For Kyle Lowry's post defense, height doesn't matter

DeMar DeRozan should have known better from their six seasons as teammates, but even he fell for Kyle Lowry’s trap.

Redemption was within his grasp as DeRozan looked to bring it home for the San Antonio Spurs in his cathartic homecoming against the Toronto Raptors. DeRozan had the ball down one with three minutes left and went to his go-to move.

Acting on instinct, DeRozan called for a screen from Patty Mills to attack the switch. DeRozan is one of the league’s craftiest post players - even Kevin Durant envies his footwork - and he feasts on point guards. In that mismatch, the defense is at his mercy, because DeRozan can either pivot his way to the cup, rise for the fadeaway, or find the open shooter if help comes.

But again, DeRozan should have known better because Lowry isn’t like other 6-foot guards. DeRozan tried to bully him, but Lowry bodied up and refused the drive to the middle. And when DeRozan switched back to the post-up, Lowry got low to improve his leverage before forcing DeRozan into his habit of jumping without a move in mind, and his pass was easily picked off.

Determined to be the hero, DeRozan stubbornly went at Lowry for a second time with the Spurs up one with a minute left, and again he found the same result. He had no path to the middle, no option on the baseline, and no bail-out call when Lowry rose up to contest the turnaround jumper.

Those two stops by Lowry on DeRozan set up the final dagger, as Lowry blindsided DeRozan with a double team in the dying seconds to allow Kawhi Leonard to pick the ball and score the game winning dunk.

"A lot of times (I like to) get a mismatch with a smaller guy on me, but obviously Kyle, with his fat ass, he knew how to guard me." DeRozan said of Lowry with a smirk after the loss.

He does indeed have the book on DeRozan’s moves, but he’s hardly the first star to fall for the trap. Lowry has always played above his size, and he relishes the challenge of bumping up against bigger players

TORONTO, ON - MARCH 18:  Mario Hezonja #8 of the New York Knicks shoots the ball as Kyle Lowry #7 of the Toronto Raptors defends during the first half of an NBA game at Scotiabank Arena on March 18, 2019 in Toronto, Canada.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
Height doesn't matter to Kyle Lowry. (Credit: Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

Lowry has been posted up more often than any Raptor, but he only allows 0.74 points per possession which puts him in the 82nd percentile league wide. He even beats out bigs like Serge Ibaka (0.92 points allowed per post-up) who have a foot on him, and this is no fluke. Going back four seasons, opponents have scored just 174 points in 213 post-ups against Lowry.

“Listen man, I’ve been dealing with this for a long time, and it’s been beautiful for my career,” Lowry explained on Inside the Green Room with Danny Green. “I’m a strong human being and it works for me.”

Having the strength to hold his position gives him a fighting chance. Lowry is built like a bowling ball and the popular joke is that he’s “thicc” (even though Lowry has actually been “svelte” since 2015). Lowry may give up size, but he’ll never surrender position. Lowry fights like hell to push his man out, and keeps them there.

At that point it becomes a scrap, and Lowry is the prototypical Philly bulldog that never backs down. He digs in, prods and pokes at the ball, and he’s more than happy to lean in for a charge if the opponent tries to turn around to face up. More often than not, players settle for the only shot available which ends up being an off-balance jumper.

“Listen, if a guy scores on me, it’s going to be over the top, a fadeaway, and a tough bucket,” Lowry said.

Lowry’s stinginess on the block gives Nick Nurse options in his game plan. The 33-year-old has lost some lateral quickness over the years, and so he’s often tasked to play away from the ball while Danny Green and even Pascal Siakam draw the main assignments, but Lowry negates any mismatches by holding his own. For the same reason, Lowry is also able to function in a dual point guard backcourt because he can take the bigger assignment while Fred VanVleet tackles his position.

The Raptors can also effectively play a switching defense knowing that Lowry can check most forwards in the league. He duped Kevin Durant on a few possessions in a memorable duel against the Warriors last season.

More than anything else, beating the odds as a 6-foot post stopper is a testament to Lowry’s wit. By Zach Lowe’s characterization, Lowry is a brainy pest, and that defines most of his game at this point in his career. His athleticism has undeniably disappeared over the last few years, but Lowry has staved off his decline by outsmarting the opponent. He’s averaging a career-high in assists, and he’s constantly inventing ways to contribute.

“I’ve built my career on a lot of things, and I’m happy with what I’ve become,” Lowry said.