Kyle Lowry will not be a member of the Toronto Raptors forever.
Whether it’s midway through this season, at the end of the year, or sometime in the not too distant future, Lowry’s Raptors tenure is going to come to a close. It will mark the end of the so-called “We The North” era, giving way to something new led by Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, and Fred VanVleet.
From a contractual sense, the Raptors are ready for that new era. Siakam, VanVleet, and Anunoby are all signed through at least 2022-23 and as far out as 2023-24 if VanVleet decides to opt-in to the final year of his contract. While the rest of the roster still remains murky, Toronto hasn’t moved any of its future first-round picks and rookie point guard Malachi Flynn will almost certainly contribute in some form or another.
The question will be how those Raptors adapt to life on the court after Lowry?
The 34-year-old Lowry has always had an oversized impact on his teammates. He’s flawlessly moulded to their needs, switching between a scoring guard and a playmaker to help the team in any way he can. But as he nears the end, the Raptors appear to be in good hands with the 26-year-old VanVleet leading the way.
Tuesday night’s 124-113 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks was a prime example of just how good VanVleet has become. He led the Raptors with 33 points on 12-for-22 shooting to go with seven assists. But it wasn’t just his box score stats that were impressive. He actually played the Lowry role, stepping up and playing almost the entire second half while carrying some pretty lackluster lineups.
The Raptors, for example, played seven minutes with VanVleet and some combination of Aron Baynes, DeAndre’ Bembry, Chris Boucher, and either Terence Davis or Matt Thomas on Tuesday. Usually those minutes go to Lowry, but with Lowry battling a left ankle injury, VanVleet carried the bench unit to almost even play while scoring nine of the lineup’s 15 points.
“Fred was really good tonight, he handled it great,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “Whoever was out there, he got us organized and we really got good shots.”
When crunch time rolled around with Toronto up three with five minutes to go in the game, Nurse turned to his VanVleet, Powell, Siakam, Anunoby, Boucher lineup. While Powell’s future with the organization is uncertain after this season, the rest of that lineup could comprise some form of the team’s future. Not only did that lineup hold its own against one of the NBA’s best teams, but it finished the game plus-14 in nine minutes, dominating on both ends of the court and out rebounding the supersized Bucks.
All of that came with Lowry sidelined and VanVleet running the show, recording his second-highest usage game of the season.
“My approach is pretty much the same as always,” he said of playing without Lowry. “Obviously the ball is in my hand much more without [Lowry] out there. I don’t have to share that responsibility so just having more of a responsibility to make plays allows for more opportunities.”
Nobody is casting off Lowry quite yet. Don’t be fooled by Toronto’s 3-0 record without him this season, he’s still incredibly valuable to the Raptors. But as VanVleet’s opportunity has grown this season all he’s done is show he can handle an even bigger load. So when that day does come and Lowry steps aside, Toronto can rest easy knowing the Raptors VanVleet is ready to lead the way.