With the utter domination of Jose Calderon in the Toronto Raptors news cycle, now seems as good a time as any to have a frank chat about the state of affairs with regards to Toronto's point guard position (hint: it's not pretty).
It says something about where the Raptors are at when Calderon, who spent many years as a object of disgust amongst Raptors fans, is now feted like a conquering hero when he returns to the ACC. They say you never really know what you had until its gone, and clearly that sentiment has come to represent Calderon's time in Toronto, as well as where things stand with his replacement, Kyle Lowry.
Lowry was brought to Toronto with great fanfare and even greater expectations. Bryan Colangelo handed him the keys to the car, so to speak, and hailed him as a top-flight player that would help lead the team to a more productive future.
Back then, we all assumed that Dwane Casey agreed with Colangelo's assessment. Many figured that Lowry and Casey were a match made in heaven, with Lowry's bulldog on-court personality perfectly symbolizing Casey's preferred personality for the team as a whole.
However, in actual fact, Casey demurred.
In retrospect it's funny how we all interpreted Dwane Casey's hedging on the topic of Lowry's status last summer. Everyone assumed last summer that when Casey insisted that Lowry would have to earn the starting spot over Calderon that he was merely being respectful of his veteran leader. The refrain carried into training camp, though, and by the time Kyle Lowry returned from injury in January, he had been officially supplanted in the starting five by Calderon.
Rumours of discord between Casey and Lowry ran hot in early 2013, so much so that there was talk that the Raptors might actually be willing to trade Lowry, despite the excitement that greeted him upon his arrival. In the end, Casey may not have been trying to pay respect to Calderon but rather cast his lot with Team Jose from the very start.
That is, until Colangelo traded Calderon away, forcing Casey to put Lowry back with the first five.
While there Lowry has been a pale imitation of the player that the Raptors thought they were getting when they traded a first round pick for him last July. His scoring (11.9 ppg) and field goal percentage (40.6%) are down to their lowest points in three years, he's committing a career-high 3.3 fouls per game and his PER has dropped from the low-20's early in the season to 17.8, which has knocked him down to 15th overall amongst NBA point guards (this is where we mention that Calderon sits in 8th with an 18.91 rating). Lowry was supposed to ignite the Raptors at both ends of the court but the team's offensive efficiency has been in a free fall since Calderon was traded while their defensive efficiency still sits in the bottom-third of the league.
He hasn't been bad, necessarily. According to 82games.com the Raptors do score better per 100 possessions allow fewer points per 100 possessions when he is on the court, but in neither case are the numbers staggering (+2.5 on offense, -1.8 on defense). His assists per game (6.1) are down compared to his output over the last two years (6.6 and 6.7), but his assists per 36 minutes (which helps account for his minutes per game disparity) actually puts him exactly on par with last year's output at 7.4 assists per 36 minutes.
Really, though, when it comes to Lowry the stats aren't really telling the whole story. Casey has seen fit to neuter Lowry considerably since his freewheeling (and highly productive) preseason games, effectively trying to turn him into a poor man's Calderon by forcing him into the unnatural role of a facilitator rather than into his natural role as scorer and playmaker. Even with the arrival of Rudy Gay, Lowry remains the team's best option at creating offense for himself and others, but more often than not he is tasked with entering the ball at the start of an offensive possession then staking out a spot behind the arc to wait for a kick-out.
While Lowry's penchant for wild passes and turnovers helped lead to his game being restricted by his coach, the pendulum has now swung so far the other way that Lowry is now left looking no more effective as a lead guard than decidedly second-rate options like Jeff Teague or Brandon Jennings – and far from his advertised role of Point Guard of the Future.
At 27-years-old and seven seasons into his NBA career, Kyle Lowry basically is who he is going to be as a player. He excels when he has free rein with the ball and is allowed to probe and attack at will. If a team is hoping to get top-flight play out of Lowry, that's the only way they're going to find it. He could still use a bit of smoothing out as a player, but that process has to take into account who he is and what he excels at. If this is the way that the Raptors and Lowry are going to co-exist then there is no reason for the Raptors to stop their search for a guy who can lead this squad into the future.
None of this is to suggest that all of Lowry's struggles this season lay on Casey's shoulders. Lowry has simply not played up to expectations for the bulk of this NBA season, and on a per minute basis he was more productive as a reserve than he's been as a starter. Regardless of how you justify it, Lowry is a 12-and-6 starting point guard that shoots 40% from the field. While you can say that his role has limited his effective to a degree, certainly some of those piddling returns have to fall on Lowry.
The truth of the matter is that Jose Calderon was a much better fit for the way that Casey runs his offense, regardless of how highly praised Lowry was when Colangelo brought him in. Casey trusted Calderon, he knew how to deploy him, and for a while the Raptors had a staggeringly effective offense with Calderon at the helm.
Something has to give, here. Either Casey has to learn to embrace the way that Lowry plays and design an offense that maximizes him or the club has to trade away Lowry and bring in a point guard that can run Casey's offense (there is obviously a door number three in this scenario, but we have to save something for the end-of-season recaps). Maintaining the status quo is just going to maintain ALL of the status quo, and that includes the team's 10-17 record since Rudy Gay was acquired from Memphis. This team is not close to where they want to be and Lowry hasn't done much to help improve their fortunes.
Calderon may not have been everyone's favourite Raptor when he was in Toronto, but as last night showed there are plenty in Toronto that would happily welcome him back.