NBA AM: Can Kyle Lowry Regain Form?

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What is Happening to Kyle Lowry?

Through eight playoff games, the Toronto Raptors have compiled a 4-4 record. They narrowly escaped a first-round upset against the Indiana Pacers and lost Game 1 in both of their series matchups. Judging by regular season efficiency and talent on paper, there is little excuse for Toronto struggling as much as they did versus Indiana in the first round. You could possibly say the same thing about the Raptors dropping Game 1 in their Eastern Conference Semifinals series versus a Chris Bosh-less Miami HEAT unit.

But the Raptors are battling mental hurdles and a host of internal struggles as they struggle to regain the form that led the franchise to a 50-win campaign. The team has received inspired play from center Jonas Valanciunas and have been energized by the return of forward DeMarre Carroll. However, the engine that keeps Toronto humming and clicking on all cylinders has been missing in action.

All-Star guard Kyle Lowry is in the midst of one of the biggest slumps of his career. The talented veteran is averaging a paltry 13 points, 4.1 rebounds and 7.4 assists on 31 percent shooting from the floor to start the playoffs.

Here’s how his playoff numbers compare to the regular season:

2015-16: 21.2 points, 4.7 rebounds, 6.4 assists, 43% FG, 39% 3PT, 81% FT
13 points, 4.1 rebounds, 7.4 assists, 31% FG, 16% 3PT, 72% FT

Lowry has always been a player known for his confidence, aggressive style of play and a general fearlessness. But through eight postseason contests, Lowry has morphed into a tentative, unsure player.

To Lowry’s credit, he has been upfront and honest about how his game has slipped and has vowed to work harder on his craft to right the ship. After the Game 1 loss last night, he stayed in the arena shooting baskets in an effort to recapture his shot.

“I’m going to hang out here and just be in the gym, try to get back to just enjoying it, being in the gym and having fun,” Lowry told the Toronto Star. “I shoot the ball well when I’m by myself, but I’m by myself. … It’s weird. I have (been through slumps) like this, but not at this time, and that’s what sucks. Playoffs, all eyes are on you. So it sucks that I’m playing this bad when all eyes are on me, because I know I’m way better than this. So I’ve got to pick this s— up.”

Lowry’s backcourt mate, DeMar DeRozan, hasn’t done much to alleviate some of the pressures facing the struggling point guard by shooting just 33 percent and averaging 18.4 points in the playoffs (down from 23.5 PPG in the regular season).

The Raptors have been uneven all throughout the playoffs and the only way the team will straighten out of their tailspin is the reemergence of Lowry back into form. It’s not a question of if he can find a rhythm, the question is whether he finds his groove in enough time to keep the Raptors advancing in the playoffs.

Will Tough Love for D’Angelo Russell Pay Off?

On paper, Los Angeles Lakers guard D’Angelo Russell is coming off of a solid rookie campaign. The guard averaged 13.2 points, 3.4 rebounds and 3.3 assists in 28 minutes per night over 80 appearances. However, Russell’s rookie year was filled with bouts of inconsistency, immaturity and a lot of tough love.

Recently dismissed Lakers head coach Byron Scott believes in Russell’s ability at the pro level, but also admitted to dishing out tough love in order to create a bit of humility in the young guard.

“I think he (Russell) can (be a star),” Scott recently said on The Dan Patrick Show. “Obviously, there’s going to be some question marks with that. His work ethic has to get better. His understanding of the game has to get better, but he can flat out score, and he really sees the floor extremely well. He has some tools you can’t teach, but the little intricate parts of the game are the things he has to learn.

“I think some of these guys, when they come into the league, they think they’re entitled, and I thought that’s how he (Russell) felt when he first got with us. He almost tried to act like he was a veteran, and I tried to make sure that he knew that he wasn’t a veteran, that you have to earn your stripes. So yeah, there were times where I was a little tough on him, just to bring him back down to earth, to let him know that this is not an easy task when you’re in the NBA. That’s the easy part is getting there, the hardest part is staying there, getting better and better. Yeah, I had some tough love for the young man. But, I had a lot of love for him. He was put in some tough situations obviously, but I think he’s going to be a good player.”

With the retirement of future Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant and most of the Lakers’ current roster headed to free agency, the development of Russell is at the top of the franchise’s plans. But will Russell show maturity without Scott around handing out tough love and without the veteran wisdom of Bryant? Ultimately, it won’t be the talent that defines Russell; it will be his ability to mature as a leader with increased pressure.