Raptors’ Kyle Lowry tumbles down ESPN player rankings

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Kyle Lowry rises up for a shot during the NBA Finals. (Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports)
Kyle Lowry rises up for a shot during the NBA Finals. (Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports)

How good can Kyle Lowry be in his age-34 season? Not nearly as good as his previous season, according to ESPN’s player rankings for 2019-20 anyway.

In their latest projections, the heart and soul of the Toronto Raptors is down 18 spots from a year ago to 39th. The panel appears to include, but possibly not limited to, Zach Lowe, Brian Windhorst, Kevin Pelton, Chris Herring, Kirk Goldsberry, Tim Bontemps, Bobby Marks and Jackie MacMullan.

Some of the players just ahead of him include Khris Middleton, Jayson Tatum, Kristaps Porzingis, and Victor Oladipo, and considering Sports Illustrated placed Lowry 28th in their rankings, there’s certainly room for debate here.

Porzingis, for one, has to prove he can play the majority of the regular season after missing 116 games over the past two years. Oladipo has eclipsed Lowry when at his best, but he currently isn’t expected to return from his knee injury until December or January in a best case scenario, so it’s hard to imagine him having a better overall season. If that’s the case, it doesn’t make much sense to have Klay Thompson ranked 49th.

Lowry averaged 14.2 points, a career-high 8.7 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 1.4 steals over 65 games last season. He finished sixth in the league with 23 charges drawn during the regular season and led the playoffs with 16 more (double second-place Draymond Green’s total). Most notably, some of the five-time all-star’s best performances last season came in the absence of Kawhi Leonard, including a 23-point, 12-assist game against the Warriors in Golden State, a 21-point, 15-assist night against LeBron James’ L.A. Lakers, and a 35-point, seven rebound, five assist game in Detroit against Dwane Casey’s Pistons.

He got better as the games got bigger in the post-season as well, including the NBA Finals clincher where he finished with 26 points, 10 assists, seven rebounds and three steals. At his best, Lowry proved he can be the second-most important player on a championship team, while that’s what some of the others ahead of him on the list are still striving to be.

Lowry is coming off wrist surgery in the summer but figures to have an expanded role in the absence of Leonard and Danny Green. He’s also entering a contract year and possibly his last chance at a strong payday.

If there is a bone to pick with his performance last season, it would be his three-point shooting, where he shot 34.7 per cent after hitting at a 39.9 per cent clip over the previous three seasons combined. His ability as a 1-on-1 defender against the headier point guards in the league has also diminished, but his knack for making plays within the margins and being a sneaky good defender in the post should serve him well for at least another season.

The Raptors will host Media Day on Sept. 28, and open the regular season at home on Oct. 22 against the New Orleans Pelicans.

From earlier in the rankings, Fred VanVleet placed 88th and Marc Gasol 61st (down from 51st). Serge Ibaka, curiously, doesn’t figure into the Top 100 at all. Pascal Siakam will be expected to make his debut in the Top 30 later in the week.

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