With the Toronto Raptors winning the NBA championship, the debates about how it impacts the legacy of certain players and executives from their team can really start to heat up. How far does his 2nd Finals MVP raise Kawhi Leonard up the list of all-time greats? Where does GM Masai Ujiri rank among the great team builders in NBA history? And of course we can’t forget about what this means for NBA Champion Jeremy Lin!
But the player who’s legacy could be most drastically changed by this championship is undoubtedly Kyle Lowry. Lowry has been one of the better point guards in the league for the past half decade and the question now becomes whether or not an NBA title gives him enough juice to make it into the Basketball Hall of Fame once his career is all said and done.
One could argue that the same debate can be had about Marc Gasol after his first championship victory, but Gasol’s case for the Hall is much stronger than Lowry’s. Being a Defensive Player of the Year Award winner and multiple time All-Star with international roots makes Gasol pretty much a lock for Springfield once his career is over. Hall of Fame voters have nutritiously lowered the bar for internationally born players to make it in, citing reasons such as their work to grow the game overseas and their performance in international competitions as factors that enhance their Hall of Fame candidacies.
Gasol may also get a boost from his brother Pau, who will almost assuredly be already elected into the Hall of Fame himself by the time his brother will be eligible to get voted in. The NBA world loves nothing more than a good storyline. Having the Gasol brothers in the Hall of Fame together seems fitting and the story behind it could play some subliminal factor in the minds of voters when deciding whether or not to enshrine the younger of the Gasol brothers into NBA immortality. Kyle Lowry has far less working in his favor for his Hall of Fame candidacy than Marc Gasol, which is what makes Lowry’s case all the more interesting to evaluate.
Before this postseason, Lowry carried around a reputation as a playoff choker. As fans mocked the “LeBronto” Raptors and their postseason failures, Kyle Lowry was the focus of much of the criticism. For 3 consecutive seasons from 2015-2017, Lowry saw his scoring average take a hit in the playoffs. The Raptors’ 2015 playoff run stands out as one of the most disappointing postseason performances by a team in recent NBA history. Lowry’s individual performance was particularly jarring, a performance that came in a series in which Lowry’s team was swept out of the first round by the lower seeded Washington Wizards.
Kyle Lowry postseason to playoff scoring stats:
2014-15 regular season: 17.8 PPG, 41.2%
2015 playoffs: 12.3 PPG, 31.6%
2015-16 regular season: 21.2 PPG, 42.7%
2016 playoffs: 19.1 PPG, 39.7%
2016-17 regular season: 22.4 PPG, 46.4%
2017 playoffs: 15.8 PPG, 46.2%
Lowry’s entire career will be evaluated when voters are deciding whether or not to put him in the Hall of Fame. His playoff failures are part of it. Nevertheless, after an NBA Finals victory, it will no longer define him. A championship ring won’t completely erase that run of disappointment, but it will drastically mitigate its impact on Lowry’s overall resumé.
When really trying to find a good historical precedent for a player like Lowry to make the Hall of Fame, there’s one name that stands out: Chauncey Billups. Both Lowry and Billups are 5-time All-Stars and both are now 1-time NBA champions. In Lowry’s case each of those similarities are subject to change, but at 33 years old having barely made the Eastern Conference All-Star team last year and with Kawhi Leonard’s future with the Raptors in question, they may be more unlikely to change than one would think.
Lowry and Billups also have very similar career paths as late bloomers who didn’t show up on NBA radars as potential star players until 7 or 8 years into their careers. Both have around 5,000 career assists, although Lowry will likely finish his career with significantly more than that and his career points total of 12,355 could cap off somewhere extremely close to Billups’ 15,802 career points at the time of his retirement. There are a few key sticking points that give Billups a stronger case for the Hall than Lowry including his 3 All-NBA appearances to Lowry’s 1, his 2 All-Defensive Team appearances to Lowry’s 0, his Finals MVP award and being the de facto best player on the Detroit Pistons championship team. Nevertheless, it would be hard to find a player who’s career more closely resembles Lowry’s than Billups and Lowry could have the chance to accumulate a few more accolades over the course of his career that will even things out a bit between the two.
The only problem is Chauncey Billups is not a Hall of Famer... yet. Billups was a first time nominee for the Hall in 2018, but was ultimately not voted it. However, Billups was again nominated this year. His candidacy will be one to watch as it relates to Kyle Lowry. If Billups gets voted in this year in what will be only his 2nd year of eligibility, it would do a lot to give Raptors fans hope that they’ll one day see Lowry honored in the same way as one of basketball's greatest players.
There is another player that could be loosely compared to Lowry who is currently in the Hall of Fame. Maurice Cheeks finished his career with roughly 12,000 points and 7,000 assists to go along with 4 All-Star selections and 1 championship. However, Cheeks was also one of the best defenders during the 1980s and made 5 All-Defensive teams. Still, his scoring ability pales in comparison to Lowry’s. Cheeks isn’t as clean of a comparison as Billups, but it’s not a bad one. While Cheeks did eventually make the Hall, it’s worth noting that Cheeks induction wasn’t until 25 years after his retirement. Voters made Cheeks wait a long time before ultimately deciding he was a Hall of Fame worthy player and while his 9(ish) years as a head coach were average at best, it did do something to add to his involvement in the game of basketball and may have been just enough to put him over the top for some voters.
Lowry will be an interesting name on the ballot when his time comes and it will likely spark a lot of debate. If Toronto’s franchise point guard were to continue to play at a high level as he’s approaching the twilight of his career, then the decision to put him in could be made much easier. Unfortunately, Lowry is getting to an age where he may begin to see his play drop off. Chauncey Billups played in his last All-Star game in his age 33 season. With the way Lowry’s scoring average has dropped over the last 2 seasons, the same could very well be true for him. If Lowry’s best years are behind him, is that enough to call him a Hall of Famer?
The silver lining for Lowry is that whether he makes the Hall of Fame or not, he’ll always be a legend in Toronto. It won’t be long until his number 7 jersey is raised to the rafters at the Air Canada Centre. Kawhi Leonard may have ultimately been the best player on the Raptors championship winning team, but it was Lowry who led the Raptors in scoring and assists in their close out win in Game 6. It’s Lowry who’s had to endure all the highs and lows that the Raptors faced over the past 7 years. It’s Lowry who had to hear his name in trade rumors year after year and still decided to re-sign with Toronto despite all of that when he was a free agent. It’s Lowry who has been the heart and soul of the Raptors for so long and who created a new definition for what it means to be a Toronto Raptor. Lowry changed basketball in Canada forever. Without him blossoming into a perennial All-Star, who knows where the Raptors would be today? That sounds like a Hall of Fame worthy accomplishment if you ask me.
Photo: (Kyle Terada - USA Today Sports)