So far this season, Kyle Lowry and the Heat are Exhibit A on why two disparate ideas can both be true.
Firstly, the bad. Lowry is off to a rough start. Sure, he’s been active and energetic, but those aren’t two words used to justify an $85 million dollar price tag.
Secondly, the good. Lowry’s slow start simply hasn’t mattered as the Heat look every bit as dangerous as even the most optimistic pundits may have guessed.
That the Heat look the part even with their prized offseason acquisition struggling is a testament to just how dangerous they might be come April, May and June. But make no mistake, for the Heat to be great, they’ll need every ounce from the battle-tested 35-year-old general. Instead of focusing on the start, let’s examine the bigger picture and how Lowry’s impact could pay off big time down the line.
Miami has never been a team to sit tight, so it should come as no surprise that it was one of the more active teams in the league in the offseason.
Not only did they take care of business by re-signing Duncan Robinson and agreeing to a lucrative extension with Jimmy Butler, but the Heat acquired one of the best free agents available on the market in Lowry, who spent the last nine seasons establishing himself as the greatest player in Toronto’s franchise history.
Although Lowry wasn’t named an All-Star last season for the first time since 2013-14, he’s still one of the league’s best point guards. He fits a need on both ends of the court for the Heat and could get them back on track following last season’s disappointing first-round exit to the Bucks.
How? First and foremost, Lowry gives the Heat another much-needed shooter.
Miami was a middle-of-the-road 3-point shooting team last season, ranking 11th in 3-point attempts per game (12.9) but 19th in 3-point percentage (.358). Lowry should help them on both fronts, as he attempted 7.2 3-pointers per game in the 2020-21 season and converted them at a 39.6 percent clip.
For comparison, Goran Dragic, who Lowry is essentially replacing on the Heat, averaged 4.9 3-point attempts per game and made them at a 37.3 percent clip.
Lowry will complement Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo well as a spot-up shooter. According to NBA.com, he connected on 41.6 percent of his catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts last season, putting him on the same page as the likes of Danny Green, Patty Mills, Tim Hardaway Jr. and one of his new teammates in Robinson.
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Not only is Lowry comfortable camping out on the 3-point line and waiting for kickouts…
…but he can operate off of screens like a two-guard at times.
Lowry is also a threat to shoot off the dribble.
Despite appearing in only 46 games, Lowry made more pull-up 3s last season (66) than anyone else on the Heat. To no surprise, Robinson led the way for Miami with a total of 58 made pull-up 3s. Following him? Tyler Herro with 47.
That trusty pull-up serves as the foundation of Lowry’s pick-and-roll play. Going under screens against him is risky…
…but he’s a good enough shooter from midrange and crafty enough finisher around the basket to punish teams for going over.
Lowry was a slightly above average (55th percentile) pick-and-roll scorer last season, but he was among the league’s most efficient in four of the six seasons the play type data is available. With Adebayo being the rim-runner that he is, pick-and-rolls and handoffs between him and Lowry should pack quite the punch.
It helps that Lowry has played with a variety of big men in his career, from Yao Ming in Houston to the likes of Patrick Patterson, Jonas Valanciunas, Serge Ibaka, Marc Gasol and Chris Boucher in Toronto. Adebayo is already a big-time lob threat and made encouraging strides as a midrange shooter last season. Lowry should help him continue to reach his full potential as a roll man.
An area Lowry will make a particularly big difference in Miami is in transition.
Miami didn’t get out in the open court all that much last season and Lowry is someone who is always looking to push the pace off of makes, misses and turnovers, both as a scorer and passer. He generated almost a quarter (22.2 percent) of his own offence in transition last season, which was one of the higher rates in the NBA.
For a team that can struggle offensively at times, Lowry could help get them some much-needed easy buckets.
Offensively, Lowry has the potential to fit in like a glove in Miami. Teams won’t be able to collapse the paint as aggressively with him on the court and he gives the Heat another knockdown shooter, as well as a dynamic ball handler next to Butler and Adebayo. (As became clear in the 2021 NBA Playoffs, it pays to have multiple playmakers in the postseason).
He might not solve all of their problems by himself — this is your reminder that Lowry is in his mid-30s, has dealt with some injuries over the last couple of seasons and might not be able to carry quite the same load that he once did — but he can solve a lot of them.
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The scary part? Lowry should fit in just as well — if not better — on the other end of the court.
The Heat were already a good defensive team, but it was mostly off of the strength of Butler and Adebayo, both of whom earned All-Defensive Second Team honours. While Lowry has never made an All-Defensive Team in his career, he’s long been regarded as one of the best defenders at his position.
He’s good for a steal and a couple of deflections per game.
He’s as good as it gets at drawing charges.
And he doesn’t back down from guarding bigger players on switches.
In fact, Lowry has checked out as one of the most effective post defenders in the league over the last few seasons. He’s tough to move and players tend to become turnover machines when he’s defending them on the low block.
Lowry, Butler and Adebayo alone would’ve been tough to deal with, but the Heat, of course, also signed PJ Tucker and Markieff Morris in free agency, giving them two more versatile defenders who are as tough as nails. Even with only some combination of those five, the Heat should be able to match up with just about every team in the league and make life difficult for them.
Put it all together, and Lowry can be the catalyst to the Heat getting back to their title-contending ways. They might still be a tier below the Bucks and Nets in the Eastern Conference, but they might not be that far behind if everything breaks right for them.
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