Toronto Raptors: Evaluating Kyle Lowry’s new role

A major acquisition has forced Toronto Raptors star Kyle Lowry to change his game this year, much to the benefit of his team.

When the Toronto Raptors shuffled their core last season, there was no way star point guard Kyle Lowry could’ve predicted how drastically his game was going to change this season.

But necessity is the mother of invention and Lowry is clearly on the path of changing his playing style for the good of the team — and the pursuit of Toronto’s first NBA title.

After rolling into Canada in 2012, Lowry quickly realized the need to become an alpha on a team without one. By his second season, the point guard was averaging career highs in points, 3-point field goal percentage and minutes, eventually developing into an All-Star for the first time in his career.

In 2013-14, Lowry became the most prolific single-season shooter in Raptors history, knocking down 190 3-pointers (a mark he has since surpassed three separate seasons).

While DeMar DeRozan was a strong scorer and playmaker himself, Lowry has known no other role than being ball-dominant and ensuring Raptors points every possession over the past several years.

Then, Kawhi Leonard came to town.

Immediately, Leonard became the team’s usage rate leader at 29.8 percent, according to Lowry, meanwhile, barely cracks the top 200 in that stat, trailing behind some of his other teammates at 18.7 percent.

He’s on pace for his lowest usage percentage since 2010-11, his penultimate season with the Houston Rockets.

That’s not the only stat that has declined this year for Lowry. In fact, many of his marks this season are on pace to be the worst of his Toronto tenure.

Lowry is averaging just 14.2 points per game, his lowest point total since his debut season in Toronto. His 32.2 percent 3-point shooting mark is his worst in nine years. By all accounts, it looks as if his offensive game and explosiveness have stagnated with age and a role change.

Any perception about Lowry’s diminishing game is far from the truth, though.

Lowry has backed off from being a high-volume scorer, giving way to Leonard and even rising star Pascal Siakam, to some extent. This has allowed him to improve other aspects of his game.

He’s distributing the ball better than ever before. His 9.4 assists per game would be a career-best, easily dwarfing his previous high of 7.4 per game. Lowry is one of two players in the NBA averaging at least nine assists per game and trails only Russell Westbrook in that category.

The +8.6 plus/minus Lowry is currently sporting would also be the best of his career by leaps and bounds. Still, it’s necessary to go beyond traditional splits to see the impact Lowry is having on his young team.

Outside of the 10 games he played during his rookie season, Lowry has never recorded a better net rating than he is this season. His defense is largely in line with what’s in been in the past, but his newfound playmaking priorities have boosted his offensive rating to a monstrous 116.3, trailing only teammate Danny Green and Golden State Warriors stars Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry for the league lead.

Additionally, Lowry is being safer with the ball. While his 2.8 turnovers per game still leave something to be desired, his 3.38 assist-to-turnover ratio is the best of his career and currently puts him in the top 10 of the NBA.

Scoring is the NBA’s sexy stat, for obvious reasons: you score points, you win games. James Harden leads the league in scoring and he also leads any straw poll for this season’s MVP award — enough said.

Kyle Lowry is scoring less than ever, by necessity more than anything. Yet he’s making a bigger impact than any year of his career with his improved playmaking.

His new game could be enough to propel the Raptors to new heights.