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How Kyle Lowry Emerged as a Star in Toronto
Kyle Lowry has never lacked confidence. For the first eight seasons of his NBA career, he wasn’t named to the All-Star team and often flew under the radar. This frustrated the point guard, as he felt he was on the same level as the players who were being selected to the midseason classic each year.
“Of course I thought I was as good as those guys,” Lowry said with a grin.
Instead of getting upset about the lack of recognition he was receiving, Lowry used the slight as extra motivation and pushed himself so that one day he’d be recognized as an All-Star-caliber player (by someone other than himself).
“Every year I tried to get better and I tried to continue to grow as a player,” Lowry said. “[I] wanted to get better and continue to grow to be as good as those [All-Star] players.”
In his ninth year and on his third team, Lowry finally did it. Not only did he make his first All-Star appearance this season, he was a starter for the Eastern Conference team. That’s a testament to how far he has come as a player and how popular he is among NBA fans. Lowry received 805,290 votes to start in the East’s backcourt, beating out big-name guards like Miami’s Dwyane Wade (789,839) and Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving (535,873).
“It’s my first time being here and it’s as a starter,” Lowry said in disbelief. “I don’t think you can draw this script up much better.”
While that script has a happy ending, the early pages would detail how Lowry’s journey to stardom wasn’t exactly easy. Remember, it wasn’t long ago that Lowry was known as a stubborn point guard who had a reputation for butting heads with coaches. He had gotten into it with Kevin McHale when the two were together on the Houston Rockets and he even had issues with Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey in their first season together. Lowry was talented, but there’s a reason he bounced around the league and was sometimes benched for other point guards.
He was traded twice before landing in Toronto, and they weren’t blockbuster deals. The Memphis Grizzlies named Mike Conley their starting point guard one year after drafting Lowry, making the latter expendable. He was traded in a three-team deal with the Grizzlies and Orlando Magic, in which Houston sent out only Rafer Alston and received Lowry and Brian Cook while Memphis landed Adonal Foyle, Mike Wilks and a future first-round pick. When Houston traded him to Toronto, the Rockets received just Gary Forbes and a future first-round pick.
Lowry was almost traded for a third time just last year, when the Raptors considered moving him prior to the deadline. Toronto general manager Masai Ujiri had just dealt veteran Rudy Gay to the Sacramento Kings and thought about parting ways with Lowry too in order to start rebuilding around the team’s young players. Lowry’s name kept surfacing in trade rumors and, according to reports, he was nearly sent to the New York Knicks in exchange for Raymond Felton, Metta World Peace and either Iman Shumpert, Tim Hardaway Jr. or a 2018 first-round pick. However, Knicks owner James Dolan reportedly vetoed the deal.
Toronto is lucky that the trade with the Knicks didn’t go through, as Lowry soon emerged as one of the best two-way point guards in the league and led the Raptors into the playoffs with a 48-34 record despite their ugly 6-12 start to the season. The veteran floor general and his teammates were outstanding in the second half of last year’s campaign, climbing the standings and ultimately earning the third seed in the Eastern Conference. Ujiri and Lowry went on to develop a strong bond and now it’s clear the point guard is the face of the franchise as well as the heart and soul of the Raptors.
More importantly, the baggage that Lowry carried around for much of his career has suddenly vanished and he seems like a completely different person these days.
Lowry’s transformation began prior to the start of last season, when he got married and had a son, which clearly helped him mature and changed his priorities. He also became very serious about taking his game to another level, even cutting his honeymoon short so that he could start his offseason training earlier at Impact Basketball in Las Vegas. Lowry started taking better care of his body, hiring a private chef and adjusting his diet. The veteran point guard knew that these were the kind of changes that players make when they want to go from being good to being great, and he was looking for any little edge he could get so that he could make the leap to stardom.
Perhaps the biggest change for Lowry was his attitude. Rather than being closed off, he was happier and much more approachable. Rather than focusing on himself and his individual goals, he put the team first and wanted to be the Raptors’ leader. He started taking some young players under his wing and has even opened his home to them.
When Lowry was a rookie in Memphis, the team’s veterans really took care of him. Mike Miller gave him the pass code to his house and told him he was free to come over anytime. Damon Stoudamire gave him suits and clothes to wear since he was ballin’ on a budget. Now that Lowry is the veteran leader in Toronto, he wants to give back and do the same things for his young teammates. It’s clear that Lowry at 28 years old is very different from the young man who entered the league back in 2006.
“It was just me growing up and understanding that at some point I would have to take on more responsibility and [start] looking in the mirror,” Lowry said. “It was [me] becoming more mature. I was just working and not settling for anything – never being satisfied and just going out there and doing my job.”
Lowry’s changes have really paid off and he’s seeing excellent results on and off the court. His leadership has been huge for the Raptors, keeping them in contention despite dealing with injuries to key players, such as DeMar DeRozan. Individually, this has also been the best season of Lowry’s nine-year NBA career, as he’s averaging 18.6 points, 7.2 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 1.6 steals.
The advanced numbers also show how productive Lowry has been throughout this season. His efficiency rating (20.4) is the highest of his career and ranks 14th in the league, and he’s seventh in offensive plus-minus (4.8), ninth in value over replacement player (3.1) and 13th in offensive win shares (4.6).
While Lowry’s lifestyle changes significantly helped his career, he believes that his increased role with Toronto also played a significant part in his success. On other teams, his role was very different and he wasn’t sure if he’d ever have the freedom and increased responsibilities he has now. He’s grateful that Coach Casey and the Raptors have given him this opportunity and put him in a position to be successful and earn this All-Star honor.
“I think once the opportunity came, I took advantage of it,” Lowry said. “Until then, before the opportunity came, I was just trying to figure out when the opportunity was going to come. Yeah, there were ups and downs that were definitely in the way, but at the same time I just knew if I kept working as hard as I know I can work, I’d get here.
“I think that they just gave me the keys to drive the car and they believed and trusted in me and that’s why I think we have a great working relationship right now. I think we have a great team and a great organization along with a great group of guys and coaching staff. Everything seemed to have just worked out perfectly right now.”
Lowry admits that initially, he didn’t think Toronto was going to be the place where everything came together for him. He had doubts and wasn’t sure if things were going to work out on the Raptors.
“Well no, honestly I didn’t think [this is where everything would work out],” Lowry said of Toronto. “But with all the hard work I put in and the commitment they made to me, everything just kind of came into fruition and it worked out.”
Now, Lowry couldn’t be happier in Toronto, which is why he just signed a four-year, $48 million contract with the Raptors last summer to remain with the franchise for the foreseeable future. The love and support he has received from everyone in and around the organization has meant a lot to him.
“Our fan base in Toronto is crazy; every single night we sell out,” Lowry said. “The fans come out and support us and they do a great job of just coming out, cheering loud, showing their passion and electrifying the building. … The advantage of playing in Toronto is you’re not just playing for one city, you’re playing for a country. We know that and we appreciate it. You’re not just playing for one city in Toronto, we’re playing for Vancouver, Montreal, Edmonton. You’re playing for a whole country.”
Even when the Raptors have gone on the road this season, Lowry and his teammates have noticed that there are large sections of Toronto fans throughout their opponent’s arena.
“Honestly, Canadians are all over the world and when they get a chance to support their team and show up, they do it,” Lowry said. “They’ve been doing it and we appreciate it. It’s fun when our fans are in other peoples’ buildings chanting our names.”
Just as Toronto has fallen in love with Lowry, he has fallen in love with the city.
“Right now, it’s home,” Lowry said. “Toronto is the place that supports me and the entire country of Canada is a place I call home right now. It’s the place I live and play majority of the year in so right now it’s my home.”
In the past, there was the belief that the Raptors would have trouble attracting free agents to sign there since they play in Canada and it’s different from what some players are accustomed to in the U.S. However, Lowry doesn’t believe that free agents are opposed to signing with Toronto. He thinks that the team’s winning culture will make them an attractive destination for available players.
“I think winning changes your culture and your image so if you win and you keep on winning, players are going to want to come and play,” Lowry said. “If you’re winning, they’re going to want to come and join that.”
Toronto is certainly winning, and it seems like they have as good a shot as any team to come out of the Eastern Conference this year. Lowry believes they have what it takes.
“I think we have the opportunity and the potential to go really far, but we still have to go out and do it,” Lowry said. “I can say it all I want until my face turns blue, but at the end of the day we have to go out there and tie our shoes and go do it on the hardwood.”
While other teams may be better on paper, Toronto’s chemistry and balanced attack make them very hard to beat. The Raptors currently have the league’s fourth-best offense, averaging 108.9 points per 100 possessions, which is even more impressive when you consider that they don’t have a single player averaging 20 points per game. Lowry is their leading scorer at 18.6 points.
The fact that they don’t rely on one player to lead them every night is actually a strength since their balance is hard to slow down and a new player can step up to defeat their opponent on any given night. Toronto currently has five players averaging in double figures (as well as four more players averaging between 8.0 and 9.9 points). The Raptors are one of the deepest teams in the league, as their bench scores 39.9 points per game (which ranks fifth in the NBA).
“We’ve got a good team,” Lowry said. “We got a full group. One man went down and the next guy kind of stepped up and that’s how we roll on our team. If one guy goes down, we’re not out of it. The next guy steps up and that’s what makes a good team.
“Oh and [our chemistry is very important]. We’re very strong as a unit – one through 15 – so everyone has their own voice and their own say. I think that’s one of the biggest reasons why our team is such a good team. No one is above one another. “
Coach Casey deserves a lot of credit for the team’s success, as Toronto has gotten better each year he has been on the sidelines. He played a crucial role as an assistant coach for the Dallas Mavericks during their 2011 championship run, which allowed him to land the Raptors’ head coaching job. As previously mentioned, he and Lowry didn’t get along at first, but their issues are behind them. Now, Lowry has developed strong relationships with Casey and Ujiri.
“He’s all about defense,” Lowry said of Casey. “He really wants us to always focus on defense and hang our hats on defense because, at the end of the day, that’s how you win games and that’s where he comes from. He’s just a defensive-minded guy.”
Perhaps the scariest thing about this Raptors squad is that their best basketball is likely still ahead of them. After all, center Jonas Valanciunas is just 22 years old, DeRozan is 25, Terrence Ross is 24, Patrick Patterson is 25 and Bruno Caboclo (the team’s 2014 first-round pick) is 19. Toronto still has plenty of room for growth as their young players develop, or they could use these talented young players in a trade if they want to try to land another star to put alongside Lowry.
Even if the team stands pat and doesn’t make any moves (although rumor has it that they’re looking for a big man to bolster their frontcourt), Lowry believes Valanciuas has what it takes to be a special player and perhaps even an All-Star someday.
“He is going to continue to get better,” Lowry said of Valanciunas. “He’s been very instrumental to our team. He’s been a great rim protector and he’s had more double-doubles this year than I believe any other year so far. I think he’s just going to keep developing. He’s only 22 years old, so I think he’s just going to continue to get better, figure out his game and have fun with it. Once he learns to just have fun with it, he’ll be really good… I think he has an opportunity to be an All-Star because he can be a dominant big.”
The biggest question mark on the roster is Caboclo, who is extremely raw and seems to be a few years away from contributing. He was drafted as a project so he’s going to take some time to develop, but he has a ton of potential and Lowry has been impressed with the teenager’s work ethic thus far.
“I think Bruno is going to keep getting better,” Lowry said. “He’s still so young, he’s so raw and you can’t really pinpoint what he’s going to be. That work ethic has been unbelievable though; he’s in the gym every night, two times a day and I think he has the work ethic that he needs to be a good pro.”
Lowry has accomplished his goal of being an All-Star, but he’s not satisfied just yet. Throughout the rest of the season, he wants to continue playing at an All-Star caliber level to prove that he deserved to be in the game and that this was no fluke selection.
“[I want to show] that I belong and that there is a reason that I was voted in as a starter,” Lowry said. “That’s one of the things that’s going to keep me motivated [throughout the year]. I’m always going to be motivated.”
Lowry has nothing left to prove, as he has shown over the last two years that he belongs among the NBA’s elite. Now, he’ll focus on his biggest goal: bringing a championship back to Toronto. He’s determined to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy and pop bottles with his Raptors teammates, and he’s doing whatever it takes to achieve that – even if it means transforming who he is to better himself on and off the court.
Did You Miss the All-Star Events?
We understand that this was a busy weekend for a variety of reasons. You had Valentine’s Day, so you may not have been able to sneak away from your significant other and enjoy the 2015 NBA All-Star Weekend.
We know our readers have a lot going on in their lives, and that not everyone can sit in front of their television and take in all of the All-Star festivities from New York throughout the weekend.
Fortunately, we here at Basketball Insiders have you covered. Our experts Steve Kyler, Jessica Camerato, Moke Hamilton and Tommy Beer were running around New York throughout the weekend and freezing their butts off to compile the best All-Star coverage possible.
To see all of our interviews and articles with this year’s All-Stars, Rising Stars, Dunk Contest participants and Three-Point Contest shooters, be sure to click here.
A number of the players talked about their upcoming free agency, where their team stands at the unofficial halfway point in the season, their growth as a player and much more.
We also posted recaps of every night, so you know can find out what happened in each event.
Did you miss the Rising Stars Challenge that featured young U.S.-born players facing off against young international players? Here’s our Friday night recap.
Did you miss the Skills Challenge, Three-Point Contest and Dunk Contest? Here’s our Saturday night recap.
And if you missed the main event, the 2015 NBA All-Star game, here’s our Sunday night recap so you know who played well and what happened during the event.
NBA Daily: Deadline Dilemma In Toronto
After winning the 2019 NBA Championship and losing Kawhi Leonard, the Toronto Raptors have defied the odds, winning 30 of their first 44 games this season — but Drew Maresca argues that conceding this season in hopes of building an even stronger future roster is the smarter long-term move.
The Raptors have overachieved in a ridiculous way in 2019-20. They were +700 to repeat as NBA champions prior to the 2019 free agency period, according to the Draft Kings.
Immediately after Kawhi Leonard fled West, the Raptors’ odds grew to +2200 to repeat – tied with the Celtics, who just lost Kyrie Irving, and the Nets, whose best player was set to miss the entire year. And yet through 44 games, the Raptors are third in the Eastern Conference with a 31-14 record and only one-and-a-half games behind last year’s pace (32-12).
But what’s in a record? There’s more to unpack than just wins and losses, especially when success has almost certainly been redefined in a city that just experienced its first NBA championship ever. So a logical test is how well you’re playing against the crème de la crème. And in that regard, the Raptors haven’t fared too well. Including their home win against Philadelphia on Wednesday night, the Raptors are still only 7-12 against winning teams with a net rating of minus-37 in those 19 games.
Very few teams would be terribly upset to be in a similar situation as the Raptors. In fact, most teams would be thrilled to be third overall in their conference. But the Raptors are barreling toward an interesting decision: embrace the opportunity to continue to gain playoff experience (and additional playoff revenue) or expedite a miniature rebuild. This writer’s thoughts on the matter are well documented in our 2019-20 Toronto Raptors Season Preview and our recent Atlantic Division – buyers or sellers piece. But let’s officially build a case supporting the Raptors trading some of their veterans in an attempt to add assets prior to the Feb. 6 trade deadline.
The Raptors’ most valuable trade chip is also their longest-tenured player – starting point guard, Kyle Lowry. Lowry is 33 years old and experiencing a career resurgence after taking a back seat to Leonard last year. Lowry is averaging a near career-high 37.1 minutes per game, in which time he’s scoring 20 points per game – more than he’s scored since 2016-17 — and dishing out 7.5 assists.
But Lowry is probably the last guy the team wants to move. He’s a fan favorite and has been with the team for eight consecutive seasons; Lowry is currently third overall for games played in franchise history. But if they chose to dangle Lowry on the trade market, they would certainly get a good amount of interest from teams like the Lakers, HEAT, 76ers and maybe even the Jazz and Nuggets. What interested parties would offer is an entirely different story, but it would have to be pretty aggressive to get the Raptors to part with their franchise player.
But there are other guys who make more sense in a trade.
There’s Marc Gasol, their soon-to-be 35-year-old center. Unlike Lowry, Gasol is not experiencing a career renaissance. He’s missed 12 of their 44 games, with down years in scoring (7.8 points per game compared to his 14.7 career average), two-point shooting (44% compared to his from 49.7% career average) and rebounds (6.4 rebounds compared to his 7.6. career average). But he still has a good amount of utility in him. After all, he leads the Raptors in defensive plus/minus, per Basketball Reference – something that he’s prided himself on throughout his career and an attribute that would be a welcomed addition to most contenders.
There’s also Serge Ibaka, their 30-year-old sometimes-starting, sometimes-backup big man. Ibaka is actually outpacing career averages in scoring (14.9), rebounds (8.4) and assists (1.3). Ibaka is still widely viewed as an above-average and versatile defender, and the fact that he’s shooting 37% on three-pointers makes him all the more valuable to teams like the Boston Celtics – who lack a true big man who can stretch the floor.
Gasol and Ibaka’s standing in Toronto is especially vulnerable since both will enter free agency this summer — whereas Lowry signed an extension last year that runs through 2020-21, when he’ll make $30.5 million. The Raptors could choose to keep Gasol and/or Ibaka, but either or both could walk without returning any assets as soon as this July. Further, the team is unlikely to break the bank for either considering they’ll have to make a generous offer to retain soon-to-be free agent guard Fred VanVleet – who is having a breakout season, averaging 18.7 points and 6.7 assists per game while shooting 38.8% on a career-high 6.9 three-point attempts per game. VanVleet is only 25 years old and fits alongside Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby and the team’s young role players like Norman Powell far better than Ibaka or Gasol.
As it stands, the Raptors have about $85 million in salary commitments for 2020-21 with $3.8 million in a player option (Stanley Johnson) and another $1.5 million in a team option (Terence Davis). The cap is projected at $116 million with the luxury tax kicking in at $141 million. They can (and should) invest between $20 and $25 million per year in VanVleet, which brings them up to about $110 million. If negotiations begin creeping north of $25 million per year, the Raptors will have to make concessions elsewhere if they hope to retain VanVleet – Ibaka would theoretically be among those concessions since he’ll probably be looking for at least one more generous payday. It’s unclear what Gasol would seek in a new contract.
All three of the aforementioned Raptors have at least one thing in common – they are the only three Raptors born before 1990. So whether they like it or not, the Raptors have turned their roster over quickly and effectively to the extent that they have a talented young core with the framework of a contender in the making.
All three veteran players can definitely continue contributing for at least the remainder of this season – and to varying degrees, well beyond it. But their impact will be more profound on a contender looking to add quality veterans. And despite what their record tells us, that’s just not the Raptors right now.
Instead, the Raptors are a team in the very fortunate position of being able to reload relatively quickly around a blossoming young core. Yes, they’re significantly better than average, but which would you prefer: a team that qualifies for the conference semifinals in 2019-20 or a team that loses in the first round of the 2019-20 playoffs, but adds additional assets — some of whom help the team remain competitive for years to come?
Granted, dislodging Lowry from Toronto requires a monster offer and would result in at least some backlash; but neglecting to trade Gasol and/or Ibaka is likely to result in one or both leaving to pursue more money and/or additional championships – neither of which can the Raptors offer. The Raptors and team president Masai Ujiri have made bold moves time and again. There is no reason to hold off on moving either Gasol and/or Ibaka before Feb. 6 – and if a sweetheart offer comes in for Lowry, then him, too.
Regardless, the Raptors are fairly well set up for the future, so it is unlikely that this move (or lack of it) is analyzed too aggressively in the future. And also, there is certainly a fine line between being opportunist and greedy. But trading one, both or all veterans allows the team to add additional assets to a cupboard that already looks pretty well stocked.
And it’s probably one of the final opportunities to add talent before their core takes its final form — and if that form results in future championships is partially dependent on how the Raptors proceed before the 2020 trade deadline.
NBA Daily: Raptors’ Thomas Patiently Perseveres
It took a tight family, two years in Spain and a broken finger, but Matt Thomas’ chance to showcase his shooting on the biggest stage might be finally just around the corner.
Matt Thomas’ long-awaited break was disrupted by a more literal break. After the shooting guard spent two years impressing in the Liga ACB in Spain, Thomas’ first season with the Toronto Raptors was supposed to be his chance to prove himself NBA-ready.
And as the Raptors suffered injury after injury in November, that chance looked like it could grow into a full-blown role, if only on a temporary basis.
“He’s shown he can play at this level, where we can come out there and run stuff for him and he can do work,” Toronto head coach Nick Nurse said. “He’s a really good team defender; he’s much better defensively than maybe people give him credit for.”
Instead, Thomas joined the walking wounded with a broken finger, the first injury to force him to miss extended time in his professional career.
“Anytime you’re injured, it’s hard,” Thomas said. “As a competitor, I want to be on the court, especially we had so many injuries. There was a big opportunity on the table for a first-year guy like myself.”
Thomas had hit 14-of-26 threes at that point, 53.8 percent, already arguably the best shooter on the Raptors’ roster, albeit in limited minutes. The Iowa State product was making the most of his break until his break.
He had waited for it since finishing his four-year career in Ames and Thomas seemed on the verge of reaching the NBA right away in 2017. He spent that Summer League with the Los Angeles Lakers, knowing the Raptors were keeping a close eye. In time, though, Valencia beckoned, a tough decision for someone exceptionally close with his family. Up until that point, the closeness had been as literal as figurative, with Iowa State a four-hour drive from Thomas’ hometown of Onalaska, Wisconsin.
“I wanted to spread my wings and get out of my comfort zone a little bit,” Thomas said of his two years in Spain where he averaged 13.3 points and shot 47.2 percent from deep. “The distance is tough. The time change is the other thing. It’s a 7-to-8 hour time difference, so you really have to coordinate when you’re going to talk to people.”
That was frustrating for a brother intent on keeping up on his sister’s college career, now a senior at the University of Dubuque. Moreover, it was an even bigger change for a family that had been tight-knit since Thomas lost his father in fifth grade.
Thomas’s mother, brother and sister did manage to visit him in Spain, but watching games stateside is obviously much easier. At least, in theory. When the Midwestern winter dumped five inches of snow on the highways between the Target Center and his hometown about 2.5 hours away, that recent trek to see him became that much tougher.
Nonetheless, about four dozen Thomas supporters filled a section above the Raptors’ bench. They were most noticeable when Nurse subbed in the sharpshooter with just a minute left in the first half.
“It’s special because I have a really good support system,” Thomas said. “I’ve had that my entire life . . . It’s just really special to have so many people make the trip, especially given the weather conditions. I was talking to one of my cousins from Iowa; he was driving 30 on the highway. He got here in six hours, it would normally take maybe three.”
If anyone could understand that Midwestern stubbornness, it would be Nurse, himself from just four hours south of the Twin Cities. When asked why his fan club was not as vocal as Thomas’, Nurse joked his was stuck “in a snowdrift somewhere in Carroll County, Iowa.”
It might not have been a joke.
Nurse did not insert Thomas just to appease his loyal cheering section. The end of half situation called for a shooter — he had gone 7-of-18 in his four games after returning from the broken finger. Of players averaging at least two attempts from beyond the arc per game, Thomas leads Toronto with a 46.7 percentage.
“It’s too bad that he was one of the guys out when we had everybody out because he could have logged some serious minutes,” Nurse said. “Now he gets back and everybody’s back and he kind of gets filtered in.”
That close family, that time in Spain, that broken finger and now that filtering in have all been a part of Thomas getting a chance to prove himself in the NBA.
If he has to wait a bit longer before seeing serious minutes, so be it.
The Raptors did, after all, give him a three-year contract. He has time on his side.
Who The NBA’s Top Road Warriors?
Jordan Hicks takes a look at the teams boasting the top-five road records in the league and breaks down what makes them so good away from home.
Winning in the NBA is not easy by any means — but a victory on the road is almost more valuable than one at home. Maybe not as far as standings are concerned, but road wins are harder to come by in the league. Being able to get victories away from home can shoot your team up the standings faster than anything else.
Each year there are new teams that impress. Whether it’s expected franchises such as those led by LeBron James or Kawhi Leonard — superstars with historically great track records, rosters that must do so to meet lofty expectations. But there are always surprise newcomers such as the Miami HEAT or the Dallas Mavericks, too. Either way, a large chunk of those aforementioned team’s success relies heavily upon their ability to get wins on the road.
Who are the best road warriors this year? What teams are posting the highest records away from their home cities at the halfway point? Basketball Insiders takes a look at the top five teams in that realm, plus points to certain reasons they may be finding success.
No. 1: Los Angeles Lakers (19-4)
This first one should come as no surprise. For one, they are led by LeBron James. Secondly, they are co-led by Anthony Davis. Do you even need a third reason?
Listen, everyone thought the Lakers would be good. But did anyone think they’d be this dominant and click this fast? Honestly, high-five if so. But it’s not just those two that are doing all the work. Players like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope are thriving, Dwight Howard is having a mini-resurgence, Kyle Kuzma is playing for his roster spot and Rajon Rondo is still dishing dimes at a high rate – though not as high as King James.
LeBron is averaging 26 points, 10.9 assists and 8.4 rebounds on the road, almost a triple-double. Davis is just behind scoring-wise at 25.9 points and almost a double-double with 9.2 rebounds. Kuzma is shooting 47.2 percent from the field and scoring just over 15 a game and, most surprisingly, leading the team in plus-minus at a plus-7.1.
With multiple road-wins against the Mavericks — and one each over the Miami HEAT, the Utah Jazz, and the Denver Nuggets — what’s not to appreciate? The Lakers appear to be the clear front runner in the Western Conference and their impressive road record is a large reason why.
No. 2: Milwaukee Bucks (18-4)
On top of the road-win totem with the Lakers sits the Milwaukee Bucks. They’ve been every bit as dominating as the Lakers, which is helped, in part, to the much-weaker bottom of the Eastern Conference. But this by no means is a knock on their talent level. Just like the Lakers are the current kings of the West, the Bucks are dominating the East.
Giannis Antetokounmpo appears ready to secure his second consecutive MVP award. He’s even more dominant than he was last year and he’s finally shooting the three at a respectable clip.
While Antetokounmpo’s numbers seem to be pretty steady overall when compared to his road numbers, Eric Bledsoe and Khris Middleton both see a bump in production when playing away from their home arena. Although the Bucks have an insanely-impressive point differential of plus-13.8 at home, it dips to just plus-11.4 when they play on the road. This is a true testament to their consistency as they travel.
The Bucks appear to lack the road-win resume that the Lakers bolster, but with solid wins against the Los Angeles Clippers and Houston Rockets, they can clearly take care of business against evenly-matched opponents.
No. 3: Dallas Mavericks (14-5)
By far and large the biggest surprise this NBA season has been the Mavericks. A few smart people probably had them penciled in as a surprise eighth-seed, but it’s almost a guarantee no one had them in as a playoff lock as early as December.
The reason they’re playing so well? Luka Doncic. He’s only half an assist away from averaging a triple-double on the road and he’s scoring more to boot. In fact, the Mavericks are averaging just 115.1 points at home compared to a whopping 118.6 on the road.
What’s even crazier is the fact that Dallas’ offensive rating while on the road not only leads the NBA — it’s over four full points greater than the Lakers at No. 2. The gap between them and second place is as big as the space between Los Angeles and the eleventh-ranked team.
The Mavericks boast quite the slate of road wins including the Nuggets, Lakers, Bucks, Rockets and Philadelphia 76ers. Yes, you read all those names right. One thing is for certain, the Mavericks will be a nightmare for whoever has to play them in the playoffs – regardless of seeding.
No. 4: Toronto Raptors (14-7)
You would think that after Kawhi Leonard’s departure that the Raptors would have slightly folded, but they’ve almost picked up right where they left off. Sure, Leonard’s absence was going to leave some sort of void, but it’s amazing just how well Toronto has fared this season.
They boast the second-best road defense with a rating of 102.7, just behind the Bucks. They also have the fourth-best net rating away from home.
The three-headed monster of Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet and Kyle Lowry has been as effective on the road as it has been at home. Thanks to the ever-improving play of Siakam, Toronto should comfortably find themselves with home-court advantage come playoff time. They might not have what it takes to repeat as champions, but they’re absolutely going to make life tough for whomever they end up facing.
Solid road wins against the Boston Celtics and Lakers certainly look impressive on the resume, but they’ll need to continue to improve as a unit if they want to make any noise in the playoffs.
No. 5: Denver Nuggets (13-7)
The Nuggets are having an interesting season. Gary Harris hasn’t been playing well at all, Jamal Murray hasn’t been turning heads either, but Nikola Jokic is still feasting on any opposing center thrown his way.
The biggest surprise so far? The stellar play of second-year rookie Michael Porter Jr. He’s only averaging about 15 minutes per game but, on the road, he’s scoring 8.3 points per game on 56 percent from the field and 51.6 percent from three. His NBA sample sizes aren’t quite big enough yet, but it’s becoming more and more clear just how good he’ll become.
Despite no one else on the roster improving much from last season, the Nuggets still find themselves in the upper-echelon of the Western Conference — and their stellar road play is a major reason. With solid road-wins against the Lakers, Mavericks and Indiana Pacers, the Nuggets are primed to finish the second half of the season strong. If Porter Jr. continues to improve and see expanded minutes, Denver could turn into a real threat out west.
All the teams on this list have been pretty impressive up to this point in the season, but there is still a long way to go. Will the Bucks or Lakers get dethroned as the road warriors of their respective conferences? Only time will tell.
But if one thing is certain in the NBA, road wins are no “gimmes,” regardless of opponent. The above teams all deserve their rightful spot on this midseason list. How many will remain come April?