Kyle Lowry dishes his biggest assists off the court.
For the Toronto Raptors point guard, his role goes far beyond running the floor and facilitating the offense. Now in his ninth NBA season, Lowry’s job is just as much about setting his teammates up for success as it is setting them up for shots.
“He’s the overall leader, not just from a basketball standpoint,” DeMar DeRozan said. “It’s everything.”
To understand Lowry’s desire to help, you have to go back to 2006. Lowry had just entered the league after two years at Villanova University. He grew up in Philadelphia, went to college nearby and found himself in a new city as a rookie on the Memphis Grizzlies.
Lowry’s veteran teammates made him feel at home in an unfamiliar setting. Damon Stoudamire gave him clothes and suits. Mike Miller even shared the passcode to his house. Whatever he needed, they were willing to lend a hand.
As Lowry made his way through the NBA, he developed relationships with players on other teams. Fellow Villanova alum Alvin Williams invited him over for dinner while Chauncey Billups and Tyronn Lue, whom he worked out with in the offseason, also made an impact with their warm outreach.
“I had guys accept me for me and they embraced me. I felt I had to pass it along,” Lowry, 28, told Basketball Insiders. “The things that I’ve done, those guys did for me… I appreciate those guys because this fraternity is a very small brotherhood.”
For all the support Lowry received, he wanted to pay it forward as he grew in the league. It started with becoming a leader on the court.
The Grizzlies traded Lowry to the Houston Rockets during his third season in 2009. That was where Chuck Hayes met the budding point guard, who was a backup at the time. When Aaron Brooks got injured early into the 2010-11 season, Lowry earned the starting role. Hayes noticed a change taking place.
“He started to be a voice, he started to have a confidence and believe in himself,” said Hayes, who currently plays on the Raptors. “He had a stretch of games where he was outplaying some of the top point guards in the league. At the time, the coach in Houston (Rick Adelman) gave him the green light – ‘Don’t look over your shoulder, just go.’ Once that happened, everything else started to fall into place.”
Patrick Patterson was a rookie on the Rockets that season. When he entered the league, Lowry was quick to offer him the same hospitality he had received on the Grizzlies. The approach that Lowry took with his teammates was simple – what was his was theirs.
“He’s very reliable,” said Patterson, who is also now a member of the Raptors. “When I first met him my rookie year in Houston, anything I needed as far as a place to stay, to borrow a car, ideas on where to go to eat, what to do in the city itself, if I’m bored at my crib and want to go somewhere, he always had his door open. He’s a big brother type. He’s just a guy who will look out for you and pretty much put you before him.”
Lowry was traded from the Rockets to the Raptors in the summer of 2012. He came to his new team with six years of NBA experience under his belt, ready to jump in to help. Since then Lowry has been extending himself, his home and his family to the Raptors.
“He invites you into his personal life,” DeRozan said. “I think that plays a lot when it comes to being trustworthy and when it comes to basketball.”
“[His leadership] is on another level,” Patterson added. “He puts his team on his back. He’s the captain, he’s the leader. He’s that guy who will sacrifice himself for the better good of the team. … He brings his family around us so his family is like our family. His son is pretty much around us 24-7, same as his wife. He’s a big family-oriented guy and he’s not afraid to let people in.”
Lowry embraced the position as the Raptors’ social planner to help build chemistry. He organizes team events such as trips to the bowling alley and the movies. When the Raptors play against the 76ers in his hometown of Philadelphia, he invites the entire squad to his house the evening before the game. Forget about hotel room service, the Lowry family delivers five-star treatment.
“We have a nice big home-cooked dinner,” Terrence Ross said. “His wife and his mom cook for us. It’s good, too. He brings his barber in … He’s got pool tables, video games, we watch the games there. We’ll get to Philly around 6:00, get to his house around 9:00, won’t leave until 11:00. It’s fun being at his house.”
For as many group events as Lowry plans, he also develops one-on-one relationships with his teammates. Just as he formed bonds with veterans when he was a young player, he does the same with those starting their careers.
During Ross’ rookie season, which was also Lowry’s first in Toronto, the veteran point guard noticed him watching the TV show “The Boondocks” on the team plane. He would stop by Ross to crack a few jokes and they soon realized they shared similar interests beyond favorite television programs.
“The first person I opened up to and joked around with was Kyle,” Ross said. “Personally, Kyle is like my big brother. Since I got to Toronto, he’s taken me under his wing. I’ve always been close to Kyle, talking to Kyle, joking with Kyle. He’s an all-around cool guy. He’s really involved with everyone on the team to make sure we have our chemistry there, so Kyle is like the big brother of the team.”
Last season, Lowry helped propel the Raptors to their first postseason appearance since 2008. Over the summer, he inked a four-year contract worth $48 million to stay in Toronto.
This season, the team is proving their playoff berth was no fluke; they hold the best record in the Eastern Conference at 6-1. Lowry is at the helm, averaging 17.9 points, 4.4 rebounds and 5.6 assists. Lowry, who arrives two hours early to practice, posted a triple-double (13 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists) last week against the Washington Wizards.
“He’s very professional and mellow,” Greivis Vasquez said of Lowry. “I really look up to him. His preparation and his professionalism is off the hook. I think this guy deserves everything he has right now because he worked for it.”
Lowry, for the most part, has flown under the radar. There are plenty of other players with catchy commercials and flashy highlight reels who are given recognition ahead of him. To the Raptors, though, they couldn’t ask for more from their leader.
“He’s been the engine of this team,” Hayes said. “We ride his coattail. He’s the voice, he gets us going, we feed off of him. He’s the heart of this team.”
Lowry gives everything he has as a teammate without asking for anything in return. To him, it is simply part of being a leader, a value instilled upon him years ago as a young guard in Memphis.
“It’s just me being me,” Lowry said. “It’s not like I’m trying to do it to be fake. I’m just doing it because I really like my teammates and I really want them to be happy in life. I want to show them things that can make them happy and I want them to be part of my life because I’m with them every day.”
Middleton, Bucks Aiming To ‘Lock In’ As Season Comes To Close
Spencer Davies catches up with Milwaukee Bucks swingman Khris Middleton in a Basketball Insiders exclusive.
Basketball Insiders had the chance to chat with Khris Middleton about the direction of the Milwaukee Bucks as the season comes to a close.
You guys won three out of four before you came into Cleveland. What was working during that stretch?
Just being us. Doing it with our defense, playing fast-paced offense. Just trying to keep teams off the three-point line. We haven’t done that. We didn’t do that [Monday] or two games ago, but it’s something we’ve just gotta get back to.
With the offense—it seems like it’s inconsistent. What do you think that’s got to do with mostly?
Just trying to do it by ourselves sometimes. Standing, keeping the ball on one side of the floor. We’re a better team when we play in a fast pace. And then also in the half court, when we move the ball from side-to-side it just opens the paint for everybody and there’s a lot more space.
For you, on both ends you’ve been ultra-aggressive here in the last couple weeks or so, does that have to do with you feeling better or is it just a mindset?
I’ve been healthy all year. Right now, it’s the end of the season. Gotta make a push. Everybody’s gotta lock in. Have to be confident, have to be aggressive. Have to do my job and that’s to shoot the ball well and to defend.
Have you changed anything with your jumper? Looking at the past couple months back-to-back, your perimeter shooting was below 32 percent. In March it’s above 45 percent.
I feel like I got a lot of great looks earlier this year. They just weren’t falling. Right now, they’re falling for me, so I have the same mindset that I had when I was missing and that’s to keep on shooting. At some point, they’re gonna go down for me.
Is knowing that every game at this point means more an extra motivator for you guys?
Definitely. We’re basically in the playoffs right now. We’re in a playoff series right now where we have to win games, we have to close out games, in order to get the seeding and to stay in the playoffs. Each game and each possession means something to us right now.
Is it disappointing to be in the position the team is in right now, or are you looking at it as, ‘If we get there, we’re going to be alright’?
I mean, we wish we were in a better position. But where we’re at right now, we’re fine with it. We want to make that last push to get higher in the seeding.
Lots of changes have gone on here. Eric Bledsoe came in two weeks into the season. You had the coaching change and lineup changes. Jabari Parker’s been getting situated before the postseason. How difficult does that make it for you guys to build consistency?
Yeah, it was tough at first. But I think early on we had to adjust on the fly. We didn’t have too many practices. There was a stretch where we were able to get in the film room, get on the court, and practice with each other more.
Now it’s just at a point where we’re adding a lot of new guys off the bench where we have to do the same things—learn on the fly, watch film. We’re not on the court as much now, but we just have to do a great job of buying in to our system, try to get to know each other.
Does this team feel like it has unfinished business based on what happened last year?
Definitely. Last year, we felt like we let one go. Toronto’s a great team. They’re having a hell of a season this year, but I feel like we let one go. This year’s a new year—a little add of extra motivation. We’ve been in the playoff position before, so hopefully, we learn from it when we go into it this year.
Would you welcome that rematch?
I mean, we welcome anybody man. We showed that we compete with any team out here. We can’t worry about other teams as much. We just have to be focused on us.
What has to happen for you guys to achieve your full potential?
Lock in. Just play as hard as we can, play unselfish, and do our job out there night-in, night-out.
NBA Daily: Raptors Look To Fine-Tune The Defense
The Toronto Raptors’ defense had a letdown against the Cavaliers, but has been outstanding overall.
The Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors engaged in an offensive shootout on Wednesday that could be a playoff preview. The Cavs protected home court with a single-possession, 132-129 victory. Afterward, the Raptors spoke about the types of defensive adjustments the team needs to make as the postseason rapidly approaches.
“That’s how a playoff game would be,” said DeMar DeRozan, who missed a three at the buzzer that could have forced overtime. “This is a team we’ve been playing against the last two years in the postseason. Understanding how we can tighten up things defensively, how to make things tougher for them [is key].
“[It’s] little small things that go a long way, and not just with them … with every team.”
Raptors coach Dwane Casey concurred with DeRozan that fine-tuning of the defense is needed. He also pointed out that, with young contributors such as center Jakob Poeltl and power forward Pascal Siakam on the roster, defensive experience against the league’s best player, LeBron James, is something they will have to gain on the fly.
“I don’t think Jakob Poeltl played against him that much, and Siakam,” said Casey. “This is their first time seeing it. I thought Jak and Pascal did an excellent job, but there are certain situations where they’ve got to read and understand what the other team is trying to do to them.”
Poeltl was outstanding, leading the bench with 17 points and tying for the team lead in rebounds with eight. Casey praised the diversity of his contributions.
“I thought he did an excellent job of rolling, finishing, finding people,” said Casey. “I thought defensively, he did a good job of protecting the paint, going vertical. So I liked what he was giving us, especially his defense against Kevin Love.”
Basketball Insiders previously noted how the Raptors have performed vastly better as a team this season when starting point guard Kyle Lowry is out of the game. Much of that is due to Fred VanVleet’s emergence as one of the NBA’s best reserve point guards. VanVleet scored 16 points with five assists and no turnovers against Cleveland. It’s also a reflection of how good Toronto’s perimeter defense has been up and down the roster.
According to ESPN’s defensive Real Plus-Minus statistic, three of the NBA’s top 15 defensive point guards play for the Raptors. VanVleet ranks seventh while Lowry is 12th and Delon Wright is 14th. Starting small forward OG Anunoby ranks 16th at his position.
The Raptors also rank in the top five in offensive efficiency (third) and defensive efficiency (fifth). Having established an identity as a defensive team, especially on the perimeter, it’s perhaps understandable that Lowry was the one player in the visiting locker room who took the sub-standard defensive showing personally.
“It was a disgraceful display of defense by us and we’ve got to be better than that,” said Lowry. “We’ve got to be more physical. They picked us apart and made a lot of threes. We’ve got to find a way to be a better defensive team.”
Lowry continued the theme of fine-tuning as the regular season winds down.
“I think we’ve just got to make adjustments on the fly as a team,” said Lowry. “We can score with the best of them, but they outscored us tonight. We got what we wanted offensively. We’re one of the top teams in scoring in the league, but we’re also a good defensive team.”
Lowry was clearly bothered by Toronto’s defensive showing, but Casey downplayed the importance of a single regular-season game.
“We’ve got to take these games and learn from them, and again learn from the situations where we have to be disciplined,” said Casey. “It’s not a huge thing. It’s situations where we are that we’ve got to learn from and be disciplined and not maybe take this step and over-help here. Because a team like that and a passer like James will make you pay.”
While the Raptors continue to gain experience and dial in the fine defensive details, Casey was insistent that his players should not hang their heads over falling short against Cleveland.
“Hopefully our guys understand that we’re right there,” said Casey.
The Raptors host the Brooklyn Nets tonight to open a three-game home stand that includes visits from the Clippers Sunday and the Nuggets Tuesday. After that, Toronto visits the Celtics March 31 followed by a return to Cleveland April 3 and a home game against Boston the next night. With three games in a row against the other two top-three teams in the East, the schedule presents plenty of opportunities for the Raptors to add defensive polish before the playoffs begin.
NBA Daily: Jaylen Brown Set To Return For Celtics
The Celtics finally got some good news on Thursday. Jaylen Brown’s return is imminent.
Finally, some good news for the Boston Celtics.
Jaylen Brown is set to return to action.
Brown has been M.I.A. since sustaining a concussion during the team’s 117-109 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves back on March 8, but has traveled with the team to Portland and is expecting to return to the lineup on Sunday when the Celtics do battle with the Sacramento Kings.
As the Celts gear up for a playoff run, which they hope will result in them ending LeBron James’ reign atop the Eastern Conference, they’ve picked the wrong time to run into injury issues. Along with Brown, both Kyrie Irving and Marcus Smart have each been conspicuous by their absences, and the team could certainly use all of their pieces as they attempt to enter the postseason on a high note.
Fortunately for Boston, with the Toronto Raptors leading them by 4.5 games in the standings and the Celts ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers by a comfortable six games, Brad Stevens’ team is enjoying the rare situation of having a playoff seed that appears to be somewhat locked in.
Still, with the team only able to go as far as its young rotation will carry it, Brown addressed the media on Thursday.
“I’m feeling a lot better. I’m just trying to hurry up and get back,” Brown said, as quoted by Celtics.com.
“I’m tired of not playing.”
Stevens is probably tired of him not playing, too.
As we head into the month of April, playoff-bound teams and conference contenders begin to think about playing into June, while the cellar-dwellers and pretenders begin to look toward the draft lottery and free agency.
What’s funny is that in the midst of the Raptors and their rise out East, the Celtics and their dominance has become a bit of a forgotten storyline. When Gordon Hayward went down on opening night, the neophytes from the Northeast were thought to be a decent team in the making whose ceiling probably wasn’t anywhere near that of the Cavs, the Raptors and perhaps even the Washington Wizards.
Yet through it all, with the impressive growth of Jaylen Brown, impressive rookie Jayson Tatum and the rise of Irving as a franchise’s lynchpin, the Celtics stormed out the games to the tune of a a 17-3 record. What made the strong start even more impressive was the fact that the team won 16 straight games after beginning the season 0-2.
Although they weren’t able to keep up that pace, they began the month of February having gone 37-15 and turned a great many into believers. With their spry legs, team-first playing style and capable leader in Irving, the Celtics, it was thought, were a true contender in the Eastern Conference — if not the favorite.
Since then, and after experiencing injuries to some of its key cogs, the team has gone just 11-8.
In the interim, it seems that many have forgotten about the team that tantalized the Eastern Conference in the early goings of the season.
Brown’s return, in one important respect, will signify a return to Boston’s prior self.
With Marcus Smart having recently undergone surgery to repair a torn tendon in his right thumb, he is expected to be out another five weeks or so, meaning that he’ll likely miss the beginning of the postseason.
As for Irving, although reports say that his ailing knee has no structural damage, everything the Celtics hope to accomplish begins and ends with him. FOX Sports 1’s Chris Broussard believes that it’s no slam dunk that Irving returns to action this season, but he’s in the minority. This team has simply come too far to not give themselves every opportunity to compete at the highest level, so long as doing so doesn’t jeopardize the long term health of any of the franchise’s cornerstones.
Make no mistake about it, the Celtics are far from a finished product. With their nucleus intact and flexibility preserved, they will have another offseason with which to tinker with their rotation pieces and plug away at building a champion.
But here and now, with what they’ve got, the Celtics are much closer than any of us thought they would be at this point.
And on Sunday, when Jaylen Brown rejoins his team in the lineup, to the delight of the Boston faithful, the Celtics will be that much closer.