Approaching a new decade, it’s time to reflect on the player most synonymous with the Toronto Raptors franchise over that time. Despite stars like DeMar DeRozan’s longer tenure and Kawhi Leonard’s role in winning the franchise its first championship, no player better represents what it means to be a Raptor than Kyle Lowry. He’s the Raptors player of the decade and here’s why.
On July 11, 2012, the Raptors traded Gary Forbes and a 2013 1st round draft pick (Steven Adams was later selected) for this small, stocky little “pit bull” named Kyle Lowry. Coming off of averaging 14 points and 6 assists for the Rockets, he was a solid pick-up by all accounts but no one could predict how integral the point guard would become for the future success of the franchise.
After having a relatively down start with Toronto in his first year, Lowry took off and never looked back. In the following seven seasons with the Raptors, Lowry has started every single game where he’s healthy and available to play. And that, of course, is for good reason.
Over the last 8 seasons with the franchise, Lowry’s averaging almost 18 points per game to go along with 7 assists on 43% shooting from the field and 38% shooting from the 3-pt line. Quite the step-up from his previous averages in Houston and even Memphis. In Toronto, Lowry blossomed into a truly all-star caliber player, making 5 all-star appearances in his time here. That’s two more appearances than DeMar DeRozan who played 8 years in the same decade and is the franchise leader in games, minutes and points.
But Lowry’s impact on the Raptors franchise goes far beyond basic numbers. His contribution to a winning culture is what makes him the true backbone of the team over the past 8 years. Lowry’s the first person to group up the squad before a key possession or after a tough loss. He’s a gentleman after wins in the same way he takes losses with grace. Lowry’s playmaking tendencies and ability to throw accurate passes to players in position is also a very underrated skill of his. His pick-and-roll skills in particular and his ability to draw the defenders towards him so he can throw accurate lobs have turned relatively inadequate offence players into threats. Hell, he deserves significant credit for Bismack Biyombo’s 4-year, $72 million contract he signed with the Orlando Magic. Or how about when he made Lucas Nogueira look like a capable NBA player. No offence bud.
Although DeRozan is the franchise leader in most box score statistics, Lowry leads the franchise in every category associated with a player’s contribution to wins. He is the franchise leader in offensive and defensive win shares, leading the franchise with 65.8 win shares in total. However, perhaps the most telling stat of Lowry’s unquestionable importance to the franchise is in his Value Over Replacement Player (VORP). He leads the franchise with a staggering 32 VORP which is so far and away in the first place that second place Vince Carter’s VORP is only 23. For that matter, DeRozan, who would realistically be Lowry’s only competition for the premier franchise player of this decade, is sitting with a VORP of 8. I mean, it’s not even close.
Of course, DeRozan’s incredible impact on the Toronto franchise cannot be understated. He was a premier example of the Raptors development capabilities as he slowly became an all-star caliber shooting guard in the NBA. As mentioned previously, he leads the franchise in many key statistics including points and games. However, for as many times Lowry has disappointed in playoff moments, so has DeRozan. And beyond that, team-based statistics show that Lowry’s tremendous impact on the court is far more than what shows up in the box score. Even though DeRozan may have put up larger numbers, Lowry was far more responsible for the team’s successes and culture.
For instance, one thing that doesn’t show up on the box score is his hustle plays and physical toughness. There’s a reason that he’s affectionately referred to as a “pit bull” by various sports analysts. Even this year, at the age of 33, Lowry leads the Raptors in loose balls recovered per game and drawn charges. Lowry is a premiere example of a player willing to put his body on the line on every play which is a skill that not many star players in the NBA can claim they possess. It’s that team-first mindset that makes Lowry unique and its what leads the remaining Raptors to think the same way.
In last year’s championship run, Lowry visibly took a much more reserved role. Although his shot attempts were relatively similar, it was obvious that he wasn’t a top-two option like he was with DeRozan. The Raptors squad was riding the highs of Kawhi Leonard and Pascal Siakam’s tremendous playoff performances. Instead of interrupting the flow of the offence, Lowry focused on doing all the “dirty work.” Lowry in May and June in last year’s playoffs led the team in total deflections with 40. He was also second on the team in contested shots. He simply hustled his tail off for the squad, leading by example and showing why from the moment he stepped foot in Toronto, he was the leader the Raptors franchise was looking for. And when the squad needed the All-star point guard to step-up in the NBA Finals, he did. Most notably, in game 3 in the NBA Finals, Lowry scored 23 points and added 9 assists, helping lead the Raptors to a crucial win that gave them a 2-1 lead over the defending champion Warriors.
It’s not to say that Lowry hasn’t had his fair share of playoff duds. In game 1 against the Orlando Magic in last year’s playoffs, Lowry scored 0 points, missing every single field goal and free throw attempt in 33 minutes of play. Or in game 1 against the Milwaukee Bucks in their first-round series in 2017, he shot less than 20% from the field and 0 for 6 from three. How about when he shot 3 for 13 from the field against the Miami Heat in their second-round series in 2016. There’s a lot more of those. But despite his shortcomings, he always made sure to bounce back.
After the terrible start against Miami, he dropped 33 in game 3 to give the Raptors a key series lead. After his poor shooting performance against the Bucks in game 1, he dropped 22 on 50% shooting from the field in game 2. And after scoring 0 points against the Magic in game 1, he put up 22 points and 7 assists on 62% shooting from the field. Lowry’s playoff performances have always been a heated topic of discussion among platoons of Raptors fan, often chastising him for choking in important games. But Lowry’s mental toughness, seen in his ability to shrug off his terrible performances and step-up in the following games is truly what cements him as a Toronto Raptors great.
Lowry has always shown the heart, determination, and passion befitting of a franchise-caliber player. But more importantly, in his now 8-year tenure with the Raptors, the star has helped imprint those same values on every one of his teammates to the point where when you think of the Raptors, you think of heart, determination, and passion. That’s Lowry’s most lasting legacy with the Raptors franchise and why he’s without a shadow of a doubt, the Raptor’s franchise player of the decade.