The problem with being Rockets point guard Kyle Lowry is that anonymity is difficult to overcome, a near impossible tide to stem.
Three weeks into this season Lowry had done as good a job of shoehorning his name into the national dialogue on talented point guards as anyone who became a full-time starter the previous season could. Wading through the muck of Chris Paul, Steve Nash, Tony Parker and Russell Westbrook is a difficult task, particularly for the hard-nosed-yet-unknown Philadelphian, someone who first had to wait for his franchise to jettison the guy (Aaron Brooks) ahead of him in the rotation.
Methodically things fell into place. Lowry played exceptionally last season and established himself as an unquestioned leader once Brooks was sent to Phoenix at the trading deadline. He opened this season with a flourish, averaging 17.8 points, 9.3 assists and 6.9 rebounds through the Rockets' opening 12 games. He was on the radar if but a blip, inspiring conversation as an up-and-comer, a point guard poised to help fill the void as Nash ages and the lights on the Spurs' dynasty flickers.
But then a funny thing happened on the way to that first All-Star selection: Lowry hit a wall. Along with Kevin Martin, he lugged the Rockets' backcourt through injury and ineffectiveness. Just as quickly as he carved a spot in the national consciousness, Lowry shot his way out of it. The first sign of fatigue came in the second half of his season-best 33-point explosion against the Trail Blazers on Jan. 14. Over the next eight games the foundation for his All-Star bid crumbled beneath him.
During that eight-game stretch Lowry shot 29.2 percent from the floor, including 28.2 percent from behind the 3-point line. He dropped three points from his scoring average and averaged seven assists per game. The Rockets won seven of those eight games so it was easy to overlook how Lowry slumped, but the damage done to his stats was significant.
With the NBA set to announce on Thursday the reserves for the All-Star Game in Orlando on Feb. 26, Lowry has fallen off the pace. Clippers point guard Chris Paul has been named the starter at point guard for the Western Conference, leaving Lowry to vie with Nash, Parker, Westbrook and Timberwolves rookie Ricky Rubio for a spot on the All-Star bench.
Lowry is averaging 14.6 points, 8.1 assists, 6.1 rebounds and two steals. Advanced statistics suggest that Nash is most deserving of a role as an All-Star reserve. Of the contenders listed he ranks first in PER (23.36), effective field goal percentage (59.9), assist percentage (57.4) and assist rate (64.74). The Suns (9-14) are the only team with a losing record among those with point guards under consideration, but that is no fault of Nash. His true shooting percentage (63.1) ranks seventh in the NBA.
Lowry and Westbrook have similar numbers in true shooting percentage and steal percentage, with Westbrook holding the edge in PER (22.58 to 19.06) and Lowry the decisive advantage in assist rate (46.17 to 22.96). Of course the Thunder (19-5) have a three-game lead in the conference standings while the Rockets (13-11) are a half-game behind the Mavericks (14-11) for the eighth and final postseason berth.
Between Nash, Westbrook, Parker and the emergent Rubio, who ranks sixth in the NBA in assist percentage (41.1) and fourth in steal percentage (3.5), Lowry won't win a popularity contest. Before his slump his stats spoke for themselves, but for someone with such odds stacked against him, his skid was enough to knock him from contention.
Lowry is no longer anonymous, but he hasn't yet arrived to the point where the slightest statistical variation won't mar his modest profile. As he continues ascending, Lowry can only hope that his exploits resonate so that he won't be viewed as a newcomer staking a claim to the throne.
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