.
Considering he expected to spend the 2012-13 season here as a backup — after being obtained in a trade with Houston — before either being moved on again or eventually leaving as a free agent, it’s been an unlikely journey.
“I think it’s been long time. I’ve been here the longest now. I’ve been through the ups and downs and I was able to help bring a championship here, an unbelievable team … I’m not saying I’m the sole reason, but I feel I have a great pride,” Lowry said early this season of his Raptors life.
On Saturday in Chicago, Lowry became just the fifth player in franchise history to appear in 500 games. If everything goes according to plan, he will end this season second all-time to his close friend and franchise leader DeMar DeRozan, who played in 675 games in Toronto.
Lowry is likely to pick off Chris Bosh (509), Jose Calderon (525) and Morris Peterson (542) on the all-time list as this season progresses.
Coming off thumb surgery in July that kept him out of all but the final few days of training camp and the pre-season, Lowry has not exactly eased into the regular season as he thought he might. He’s playing almost 40 minutes a game through the infancy of the season, getting up more shots than he has in three seasons and working seamlessly in a smallish backcourt with Fred VanVleet.
It was expected that Lowry — who scored 26 points in Monday’s victory — would have to handle a greater offensive role than he did last season in the presence of Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, and that’s precisely what’s happened. Afforded more spot-up shooting opportunities while playing off the ball with VanVleet on the court, the Raptors still run an offence predicated on ball movement, reading and reacting more than running a series of set plays. Lowry is always encouraged to pull up and take a three-pointer in transition whenever it strikes his fancy.
“I think he’s finding some stuff a little easier for some reason,” coach Nick Nurse said before Monday’s game. “He’s got a little bit more in transition. There’s some throw-aheads and things like that, that we don’t normally see from him. It’s good.”
Lowry has also fit in seamlessly with a relatively new defensive assignment, too. He and VanVleet are not the biggest of backcourt defenders by any stretch of the imagination, but they are strong and smart enough to avoid getting dominated in the post.
There are statistical studies that suggest two small guards might be a defensively liability. Nurse doesn’t really think about them.
“I think it’s so much more like what the eye sees in the game, or what it feels like before you start doing something (to change assignments),” he said. “I’m not sending for any analytical reports in the middle of the game saying: What do the numbers say? You can feel whether you’re getting stuffed in the basket or not, usually.”
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Lowry downplays any disadvantage the lack of size might create, and he does play a lot bigger and stronger than he is. If he baits an opponent or two into taking a low-percentage shot, that’s not a bad thing.
“If you can make guys shoot turnarounds outside the paint, you’re probably in good shape on any position, mismatch or not, as far as the data goes,” Nurse said. “You can’t get planted right under the basket and turned in and laid in and dunked on and stuff. It’s so much more what the eye sees in the game, or what it feels like before you start doing something (with defensive schemes).”