It’s one thing to elevate a young group of guys that need that a clear leader above them, as he did for guys like Gabe Vincent, Caleb Martin, Max Strus, etc.
But it’s another thing to elevate a proven player in this league who is a 6 time all star, in Jimmy Butler, and a young buck on the trajectory of an elite player in this league, in Bam Adebayo.
As the Heat were batting for a good chunk of time without Kyle Lowry, since he was away from the team, they were trying everything in their power to gather some type of a rhythm. A 3 game losing streak occurred right before he made his official return in San Antonio on February 3rd, and that’s when it hit people: this 35 year old point guard is pretty important.
Since his return, the Heat have won 5 games in a row, and let me preface that by saying it’s not a coincidence. He changes the offensive structure, and more importantly, he opens up the team’s two best players in a surprising fashion.
The trio of Lowry-Butler-Adebayo has played 19 games together so far this season, which they’re 14-5 in those games. When sharing the floor, they’re posting a 106 offensive rating and a 95 defensive rating.
I’d say that’s pretty impressive.
But when looking at the impact of Lowry, stats just simply don’t correlate to what he brings. It’s the spots he gets these guys into. It’s the pace that he provides as soon as the jump-ball goes up. It’s the fact that Miami’s first action usually begins with 21 seconds on the shot clock.
Looking at the clips above, that wild entry pass has become the two man combo with Lowry and one of Butler or Adebayo. He threw a unnecessary one late in the Heat-Nets game that could’ve been costly, but you’ll take that one risky, bad pass when all of this good comes with it as well.
The half-court post insertion pass to Adebayo is not only a signal to their centerpiece big man that he needs to go up and try to score, but it also eliminates weak-side defenders. Post-ups may not be Adebayo’s favorite, but a little game of one-on-one with the size advantage never hurt anybody.
We’re also seeing Adebayo begins to grow up in Lowry’s world, also known as transition offense, since he’s beginning to play a bit of bully ball when running at full speed, while also filling up the right spots on the floor on the break which wasn’t the case early on.
Butler, on the other hand, just changes sports when the ball comes off the rim and into the possession of Lowry. He streaks down the floor, Lowry throws it up, and Butler comes down with the Moss more times than not.
But with Butler, it isn’t about changing speeds like it is for Bam. It’s actually about the half-court insert more than the full-court one.
Over the past week and a half, we’ve seen a shift in the looks Butler is getting. And looking at the final clip above, that pretty much sums it up. Lowry-Butler PnR’s, or inverted PnR’s, are spammed to draw the mismatch. Lowry then retreats back, feeds Butler, and he takes the smaller defender to the clinic.
The two outcomes are either a good look at the rim for a layup, or a trip to the free throw line, which is exactly what Lowry is here to do.
He simplifies what used to be potentially 5 outcomes, down to only 2.
Number one on his list of elevating those around him is definitely setting their primary players up, but a close second is taking the burden off of them when he decides to turn it up. And that dial will be turned even further come playoff time.
Late in the fourth against the Brooklyn Nets, the Heat had no answer for Kyrie Irving on the offensive end. A player like Lowry, or any player at that, can’t match that type of offensive punch at that time, but he can do just enough to keep his group above water.
And that’s what he did mid-way through the 4th. He found the exploitable parts of this Nets defense, which began with the deep drop he was seeing. High pick and roll with Adebayo, Max Strus clears out to the weak-side next to Duncan Robinson to eliminate two help defenders, and now it’s Lowry time.
Only two defenders he has to worry about, and one of them he knows will have a tough time recovering. He takes it right into the dropping big, and flips it up like only Kyle Lowry would.
A few possessions later, we see an empty corner PnR with Adebayo once again, and now it’s just keying in on dead spots. Gets to the wide open free throw line pull-up to continually stretch out Miami’s lead.
He couldn’t match Kyrie Irving, but he could make it tougher on him with his smart basketball reads, and that’s the exact thing that Lowry provides.
We constantly talk about this Heat team as a defensive powerhouse. We begin by bringing up names like Adebayo, Butler, and PJ Tucker. Then we may blend into the young, gritty defenders like Vincent or Martin. But we sometimes pass over Lowry on that topic due to some believing he’s passed up that specific skill with age.
But when there’s 11 seconds left on the clock with the team needing just one stop, Lowry would be in my first sentence when discussing this Heat team. Looking at the play above, that is always Kyle Lowry at this point in the game.
He’s physical enough with Irving to not let the entry pass be easy, then makes a Butler like gamble to get the steal and go in the other direction.
Stats aside. Film aside. Narratives aside. Kyle Lowry just makes those around him better.
Watching Bam Adebayo surge lately doesn’t just coincidentally align with the return of Lowry. Watching Jimmy Butler hysterically laughing on the court and bench since the game in San Antonio doesn’t just coincidentally align with the return of Lowry.
He changes things. In a good way.
He led a young group of inexperienced players to a winning record when Butler and Adebayo were out, alongside Tyler Herro, which just summed up the wide range of a role he can play at this stage of his career.
Lowry is a skilled passer. We know he can score the basketball. He has a history of defending at a high level. He’s a champion. But when asking the question: ‘what is his biggest skill?’
My answer would be elevating those around him.
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