Kyle Lowry is a point guard. Not just in the sense that he plays the point guard position. He’s a point guard in the sense that he alters the way the Miami Heat offense operates. Throughout his career, he’s made a living off maximizing his teammates’ skill sets and putting them in the best position to put the ball in the basket. While his 12.8 points and seven assists per game may not jump off the stat sheet, few players impact winning as much as the 2019 NBA Champion.
Case in point; the 2021/22 Miami Heat. Through 17 games, the Heat sport a 110.5 offensive rating, good for the eighth-best offense in the NBA. That’s a far cry from the 18th ranked offense they finished with the season prior. Aside from Lowry, the personnel is mostly the same; the only other additions to the team were P.J. Tucker and Markieff Morris. That’s not to say other players don’t deserve credit for their improvement. Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro are 24 and 22 years old, respectively. The leaps we’re witnessing now are in part due to the natural progression of young, talented players. That said, Lowry’s passing has unlocked the team in a way that wasn’t possible this time last year.
Let’s dive into some statistics and game highlights that showcase the brilliance of Lowry’s playmaking.
The Lowry effect
We’ll start with the most simple box score stat; assists. Lowry is currently averaging 7.4 assists per game, good for 10th in the league. But the raw assist numbers often don’t tell the whole story. According to the NBA’s official website, Lowry is second in the league in passes made per game, behind reigning MVP Nikola Jokic. On the flip side, no member of the Miami Heat is even in the top 30 in passes received, aside from Lowry himself. So what does this mean exactly?
In basic terms, it means Lowry is doing a masterful job at keeping the ball moving. He doesn’t only like to pass the ball. Lowry is comfortable getting the ball back once it leaves his hands. Not only that, he’s making sure not to be reliant on passing the ball to any single player. Instead, he’s making sure that every teammate gets their turn at touching the basketball. We saw a similar style of egalitarian offense with the Toronto Raptors.
Another aspect that raw assist totals don’t articulate are passes that lead to a free throw attempt. The Miami Heat were ranked 21st in free throw attempts per game during the 2020/21 season. That’s despite Jimmy Butler shooting the fifth-most free throws per game individually. This year? The Heat have shot the third most free throws per game in the NBA. Bam Adebayo, who was only 26th in free throw attempts per game last season, is now the tenth-best foul drawer in the league.
No player on the Heat has benefitted from Lowry’s impact as much as Jimmy Butler. Miami’s best player is posting 23.6 points per game on a blistering 61.8 true shooting percentage. That level of efficiency is a career-high for Butler. Part of this improvement stems from Butler not having to create his shot as often as the 2020/21 season. According to the NBA’s tracking statistics, teammates assisted Butler on just 38% of his field goals last year. In contrast, 46.7% of his field goals this season have come off an assist. The result? The most efficient and effective scoring season of Butler’s career.
The season is still young, and it’s far too early to draw definitive conclusions about the Heat’s playoff ceiling. Still, the risk in signing a 35-year-old point guard to a large deal appears to be paying early dividends. The Miami Heat offense is statistically far more potent than it was last season.
The following section will include video examples of Lowry’s playmaking impact. While the numbers speak for themselves, visual examples help to understand the complete picture.
You get the picture.
“It’s what we play for. If you’re not playing to win the championship, what are you playing for? Just to be cool and be good? We’re going to get paid. That’s awesome. I love getting paid, but I want to win the championship, and everyone that’s won a championship will explain this and understand that this is a high you cannot match.”Kyle Lowry
In the end, the ultimate goal is lifting the Larry O’Brien trophy at the end of the season. Lowry achieved that with the Toronto Raptors in 2019 and wants to add another ring to his collection before calling it quits. The Miami Heat were close in 2020. It will be interesting to see how the Heat measures up with the rest of the league come playoffs. They no doubt want revenge on the Milwaukee Bucks after a convincing sweep last season.
The NBA is bursting with talent, and while the Brooklyn Nets and Golden State Warriors represent two Goliaths, the Miami Heat aren’t exactly David in this scenario. With Kyle Lowry playing quarterback to the Miami Heat offense, Pat Riley has given the franchise a real fighter’s chance to win their first title since LeBron James left in 2014.