Regardless of profession, when it comes to maturity, many reasons factor into its progression. Whether it’s childbirth, the spectrums of matrimony or even death of someone close, a sense of focused reality develops strictly within how we handle both the good and the bad. It’s in these moments we learn of ourselves and in that mental development, success is born augmenting our space in time. With athletes, it’s no different and in the case of Kyle Lowry, his maturation process is happening right now. The 24th pick in the ’06 draft out of Villanova is having a sparkling season with the Toronto Raptors and the bulldog point guard owes much of his current success to his time with the Houston Rockets under Kevin McHale.
During the NBA lockout of 2011, a barnstorming event came through Philly. The Batttle for I-95 gave fans a chance to see the NBA up close in the intimately strong confines of Philly's legendary Palestra. The game was billed as Team LeBron vs. Team Melo, but the player I found most impressive was Kyle Lowry. Lowry was hungry and reminiscent of Baron Davis in his prime going hard to the cup. Anyone who has played the game understands one of the most dangerous weapons is a point guard that’s not only fearless slasher, but is almost impossible to guard one-on-one because of his determined strength in and around the lane.
Late in the shot clock or in the fourth quarter of games important or otherwise, the difference between winning and losing is having a point guard that can take over the game when any play called breaks down. All a player of this skill set needs is a talented team, and it’s only a matter of time before victories becomes standard. I spoke to Lowry afterwards and what I took from our conversation was he didn’t see the Battle of I-95 as an exhibition, but more an opportunity to show the world he was not sitting around just playing video games and waiting for the lockout to end. He was in his hometown, so thinking he would coast through such a game, was absolutely out of the question. He was such an incredible player in high school at Cardinal Dougherty in Philadelphia and the best way to describe North Philly’s finest is to envision of a running back finding a hole in the defense where there is none and you have on full display the sheer determination Lowry employs whenever he is on the floor. If you give him any sense of weakness, he will exploit you and your coach will quickly be calling for a substitution.
In 47 games (38 starts) after the lockout was resolved, Lowry turned the corner. He averaged career bests in points (14.8), rebounds (4.5) and by a tenth just missed a high in assists with 6.6. Though he was sent to Toronto in an offseason trade the next year, Lowry has become the piece Toronto needed to become a playoff contender. The 39-30 Raptors are 1st in the Atlantic with a chance to break the franchise record of 47 wins. A playoff bid is right around the corner too.
Lowry has been an above average defender and rebounder from his guard position since he’s picked up the rock despite being 5-foot-9. A rebounding point guard adds possessions to the game by either chasing down loose balls or even getting up high amongst the trees inside and stealing boards thought to be secured. He’s tied for 5th in league triple-doubles with 2 (has a Toronto franchise record of 3 Oscars) and this season set a career high in steals with 105 with 2 months to go. Lowery is 6th in win-shares and both DeMar DeRozan and Rudy Gay seem comfortable with him manning the point.
The talented forwards count on Lowry and when Lowry’s on the bench, their production dips. Lowry is the type of player that affects his team’s psyche through how he plays the game. He’s a strong-willed player that expects his teammates to be similar.
In speaking with Ashley Fox of the Philadelphia Inquirer in March of ’09, Villanova’s head coach Jay Wright spoke it true: "He was a handful, boy," Wright said. "Everything he did on the court was about being small and not backing down to anybody and being tougher than everybody. You loved that about him. But off the court, he did the same thing with authority. He never wanted people around him to see that someone was going to tell him what to do. And in his mind, it was kind of cowering if you gave in to that."
The latter point Wright makes is a misunderstood trait of many athletes and passed down through families ensuring they enter the world with a sense of confidence and respect. Men like Lowry cannot be broken and that is everything positive. They want strong; they want tough; they want real and when something is out of sorts, their confidence wavers in anyone not strength based in body, mind and soul. Lowry has admitted to tuning out Rockets head coach Kevin McHale while in Houston and it left GM Darryl Morey no option but to trade Lowry. He dug former coach Rick Adelman. Adelman is a player’s coach and Kevin McHale is more matter of fact with his players. Lowry respected Adelman and was bitter he was let go, so he acted out. Morey’s trade had little to do with output, but more to do with his perception of Lowry’s attitude and how it affected a team seeking stability. Lowry realizes now that was a mistake and though the Raps are at the top of their division, he’ll never know what he could have possibly accomplished in Houston. Morey saw Lowry as the team’s best player and trading such a valued PG with such a cap-favorable salary was something he didn’t want to do.
Lowry leans on Chauncey Billups and anyone who has come in contact with Mr. Big Shot off the court understands he’s all about business on the floor. Billups most likely sees much of his bulldog self in Lowry’s game and is probably the best mentor for the 28-year-old budding star given the NBA stops and rising props Billups garnered along the way, before finding a home in Detroit.
With current season averages of 17.5 points, 7.7 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 1.6 steals, Lowry should have made the all-star team. That he didn’t could be based on coaches assuming Lowry is a malcontent only out for himself. It had to be a tough pill for such a prideful player to swallow. In retrospect, being snubbed for such an honor in a career season is also the motivation he needed to show and prove to the basketball world how important he is to any game in which he participates. Coming off a 25 point, 4 dime and 4 steal line in a 96-86 home win vs. Atlanta Sunday, Lowry has scored at least 19 points in a career high 9 straight as Toronto heads to Cleveland tonight.
Payal Doshi of NBA Canada and Raptors blogger says this of Lowry's season: “I feel like Kyle Lowry has stepped up in his role and he is carrying the team as floor general on the court. The youngsters are learning from him through his ability to be fearless on offense and taking the charge on defense shows his mental toughness.”
Lowry is a performer fans need to see more of and having the opportunity of redemption through a trade that didn’t have to go down is considerably Toronto’s gain. As the NBA playoffs quickly approach, will Lowry be that breakout performer and subsequently become a commonplace addition to NBA All-Star Weekend? Odds are in the affirmative, because once one turns the corner and that light bulb goes off, a hunger for success becomes as succinct as it is ubiquitous. There is nothing Lowry can do about the past, but current NBA fans are beginning to understand just how much of a gift to The League the diminutive court-wrecker is.