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Fran Blinebury

Rockets guard Kyle Lowry's play should garner more attention, but he contiues to fly under the radar.
Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images

Lowry coming of age as solid leader of Rockets

Posted Jan 20 2012 11:10AM

Play up.

That's what Kyle Lowry did when he was 11 and his brother Lonnie began putting him into games on the Philly playgrounds against kids who were at least five years older.

If you couldn't suddenly make yourself as big or as strong as those other guys, you could always try to be tougher.

"They knock you down and get right back up," Lowry said. "It's as simple as that."

Play up.

That's what he had to do in college at Villanova when coach Jay Wright put him in charge of an unorthodox four-guard lineup that was made up of mostly seniors and the sophomore Lowry pushed them on a run to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.

"That was a real compliment, a privilege that he had that much faith and trust in me to give me the ball," Lowry said. "That was another step to what I could become."

Play up.

In an NBA positively oozing with point guard talent these days, what Lowry has become is one of the below-the-radar best. If the name seems unlikely on the Western Conference All-Star ballot, the numbers practically scream out that it belongs. He is averaging 16.7 points, 8.6 assists and 6.8 rebounds per game for the Rockets and only reigning MVP Derrick Rose of the Bulls has a combination of those figures that is higher.

"I had watched him play since he's been in the league and I've known that he's smart, tough-minded and most of the things that he could do," said first-year Rockets coach Kevin McHale. "Look, he's playing and he's improving. That's what happens in this league if you've got the ability. OK, I didn't know he could rebound like this."

At 6-foot-10, McHale the Hall of Famer averaged 7.3 rebounds in his career, one-half a game more per game than Lowry.

Play up.

Even if you're a 6-foot point guard, there's no reason you can't go into the crowds around the basket and find a way to get the ball.

For the past 30 years, the face of the Rockets franchise has been a big man -- from Moses Malone to Ralph Sampson to Hakeem Olajuwon to Yao Ming. But now it's this chip-on-his-shoulder bulldog that looks as stout and immovable as a fire hydrant who gives them their identity.

Physically, he's not the lean, rangy, point guard that you would design in an ideal world. But he seems to get it done. Put him in shoulder pads and a helmet and he might be a Tim Tebow who bulls and crashes and finds a way for all four quarters. In short, he drives wins, five in a row now for Houston.

Lowry is one that Rockets general manager Daryl Morey had been pursuing for years. He tried to trade up to get him in the 2006 draft, but Memphis beat him to the punch. The best thing that happened for the Rockets might have been Lowry breaking his wrist as a rookie and losing a good part of his first NBA season. Then the Grizzlies drafted another point guard, Mike Conley, in the first round in 2007.

Morey finally got his chance 2 years later when the Grizzlies made Lowry available and he wasted no time immediately trading his own starting point guard Rafer Alston from a team that was bound for the playoffs. He spent his first 1 years in Houston backing up Aaron Brooks until taking over the starter's role last season.

"Kyle wasn't what you call an overnight success," Morey said. "What he's been is someone who has worked each step for what he's gotten and you can pretty much follow the progress by the numbers."

His 3-point shooting -- from .272 to .376 to .417 -- over the past three seasons with the Rockets is the area that practically leaps off the page and has allowed him to be a much greater offensive force. But it has been Lowry's ability to lead the team and create an effective offense that now makes him the spark to the engine.

Lowry had always been a creator in the transition game, doing damage like a twister as he blew up and down the court. Now he has moved to the next level by getting his teammates shots out of a half-court offense and out of broken plays.

But his first inclination is still to push the ball and the pace. It didn't take long for his backcourt partner Kevin Martin to understand that if he can constantly keep up with the racing down the court that Lowry will find him and deliver a pass.

He rapidly learns and understands scenarios. If Lowry finds himself with a 2-for-1 situation on the clock at the end of a quarter and his defender backs up just a half-step, you can count on him rising up to nail a 3-pointer right away.

"From last season to this season, you can just see that Kyle has become so much more comfortable in his job," said veteran forward Luis Scola. "He knows all of the time what he wants to do and he has learned how to be able to do it. The confidence part of the game was never a problem with him. Kyle knows he can play."

As a cautionary tale, the Rockets watched Brooks shine for a season when he was named the league's Most Improved Player in 2010 and then flame out just as fast after his tip-toe into the spotlight, a combination of hubris and a desire for a big payday.

Now Lowry can read the headlines that show the Russell Westbrook getting an $80 million contract from the Thunder, Chris Paul and Deron Williams moving toward cashing in as free agents. He signed for four years and $23.5 million with the Rockets last season.

"I can only deal with my own situation and, really, I like it," Lowry said. "The Rockets gave me a chance to play and to do the thing that I like to do. That's being a leader on the floor.

"It feels good to be someone that your teammates depend on and look to every night, someone that people around the league are watching and respecting. That's all I ever wanted, this chance."

To play up.

Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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