NBA Saturday: NBA’s Best Point Guard?
Kyle Lowry Gives Raptors Their Swagger
In the first three full games Kyle Lowry has played for the Toronto Raptors, he has averaged 23.7 points, 7 assists, 7.3 rebounds and 3.7 steals. Those are the kinds of numbers that players put together when video gamers are forcing stats in NBA 2K13, but Lowry has been throwing them down in real life.
Despite an ankle injury that has temporarily slowed him down, Lowry has looked like the best point guard in the NBA early in the season, and whatever success the Raptors end up having in 2012-13, head coach Dwayne Casey knows his new franchise point guard will be a major reason behind it.
“He’s been a pit bull,” Casey said. “He’s given the rest of the players a swagger. He’s given DeMar [DeRozan] swagger and just gives us a little bit more of an identity the way we want to play. He identifies how we want to be tough, a little grimy, and that’s what he’s added to our team.”
Lowry himself doesn’t disagree.
“We’re a young team, but we have a lot of expectations for ourselves,” Lowry said. “It’s about having confidence. The last couple of years the team hasn’t been that good, so we’ve got to come in here and make sure our name is known, that it’s not going to be an easy game [for opponents].”
Toronto is 1-4 to start the season, which doesn’t exactly help Lowry’s argument that the Raps are no longer a league doormat, but other than a big road loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, the losses have been close ones. The Raptors are staying in games, and that should eventually equate to more wins.
And more wins, Lowry knows, could also mean he gets an opportunity to make his first All-Star team this winter.
“If I make an All-Star team, that would be great. It would be an amazing individual accomplishment for me to enjoy,” Lowry said. “But we’ve got to win games for me to get there.”
Casey, however, can’t help but laud his starting point guard’s amazing individual performance early in the season.
“He’s one of our top rebounders, our scorers, and everything else, so he’s been everything we’ve wanted and needed, and then some,” Casey said.
In fact, he currently leads the team in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and three-point percentage, and is second in field goal percentage behind Aaron Gray, who only has played about 10 minutes a game. That is exactly the kind of team leader the Raptors hoped they had gotten when they traded a lottery pick for him, and so far he’s done nothing but deliver.
The challenge now is translating the individual success to team success, or at least to remain healthy long enough to give it a shot. Lowry is off to a great start, but he seems to understand he’ll be judged by wins. So far, those have been slow to come, but at least the Raptors have some swagger. A year ago, that wasn’t the case.
Andray Blatche On the Straight and Narrow in Brooklyn
When the Washington Wizards decided to use their amnesty provision on forward Andray Blatche over the summer, the NBA world collectively nodded its head in silent understanding. Blatche has always been a frustrating player with loads of talent but seemingly no work ethic, and that’s led to just a huge laundry list of unfulfilled expectations.
It was that reputation that kept him on the free agency market for longer than expected, but the Brooklyn Nets, desperate for inexpensive depth, brought him aboard hoping the reward would far outweigh the paltry risk.
So far, it totally has, and Blatche isn’t blind to how important this opportunity is to his career.
“Me getting out of Washington was a blessing. It was a must,” Blatche said after a blowout win in Orlando on Friday night. “I had been there too long, and things had started to go down. Nothing was going to change unless I got out of there.”
Blatche actually scored a team-high 15 points in Friday night’s win, and so far he’s been completely happy with his new role on his new team.
“It always feels good to be on a team who’s got real goals and a real chance to be something and get somewhere,” Blatche said. “Just to chip in with my effort and my minutes, it feels good to be a part of it.”
It also feels good to have more of a support system in Brooklyn, something Blatche certainly could’ve used while in Washington. The hope is that his being pushed by a hard-working group of veterans will prove good for him.
“To have the teammates I have encouraging me at practice, in the weight room, that’s what I needed,” Blatche admitted. “We’re all for one another. Whenever anybody scores, we all clap and cheer them on and give them confidence. We all need that, and we’re a family over here.”
Next up for Blatche and the Nets is getting that family back to the playoffs. The team has been a disappointment in recent years, but this year, he swears, is going to be different.
“We’re definitely a playoff team,” Blatche said. “Our goal is just to get as far as possible. And to work.”
Work is all Blatche ever needed to be successful, and now he’s doing it with teammates and a coaching staff who are excited rather than exhausted to have him around. So far, the change of scenery has been good for him, and Brooklyn brass is hoping things only get better from here.
Why Are the Knicks the Best Team in the NBA?
The New York Knicks are 4-0 for the first time since 1993, making them the only undefeated team left in the entire league. That is, admittedly, pretty surprising considering all the old guys on their roster, the Amar’e Stoudemire injury and the letting go of Jeremy Lin. Still, despite everything, the Knicks look like the one of the best teams in the league right now, leaving many of us asking, “How?”
The short answer is that this group of veterans has gelled extremely quickly, which has led to great offensive chemistry, and with so many intense defensive studs on the roster, that end of the floor has seen a lot of early success too.
But these things are happening for a few very specific reasons, and the most important one thus far has been Carmelo Anthony.
With Stoudemire hurt, Anthony has moved to the power forward position, which is where he played last year during the Knicks’ most successful stretch. Anthony is averaging 26 points, the third-highest average in the league so far, which isn’t shocking considering the success he had playing the four last year and how good of shape he was in when camp started. Anthony is focused, scoring the heck out of the ball and leading as well as he ever has, and that’s a big reason for New York’s success.
Another major factor is all of the veteran experience the Knicks added in the offseason. It’s easy to crack jokes about a roster that not only features four of the six oldest active players in the league, but also the oldest rookie of the modern era in Pablo Prigioni at age 35. However, so far that age has been more boon than bane. Jason Kidd’s leadership has been tremendously helpful already, and Rasheed Wallace, though rusty, has added a whole new layer of confidence to the team.
Ronnie Brewer has been a great addition, as well, and his elite perimeter defense combined with Tyson Chandler’s elite frontcourt defense has made the Knicks one of the most intense and imposing defensive units in the league.
J.R. Smith has been excellent, Ray Felton has his groove back and Steve Novak and Kurt Thomas have been great as reserves. In short, even without Stoudemire, this group believes they’re among the best in the NBA, and they sure are playing like it through their first four games. Assuming these vets stay healthy, they may even be able to keep it up.