Lowry for Three: How Gravity can Bolster the HEAT Offense
By Azam Masood
Once upon a time, the old hoops adage was that you needed a dominant, low-post big man to contend in the NBA. This may be a bit surprising to any younger readers raised on a league that now regularly features teams attempting 30-to-40 threes a game, but it's how many front offices approached team building and why center remains the position with the most MVP awards given out in the league's history, even with a 20-year drought of winners at that position before Denver Nuggets wunderkind Nikola Jokić won this past season.
Indeed, the Miami HEAT long adhered to this line of thought, acquiring Alonzo Mourning in 1996 and Shaquille O'Neal in 2004 in trades to build teams around. Both players would earn 2nd place MVP finishes (‘Zo in 98-99 and Shaq in 04-05), and the HEAT won their first title off the rim-punishing dynamism of O'Neal and Dwyane Wade (The 05-06 HEAT lead the league in points in the paint).
By the mid-2010s however, the rise of the Golden State Warriors and other teams with gravity-bending shooting paved the way for a league where the threat of the three ball from the lead ball handler, rather than a relatively less efficient shot from a low-post big, dictated much of the game. The HEAT, of course, have adapted to a three-heavy league, with Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro among the HEAT's voluminous outside shooters. And though they currently have an All-Star center in Bam Adebayo they hope will be a cornerstone for years to come, Bam does as much damage as a ball handler and perimeter facilitator as he does working the paint and has even teased the prospects of adding a three ball of his own in the future.
However, what the HEAT haven't quite had is a lead point guard with a release quick enough and the audacity to shoot often and from multiple angles since maybe Tim Hardaway Sr. Here's where Kyle Lowry comes in.
When Lowry entered the league out of Villanova, he had attempted a total of 40 college three pointers over 57 games and went on to shoot a rather poor 26% from beyond the arc in his first four pro seasons (only attempting an average of 1.6 per game), split between the Memphis Grizzlies and Houston Rockets. He slowly improved his outside shot during the latter parts of his Rocket tenure, but it took Lowry a little longer after that to find a home. Upon joining the Toronto Raptors, though, Kyle went from journeyman to cornerstone piece, making six All-Star teams, winning a title in 2019, and averaging over 18 points and 7.0 attempts from three (with 37.6% accuracy) a game from his age-27 season on.
Even at age 35, Lowry showed himself to still be a potent scorer, averaging a shade over 17 points for Toronto and producing a 37-point, 11-assist explosion that saw him sink 8 of 13 from beyond the arc against the Los Angeles Lakers as his finale in a Raptors uniform last season.
Will the HEAT lean on Lowry to shoulder a huge scoring burden this season? Probably not. Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo remain capable of getting 20-ish a night and Tyler Herro is coming off a preseason where he led the NBA in total points scored. However, Kyle's mere threat from three may serve as the reagent needed to jolt the HEAT's offense and leave defenders with an impossible choice: Dare go under the screen, or push up and give Lowry a lane to the hoop?
"It's going to vary," Lowry said regarding his scoring approach. "Game by game it's going to call for different situations for me. I never go into a game saying I'm going to do one or two things. I'm going to go out there and adapt and adjust for whatever the situation is called for. Maybe there's a game where I need to shoot more. Maybe there's a game where I don't shoot at all. I've got to be able to adapt and adjust no matter what the situation is."
Whether Kyle chooses to focus more on facilitating and pace-pushing or hunting for his own shot, there's a solid chance Miami sets a new franchise record for threes attempted per game this season. As the year goes on and the HEAT learn to adapt to the gravity of Kyle's on and off-ball movement, they will be able to throw in that many more wrinkles into the offense and rely a little less on specific sets that elite defenses scheme for in the playoffs.
"It shows you his versatility," HEAT Head Coach Erik Spoelstra said of Lowry following the HEAT's preseason victory against Houston. "He can be effective with his passing, with his defense, with his scoring. All of these things are what make him such a great quarterback."