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Kyle Lowry Made His Toronto Teammates Better. Can He Do The Same In Miami?

In recent years, the Miami Heat have been a quality team but not considered a member of the NBA’s heavyweight contender class. Jimmy Butler has a knack of turning his individual weaknesses into team strengths, but the Heat have had a few too many team weaknesses to join the class of title favorites, despite a surprise Finals appearance in a pandemic-shortened 2020 season.

Pat Riley and his bag of championship rings required a solution, and they found one this offseason in Kyle Lowry. The former Toronto Raptor has championship experience and a track record of success no matter what his team has asked of him. Lowry’s addition goes a long way toward addressing what has ailed Miami.

In the Butler era, the Heat haven’t found an elite offensive identity, and it’s shown; they ranked just 19th in half-court points per 100 possessions last season. They couldn’t depend on the pick and roll, finishing 22nd in pick-and-roll frequency and 13th in points per chance, per Second Spectrum. When the Heat turned to isolation play, they were middling, scoring at a rate in the bottom 10. Their stars in Butler and Bam Adebayo were poor at converting unassisted shots, both recording effective field-goal percentages below 45 percent when they didn’t get a hand from a teammate last year.1 

Lowry has spent the vast majority of his career as a pick-and-roll maestro. Though he had a slightly down season in 2020-21, as recently as 2019-20 he was the second most efficient scorer out of the pick and roll in the league, averaging 1.175 points per chance.2 Per Second Spectrum, Lowry was roughly as efficient as the Heat’s Goran Dragić — for whom Lowry was traded — last season on pick and rolls that ended with the ballhandler passing, but Lowry spent much of the season running the action with players like Aron Baynes or Stanley Johnson, while Dragić ran the plurality of his actions with an All-Star in Adebayo.

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Lowry is a faster decision-maker than Dragić, averaging 0.63 seconds and 0.88 dribbles fewer per touch last season. That speed helps unlock his deep toolkit of passes. He can throw lobs out of the pick and roll from inside the arc or far outside of it, leading his bigs to the rim. He finds outrageous passing angles with either hand. And if defenses focus too much on Lowry and his dance partner, he knifes the ball into the paint to leverage that attention into an advantage for his teammates. He throws quick hitters to his rollers, giving them space to make their own choices on the short roll. Adebayo should benefit from those traits, as he’s both an elite scorer and passer out of the pick and roll. Per Second Spectrum, among screeners who used at least 100 possessions after a pass from the ball-handler, Adebayo was the second most efficient shooter, scoring 1.420 points per chance. The Heat also scored 1.055 points per chance after an Adebayo pass in such scenarios, and that mark ranked 20th among screeners. 

Even If Lowry doesn’t use screens to begin complex actions but instead to create space for pull-up threes, he’ll still be an upgrade for the Heat. Though the shot may not be enough to propel a team to success, the threat seems essential in today’s league. Dragić was moderately efficient on pull-up threes last year, with a 52.23 effective field-goal percentage, but Lowry shot 60.00 last year on the shot, which was a top-30 mark among players with 150 or more such attempts in the player-tracking era,3 per Second Spectrum. His scoring and passing should rejuvenate Miami’s pick-and-roll attack.

The pick and roll isn’t the only means through which Lowry will help Miami’s offense. Though Butler and Adebayo were inefficient when asked to create for themselves, on shots with assist opportunities, Butler had an effective field-goal percentage of 59.17 percent and Adebayo 62.83. Lowry may not add to Miami’s isolation scoring repertoire — in fact, he wasn’t particularly good at scoring in isolation last season — but he should further diminish any reliance on it. With Lowry on the court last season, the Raptors consistently assisted more shots from every area of the floor than they did with Lowry off.4

The Raptors assisted more with Lowry on the floor

Assist rates for the Toronto Raptors by shot location with Kyle Lowry on and off the court in the 2020-21 regular season

Assist rate
Location Lowry on Lowry off Diff.
Rim 56.4% 46.9% +9.5
Long midrange 42.5 33.3 +9.2
Short midrange 50.6 42.1 +8.5
Arc three 79.7 74.4 +5.3
Corner three 98.6 97.2 +1.4

Short midrange shots are taken between 4 and 14 feet from the basket; long midrange shots are taken between 14 feet and the 3-point line.

Source: PBP Stats

In fact, the Raptors assisted more of their shots inside the arc with Lowry on versus off every season since 2015-16, per PBP Stats. Butler and Adebayo are both significantly more effective after others create for them, and Lowry has a proven track record in positively affecting his teams’ assist rates. 

Lowry will help his team’s half-court offense, but just as significantly, he’ll make sure that his team spends as little time as possible in the half court. In 14 of his 16 seasons, Lowry has been in the 80th percentile or better in improving the frequency of his teams’ transition possessions, per Cleaning the Glass. Last year, the Raptors’ offense lasted on average 0.73 seconds fewer per possession with Lowry on the floor versus off, which was the largest negative on-off differential on the team. Those faster possessions often ended in highly efficient shots. Lowry was one of the early pioneers of the three in transition, which he took himself or facilitated for his teammates with regularity.

Kyle Lowry loves transition threes

Number and league rank for Kyle Lowry on transition pull-up 3-pointers and passes for 3-pointers in transition, for both regular season and playoffs

Pull-up 3 attempts Passes for 3
Season Rank Count eFG% Rank Count
2020-21 36* 16 75.00% 34* 45
2019-20 1 50 51.00 15 63
2018-19 25* 23 32.61 4 133
2017-18 1 60 52.50 12 69
2016-17 5* 36 62.50 19 59
2015-16 3 45 46.67 12 67
2014-15 6 32 56.25 14 66
2013-14 8* 28 58.93 16 56

*Tied.

Source: Second Spectrum

Between last season’s top-10 defense but middling offense, the Miami Heat were a team with a high floor but a low ceiling. Lowry fit for many years into one of the stronger defenses in the league with the Raptors, and though his defense perhaps slipped last year, he remains a strong, switchable guard with an elite rebounding rate

Like his friend and teammate in Butler, Lowry should help shift Miami’s weaknesses into strengths. Through three games in Miami, he leads the team in offensive rating.5 With him running pick and rolls, setting up Butler and Adebayo, pulling up from deep and sparking transition offense, Miami’s offense should remain supercharged. If all else stays the same in South Beach, Lowry and his consistent changeability may be exactly what the Heat need to rise into the next tier of contenders.

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Footnotes

  1. They ranked 92nd and 80th, respectively, in eFG% among the 251 players who attempted at least 100 unassisted shots last year.

  2. Among players who ran at least 100 pick and rolls.

  3. Since 2013-14.

  4. Last year for the Heat, a smaller percentage of Miami’s 2-point field goals were assisted with Dragić on the floor.

  5. Among players who average 20 or more minutes a game.

Louis Zatzman is a freelance writer living in Toronto. He is a staff writer at Raptors Republic, a freelance contributor to CBC Sports and Sportsnet, and co-host of the weekly newsletter Minute Basketball.

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