Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry joins select company with 5,000th assist
Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry (7)gets a hand to the ball as Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) drives for the basket during second half NBA basketball action in Toronto on Thursday Jan. 17, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press
Published Friday, January 18, 2019 1:45PM EST
TORONTO -- On a night when he wasn't even meant to play, Raptors all-star Kyle Lowry added to his legacy.
Lowry, 32, has been at or near the top of the assists chart all season. Now the veteran point guard finds himself in select company after recording his 5,000th career assist.
The milestone helper was like so many others. With a little more than five minutes remaining Thursday, Lowry found Serge Ibaka on a pick-and-roll and the big man beat Deandre Ayton to the hoop for a dunk in a 111-109 win over the Phoenix Suns.
"That's awesome," said Toronto coach Nick Nurse. "He's been in the league a long time and he's had the ball in his hands and got it to a lot of people. Since I came here 5 1/2 years ago, it was the first thing I noticed -- how he'd find the right guys to get the ball to. He really commands the offence and knows where to get it.
"That's a great milestone for him."
The only other active players to have reached 5,000 assists are Chris Paul, LeBron James, Tony Parker, Rajon Rondo, Russell Westbrook, Dwayne Wade, John Wall, former Raptor Jose Calderon and Raymond Felton.
"I would have never thought I would have gotten there at the start of my career," said Lowry, who is in his 13th NBA season. "I'll look back on this when I retire ... For now, it's a great day, a great team win for us."
Lowry delivered on time. Five of his eight assists on the night came in the fourth quarter.
Taken in the first round (24th overall) by Memphis in 2006, Lowry played two seasons at Villanova in his native Philadelphia before declaring for the NBA draft.
He was traded to Houston in February 2009 in a three-team trade that also involved the Orlando Magic. Toronto picked him up in a July 2012 deal that sent Gary Forbes and a 2013 first-round draft pick to Houston (the Rockets eventually moved to the pick to Oklahoma City which used it to select centre Steven Adams).
"We feel we've added a solid starting-calibre point guard to our team who will bring toughness, grit and playmaking at a very important position," then-Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo said at the time. "At (26 years old) I would say Kyle represents what I would characterize as the future of the position."
Fellow guard Fred VanVleet said Lowry's history increases the magnitude of his accomplishment Thursday night.
"That's amazing, an amazing feat. Especially the way his career has gone, just the way that he had to come in the league. They kind of tried to replace him in Memphis and he had to work his way through Houston and ended up here," he said. "He's worked his way into being a perennial all-star. He wasn't given anything and that makes it that much more impressive.
"I still don't really think he's that much of a point guard honestly. I think he's a scorer and a shooter, so to have that type of number is really, really impressive."
Lowry is averaging 9.5 assists, second only to Russell Westbrook's 10.7, and 14 points a game. His career averages are six and 14.4, respectively.
Listed at six foot one and 196 pounds, Lowry is a chunky competitor not afraid to put his body on the line. He ranks fifth in the league in drawing charges -- behind four much bigger men including the 6-10 Blake Griffin -- and tied for first (with teammate Kawhi Leonard and Paul George) -- in defensive loose balls recovered.
His fiery nature is also reflected in his on-court demeanour. It seems Lowry has never met a call he likes, with arms often flying towards the sky in disbelief.
Career milestones and Toronto's glittering 34-13 record aside, Lowry has taken his lumps this season. He has missed 11 games through injury, including six in a row Dec. 26 through Jan. 5 because of lower back pain.
The Raptors initially said Lowry was going to miss the Suns game, to rest him after having played in a loss in Boston the night before. But he was returned to the starting lineup on the eve of tipoff.
During Thursday's game, he spent his time off the court lying on his back rather than sitting down. And while he scored 16 points, he did it on 4-of-15 shooting including 2-of-10 from the three-point line.
Lowry said he is still shaking off the rust from his injury absence.
"I'm still a little bit out of shape, conditioning (and) everything," he said. "I mean I literally couldn't run, do anything for a while. A back (injury) is pretty tough to come back from."
His shooting from distance has suffered the most. A career 36.6-per cent shooter from distance, he is making just 31.3 per cent of his three-pointers this season.
His 3,284 assists as a Raptor are second only to the 3,779 for Calderon, the man he supplanted after arriving from Houston.
Other Lowry career milestones this season include his 100th double-double and 13th triple-double.
Lowry has been well rewarded for his time in Toronto. He arrived with a contract paying him US$5.75 million in his first year as a Raptor. Today he leads the team at $31 million with another $33.3 million due next season.