Why you should care

The Raptors and their star point guard are the Eastern Conference’s big sleepers going into the second half of the NBA season. Expect Lowry to make some noise in the playoffs and in free agency next summer.

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No one could accuse Kyle Lowry of being warm and fuzzy.

As a teenager, the Philly native — currently in the midst of a breakout season in the NBA leading the upstart Toronto Raptors — was so uncomfortable in social settings that he would try to avoid team dinners when his high school squad was on the road, recalls Mark Heimerdinger, his coach at Cardinal Dougherty High School. His star point guard, Heimerdinger says, was an ”introverted person that maybe was socially — how shall I say — not well adjusted.”

Heimerdinger says it’s clear that Lowry has grown tremendously, both as a player and as a man, during two years at Villanova and in his subsequent years of pro ball, to the point where he may just emerge as one of the game’s best point guards, considered the generals of the court.

Nicknamed not because he’s a brawler but because of his squat, sturdy build and his fierce, almost angry, intensity…

Still, Lowry’s never going to be a gregarious, marketable pro athlete like Shaq or Peyton Manning, hired by major corporations to grin for the camera while hawking sports drinks or tennis shoes or Big Macs. Generously listed as 6 feet tall but more likely in the 5’10” to 5’11” range, Lowry was once described as a “pit bull” by an assistant coach — not because he’s a brawler but because of his squat, sturdy build and his fierce, almost angry, intensity on both ends of the court.

”A lot of kids always talk about the fact that they want to be professional athletes,” says Heimerdinger, but not only did Lowry talk about it, but ”from the time he set his foot in high school that was his sole purpose,” spending all his time on training and keeping his grades up, to the point that he didn’t make time for social relationships or almost anything else. Heimerdinger also remembers how Lowry never seemed particularly happy after a victory. One day he asked him why he didn’t celebrate more. ”He said, ’Coach, you know what, I expect to win every time I go out on the floor.’”It may not win him endorsement deals, but Heimerdinger credits Lowry’s intensity with helping him go from a rough North Philly neighborhood to an ascendant NBA career and a major payday from one of a number of teams likely to fight for his services when he becomes a free agent in the off season.

That sort of diffidence, plus the fact that Lowry plays for the small-market Toronto Raptors, the NBA’s only team in Canada and a perennial Eastern Conference cellar dweller, go a long way towards explaining how the 27-year-old guard was left off the roster for this year’s NBA All-Star Game, recognizing the top performers in the league’s Eastern and Western Conferences. Given the sort of year Lowry’s been having, sportswriters and NBA commentators refer to Lowry’s absence from the game, scheduled for Feb. 16 in New Orleans, as one of the worst All Star snubs in recent memory.

After an up-and-down, injury-plagued career, Lowry seems finally to be making the most of the talent that got him to the pros, averaging nearly 17 points and 8 assists and just 2 turnovers per game as the Raptors’ main ball handler.

His amazing half-court shot as time expired in the first half of a game in Brooklyn on January 28, and his 33-point, 11-assist performance in a victory over Orlando the next day made him a fixture on sports channel highlight reels and earned him Eastern Conference player of the week honors.

Lowry is most definitely having “an All-Star caliber season.”

Lowry may be diminuitive in stature, but he’s a tough defender and a surprisingly good rebounder — averaging more than four per game this season. And in the first half of the 2013-14 season, he’s been shooting lights out from 3-point range – nearly 40 percent from beyond the arc. Perhaps most astounding, Lowry has helped lead the unheralded Raptors to a 27-24 record — the best in the Atlantic Division and one of the best in the NBA’s (admittedly underperforming) Eastern Conference. If they keep up the momentum, the Raptors could be a headed for a playoff run, with Lowry their undisputed floor leader.

Doug Smith, the Toronto Star’s beat reporter for the Raptors, says Lowry is most definitely having “an All-Star caliber season” in his first full year with the team, which he says is largely attributable to the fact that ”he’s healthy and he’s in better shape and he’s a little more comfortable with the team and the circumstances.” He’s also benefited from the Raptors’ December trade of fellow guard Rudy Gay, who had a habit of controlling the ball and the team’s shot selection — and limiting Lowry’s impact. Without Gay on the floor, Lowry is firmly in charge, and the Raptors are playing some of the best ball in their conference.

Kyle in black and orange uniform dribbling ball towards camera

Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry (7) in action vs Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center. Brooklyn, NY

Source Al Tielemans/SI/Getty

Drafted by the Memphis Grizzlies late in the first round in 2006, Lowry only played 10 games his rookie season because of a broken wrist. He played three seasons for the Grizzlies and four for the Houston Rockets, flashes of brilliance interrupted by untimely injuries and illness. Midway through last season, he was traded to Toronto, where he seems to have found a new comfort level — with career-altering implications.

Rumors have been swirling across NBA blogs that he is trade bait for Toronto…

But Lowry might not be a Raptor for long. Rumors have been swirling across NBA blogs that he is trade bait for Toronto, which would rather deal him and get a star player in return than watch him walk away when his contract expires at the end of the season to become an unrestricted free agent.

Other teams are similarly wary — of trading for him now when they could wait and make an offer this summer without having to give up any of their top players to Toronto. What’s all but certain is that Lowry’s strong performance this year has propelled him up many teams’ wish lists. He still may not be winning any popularity contents, but if his hot run continues through the rest of 2014, Lowry will go a long way toward cementing himself as one of the best — and best-paid — point guards in the game. And that’s what’s always been his focus.

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