If someone were to ask you to name the point guard in addition to Chris Paul and Stephen Curry that currently ranks in the top-10 in the categories of Win Shares, Win Shares per 48 minutes and ESPN's WARP (Wins Above Replacement Player), which star guard would you name?
The injured Russell Westbrook? Tony Parker? Damian Lillard? Kyrie Irving? John Wall? Wrong on all accounts, as it's the resurgent Kyle Lowry, he of the top-10 WARP and top-six Win Shares marks (both total and per 48) that is playing as well as any point guard not named Paul or Curry right now.
For the season, Lowry is averaging 15.9 points, 7.3 assists - which ranks in the top-10 - 4.1 rebounds and 1.8 steals, has a top-5 assist-to-turnover ratio of 3.42-1, and boasts an impressive PER of 19.96. His field goal percentage of 43.3 seems kind of low, but it still ranks in the top-12 among qualified point guards and it's driven down by the fact that Lowry smartly attempts 5.9 three-pointers per game, which he shoots at an efficient 39.9 percent clip. Throw in his 81 percent free throw shooting and Lowry has a true shooting percentage of .585, which ranks in the top-20 among all guards, tied with one Dwyane Wade.
He's also the lead defender at the point of attack for the NBA's sixth-ranked defense and leads the league, by a comfortable margin, in charges taken.
What's most impressive about all of those numbers is that Lowry is enjoying that kind of season for a surprising yet legitimately good Raptors team that now finds itself in third place in the Eastern Conference after a beat down of the Bucks last night that saw Lowry score 23 points on just eight field goal attempts (Eight!) and do this:
In addition, Lowry has averaged 17.6 points and 8.0 assists in the 18 games since friend Rudy Gay was traded to Sacramento, an 18-game stretch that has seen Toronto post the best record in the East at 13-5. That stretch has also coincided with Lowry being the subject of trade speculation as the Raptors were reportedly looking to join the group of 2014 tankers after trading Gay.
Instead, the 27-year-old has played well enough to catapult the Raps into relevance and now has the team thinking about a rare Toronto playoff run and just how much he might be worth as a free agent this summer after the team traded a 2013 draft pick (which turned into Steven Adams) for his services in the summer of 2012.
For the season, the Raptors outscore opponents by 4.2 points per 48 minutes with Lowry on the floor and boast a net rating of +5.2, while the team is outscored by 2.0 points per 48 with Lowry on the bench and have a net rating of -0.8. Add it all up, and Lowry has some believing that he's worthy of at least being a player in the MVP discussion. Lowry has no chance of actually winning the award, but he is making a very strong case to be an All-Star for the first time in his eight-year career, as you can make the argument he's been the best point guard in the East so far this season.
Lowry will be 28 by the time free agency rolls around, and while 28 is young, it's not that young by NBA standards. Teams must also take into consideration the fact that prior to this important contract year, Lowry had a reputation as being a prickly point guard who didn't exactly play nice with
others coaches, as well as being a player with a bit of an injury history that didn't exactly show up to Toronto in the best of shape.
Nevertheless, true talent, the promise that talent teases and proven production trump all in most General Managers' minds, and Lowry seems intent to enter the free agent market as a 28-year-old, All-Star point guard and fringe MVP candidate on a solid young playoff team. In other words, Kyle Lowry is going to get paid this summer, but just how much is Lowry worth?
A look around the Association at the salaries of other point guards reveals that Lowry might not actually cost a team as much as one might first assume, as he'll likely have to settle for somewhere in the range of $8 million-$12 million per season, likely for three-to-four years, as other than the point guards on max deals (which Lowry isn't getting), that seems to be the modern NBA point guard's price range.
Brandon Jennings, Jeff Teague, George Hill, Jameer Nelson, Jeremy Lin and Goran Dragic all have cap hits in the neighborhood of $8 million, while Tony Parker makes $12.5 million and Stephen Curry's ankle issues helped Golden State get a steal of a deal, as the devastating scoring of young Steph will cost the Warriors just $10.6 million-$12.1 million per year over the next three years after Curry signed a four-year, $44 million extension at the beginning of last season. Mike Conley, who some would say is comparable to Lowry, makes $8.6 million this season and just under $10 million in the most expensive year of his deal in 2015-16. Jrue Holiday is in the first year of a four-year, $41 million contract, while Ty Lawson, who signed his extension with the Nuggets while current Raptors GM Masai Ujiri was running things in Denver, got four years and $48 million.
Can the older Lowry be had, whether by the Raptors or another suitor, for three years and $30 million-$36 million? For four years and $40 million-$44 million? It certainly seems possible.
There's always going to be risk and the fear of the unknown when committing long term money and cap space to a player whose breakout has come during a contract year (though that statement might be unfair to Lowry's performance when healthy in Houston), but the possible reward of having an All-Star caliber point guard or anything close to one in the golden age of point guards, on a still reasonable deal, far outweighs that risk in an industry driven by talent first and foremost.
(Stats courtesy of NBA.com, Basketball Reference and ESPN.com.
Salary information courtesy of ShamSports)