Lately, Toronto Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry feels like he could run all night.
A player who has been on the sidelines with several injuries throughout his seven-year NBA career, Lowry was endlessly grateful to finally have enjoyed a full off-season with no nagging pain, surgeries or rehab. He was finally able to train to his potential. He dropped more than 10 pounds, improved his conditioning and put to use advice from NBA veterans he considers mentors: Alvin Williams and Chauncey Billups.
Through the preseason, Raptors coach Dwane Casey has noticed Lowry's enhanced fitness manifest itself in many meaningful ways, both mentally and physically. Things weren't always smooth between Lowry and Casey last year, the guard's first season in Toronto, but Lowry's dedication to off-season improvements demonstrated a commitment that strengthened their relationship.
"It was kind of like we said, 'Let's have a fresh start, things that happened last year, that's over, I'm not going to worry about it, and you don't worry about it,'" Lowry said. "The coach-player relationship isn't always going to be great right from the jump, but now I feel more confident with him and I feel he trusts me a lot more. It's nothing that he's said to me, but you can tell when your coach appreciates what you've done. He doesn't have to say anything, but I feel his confidence, and when you feel that from a coach, the sky is the limit."
Lowry injured his left ring finger tendon during last Wednesday's game against the Memphis Grizzlies but will continue to practise and play with a splint for about six weeks. Lowry nor Casey expect it to limit his play, a relief for a Raptors team with slim depth, one aiming to have two to three starters on the court at all times. Casey says last year, Lowry often took off possessions to catch his breath. Not this year.
"He's in every possession, running up and down the floor, pushing the offence, going in for a rebound, and then getting back in transition," Casey said. "Where last year he might have done one or none of those things on some possessions – his conditioning now is unbelievable. It's helped him in so many ways: concentration, focus, and not gambling on defence."
The six-foot point guard says he "really toned up" by finally maxing his potential in the weight room and playing basketball in Las Vegas.
"I'm 27 years old now, eight years into my NBA career and I'm growing up – you have to grow up at some point," said Lowry, whose personality has been considered chilly by some at times. "I have great mentors in this league and I've been asking them for advice a lot. Chauncey Billups has this aura about him that everyone notices, and he's a great leader. Alvin Williams comes from a position where he wasn't supposed to do what he did but made a great career for himself."
Lowry, who arrived in Toronto on July 11, 2012 in a trade, averaged 11.6 points, 4.7 rebounds and 6.4 assists per game last year in 68 games.
"He's still human, he'll still get tired," Casey said. "But he'll go for longer stretches without losing focus, without breaking down defensively, turning the ball over or missing shots he would normally make."
Toronto will need big minutes and more production from him this year. There was a time, just a couple of seasons ago as a Houston Rocket, when he averaged upwards of 14 points per game and 32 minutes on the floor and sometimes recorded triple-doubles.
"I feel like I could play all day, run all night," Lowry said. "I feel faster, more energized, springier, more energized, and definitely more motivated."