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Questions the Raptors Face Now That Kyle Lowry Is Back

The rotation, starting lineup, and whether Toronto can once again turn into the biggest threat to Cleveland in the East are all things that will be answered soon.
Photo by Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

This article originally appeared on VICE Sports Canada.

Kyle Lowry is back.

Five weeks and a day after the Toronto Raptors point guard underwent surgery on his right wrist, the 31-year-old All-Star returned to the lineup to help lift the team to a late comeback victory over the Detroit Pistons. In the pivotal fourth quarter, Lowry provided a glimpse of what the Raptors, who surged with a 14-7 record in his stead, could be now that #FullSquad status has been attained.


That Lowry returned is of massive importance for the Raptors, because prior to his injury, he was their most important player. However the team's grown without him—DeMar DeRozan deserves a world of credit, and the newfound focus on defense has been welcome– Lowry will dictate their ceiling and raise the floor.

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That Lowry returned with four games left in the regular season is paramount, because the Raptors are short on time to find answers for a few important questions.

Will Lowry suffer through a shooting slump?

While this won't be answered for a few games still, Wednesday was encouraging. Lowry looked comfortable going to his right or left, pulling up or shooting off the catch, and he hit a pair of threes, a mid-range jumper, and went a perfect 7-of-7 at the line. The history of players coming back from wrist surgeries shows an inconsistent pattern with respect to short-term shooting, and while J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert stand out as recent worrisome examples, there are counterexamples, too.

Even if Lowry is cold from the floor, he played that way for two rounds of the postseason last year and still proved immensely important. Lowry at less than 100 percent would be a huge addition.

How does the rotation shake out?

The most interesting development Wednesday may have been that Delon Wright didn't find himself out of the rotation at all. The sophomore is the presumed third point guard, but thanks to his stellar play over the last six weeks, he appears to have bumped Norman Powell for the ninth-man/fourth-wing position. Powell has struggled of late, and Wright's length makes the Raptors comfortable using him on the wing against some opposing bench units. Dwane Casey loves having extra ball-handlers on the floor, and Wright's defense can play up.

Wright has played himself into potential meaningful playoff minutes. Photo by Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports


Jakob Poeltl also remained in the rotation, with Casey sticking to 10 players. Jonas Valanciunas playing the entire fourth quarter was a pleasant and effective surprise, with the Raptors wanting to stay big inside opposite Andre Drummond. The playoffs will likely see Casey shorten the big-man rotation to Valanciunas, Serge Ibaka, and Patrick Patterson, and the Raptors could close out games with Ibaka at center against smaller opponents, particularly if Valanciunas isn't as good as he was here.

These considerations are likely fluid, at least until a playoff opponent is revealed.

Will this fix the starting lineup?

For two seasons now, the Raptors have struggled to start halves. The team hummed without Lowry, but the starting five remained troublesome until the very end of that 21-game stretch, ultimately playing to a slight positive in 232 minutes together. The starting lineup with Lowry in Cory Joseph's place was a minus-8 in 11 minutes against Detroit. As a result of the continued struggles to get going, there have been calls to start P.J. Tucker over DeMarre Carroll.

Exercise patience here. The starting unit as currently constructed makes good sense on paper and should grow into a two-way threat, with increased spacing and strong rebounding, the latter a major team strength while Lowry was out. If that group could find success with Joseph, it'll likely do the same with Lowry.

Just how good can this team be?

The Raptors own the best net rating in the Eastern Conference, are the only East team in the top 10 on offense (fifth) and defense (ninth), and just got their most important player back. The question at the start of the season was whether or not they're a legitimate threat to the Cleveland Cavaliers. For a while, that question shifted to a much lower bar. Lowry's return resets the focus on the team's ceiling, and over the next few games, the Raptors will learn whether they're back to being the biggest threat to homeostasis in the East.