Nick Nurse: Kyle Lowry levelled up after championship

·NBA reporter

Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse says Kyle Lowry is playing some of the best basketball of his career at the age of 34.

Nurse gushed about his starting point guard during a conference call with reporters following practice inside the NBA’s Disney bubble this week. Among other things, Nurse noted that Lowry took a step forward after winning the championship last summer.

“He had an amazing playoffs last year. There’s a confidence component that’s there. He learned a little each year about his body and conditioning, and extending that finish line. I think he’s smarter in that way, and he has tremendous confidence,” Nurse said of Lowry.

“I think he’s played at a level this year where it’s been higher than before. He’s played fantastic.”

Nurse specifically complimented Lowry’s ability to shift into carrying a heavier offensive load with the loss of Kawhi Leonard in free agency. Lowry’s scoring had dropped in three-straight seasons from 22.4 to 14.2, but the six-time all-star is back to averaging close to 20 points per game, while remaining one of the best defenders and playmakers at his position.

“He knows he has to be that main cog, he’s gotta produce offensively for us. He’s always going to play hard and make the defensive plays, but he’s gotta be a main factor in the offense, and he carries himself that way this year a lot more,” Nurse said.

Much of what makes Lowry an effective scorer remains the same, but he’s scaled that impact over a higher volume of shots. Lowry is shooting a career-high 8.3 threes per game, as he’s lethal in both catch-and-shoot and off the dribble. Lowry also leads all point guards in transition scoring.

But the main driving force behind Lowry’s scoring bump is his renewed ability to attack the basket. After years of creeping decline, Lowry is back to attempting a fifth of his shots within the restricted area, and he’s also getting to the line at double the rate he was last season (5.7 to 3.0). Much of that is attributable to the Raptors being able to trot out lineups with five shooters to space the floor, but it’s also a reflection of Lowry’s meticulous conditioning to consistently sustain contact in the lane.

But for Nurse, it’s also the intangibles that makes Lowry an indispensable player. Nurse said the Raptors are “clearly Kyle’s team” in large part because he’s leads by example. You won’t find many star players leading the league in charges taken, or ones that play as hard as Lowry does on a nightly basis. The rest of the team follows his lead, and Lowry is the one constant as the Raptors head into their seventh-straight postseason appearance under his guidance.

“I think Kyle is going to be a hell of a player in the playoffs this year,” Nurse added.

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