As Lucas Nogueira came up above the 3-point arc to set a screen, Montrezl Harrell abandoned him completely. Harrell's focus was entirely on Kyle Lowry, whom Eric Gordon chased over Nogueira's screen. The Rockets were trapping the Raptors' high pick-and-roll, knowing that late in the shot clock and without DeMar DeRozan on the floor, Lowry would have little choice but to trust Nogueira—a gifted passer who is occasionally a beat slow making a decision—to make a play in the resulting 4-on-3 situation.
Lowry drifted to his left, Patrick Beverley came over to tag a rolling Nogueira, but instead of things playing out like Houston hoped—Nogueira catching a tough pass on the dive—Lowry pulled up. From 24 feet. Off the dribble. Going to his left. With two defenders on him.
Naturally, the shot dropped.
This is what Lowry has become in his 11th NBA season. Once classified as the dreaded range-less point guard, Lowry's worked tirelessly to become one of the best long-range marksmen in the NBA. Practices often end with him firing up shot after shot, visibly frustrated with himself when he can't get a perfect run of around-the-world spot-up shooting rolling. That he is driven to improve is not at all surprising, given the player in question.
That he's been able to evolve, at age 30, into one of the league's deadliest assassins from deep is part of the reason why the Toronto Raptors have spent the season flirting with historical levels of offensive efficiency.
Through 37 games, Lowry is hitting a career-high 43.7 percent of his 3-point attempts. That's a great mark, and a firm step forward from his 36.3-percent career average and the 37 percent he'd posted over his first four years in Toronto. His rate of success hardly tells the whole story, impressive though it is—Lowry's also doing this with an obscene volume of threes, ranking third in the NBA behind only Eric Gordon and Stephen Curry in total makes.
Shot chart courtesy Austin Clemens
This isn't a matter of Lowry just shooting more, either. The Raptors' offence demands he play facilitator, too, and DeRozan's high usage means Lowry is using fewer than a quarter of the team's possessions (his usage rate is down from 26.1 percent to 24.3). Lowry is just making even more efficient use of those possessions, with 50.2 percent of his field-goal attempts coming from beyond the arc, and most of the remainder coming in the paint.
For all the talk of DeRozan's masterful dominance of the supposedly archaic mid-range game, Lowry's gone the other direction, eschewing the least efficient parts of the court almost entirely. Among the 207 players to take at least 100 shots and 50 threes this year, Lowry ranks 38th in the percentage that came on threes or in the paint (DeRozan was dead last). The names above him are almost exclusively lower-usage specialists, and only two players (Curry, and Isaiah Thomas) have taken as many shots and ranked higher.
Stats courtesy NBA.com
That he's shooting nearly 0.4 free-throw attempts for every field-goal attempt only makes him more efficient, pushing his true-shooting percentage to 63.8, 11th in the NBA among qualified players. At his usage rate, that's a tall task.
Stats courtesy Basketball Reference
"I mean, he's like my favourite player in the league, in the East," Utah Jazz head coach Quin Snyder raved last week. "His game is so versatile. He's got a mid-range game. He leads the NBA in high-quadrant 3-point percentage. And he can finish at the rim. You get to that point and it's like, how do you guard him?"
It's Snyder's mention of Lowry's "high-quadrant" shooting that perhaps bends a defence most. Lowry is not just feasting on spot-up catch-and-shoot threes as DeRozan commands attention inside. They play off each other that way, to be sure, and the complementary areas of the floor have Lowry shooting 47.9 percent on catch-and-shoot threes.
But Lowry is also sixth in the NBA in pull-up 3-point attempts, on which he's hitting an otherworldly 41.4 percent. He's even knocked down 18 threes from 27 feet or further, doing so at a 45-percent clip. That puts him in the rare class of guards who command attention the second they cross half, along with Curry, Damian Lillard, and Kyrie Irving.
Wet. Photo by Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
If Lowry's a threat three feet behind the 3-point line and off the dribble—he's hitting 46.8 percent on threes after seven or more dribbles, including his patented pull-up in transition—then defences have to stretch themselves out even further vertically, opening up more space for teammates below the timeout line.
"It's kind of a natural evolution of his game," head coach Dwane Casey says. "He's worked on his 3-point shot. The things we run offensively are geared towards him getting the 3-point shot. He's one of the few players in the league that on the dribble-up 3-point shots is pretty good, that's usually one of the lower-percentage plays. He's one of those rare individuals who can make that shot."
Stats courtesy NBA.com
That Lowry is very good is not new. The sustained shooting at this level, however, is a new wrinkle. His mastery from beyond the arc at first left teammates speechless. Nogueira had to think back to his Estudiantes days in Madrid with Carl English to find a comparably lengthy hot streak. At this point, as Lowry continues to pick apart defences and put the offence on his back for long stretches, it's almost become expected.
"It's not surprising to me," DeRozan said after Lowry's late takeover against Utah. "He picked up his aggressiveness. He's the leader of the team, the things he's able to do with the ball in his hands just orchestrating us offensively, he understands where he's going to get his shots from."
Where, specifically, he's going to get his shots from is a question that Lowry continues to push the boundaries on. The paint, the corner, the top of the arc, from 30-feet out. It's all within his range now, even with two defenders draped on him.