Welcome to "One Play!" Throughout the 2019-20 NBA season, our NBA.com Staff will break down certain possessions from certain games and peel back the curtains to reveal its bigger meaning.
Today, Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry takes the spotlight.
Context: When it comes to drawing charges, nobody does it better than Kyle Lowry.
In Toronto's loss to the Boston Celtics on Friday, Lowry drew his 34th charge of the season, extending his lead over LA Clippers centre Montrezl Harrell for the most in the league. With only a few games remaining before the playoffs begin, Lowry is well positioned to lead the league in charges drawn for the second time in three seasons.
Drawing charges isn't something that usually gets talked about as a skill, but Lowry has proven to have incredible anticipation in those situations.
To get a better understanding of how he does it, let's take a closer look at the charge Lowry drew against the Celtics.
The play: Lowry draws a charge on Gordon Hayward.
Breakdown: Following a made free throw from Lowry, the Celtics run a handoff between Daniel Theis and Hayward at the top of the perimeter.
Lowry is guarding Brad Wanamaker on the wing closest to Hayward. While Wanamaker isn't a big-time 3-point shooter - he's averaging only 1.4 3-point attempts per game this season - he's been an effective standstill shooter, canning 48.2 percent of his catch-and-shoot 3s.
In other words, Wanamaker isn't someone you have to account for at all times, but he isn't someone you can simply abandon on the 3-point line.
Even so, Lowry inches further away from Wanamaker as Hayward continues his drive to the basket, providing Norman Powell some relief as he fights over Theis' screen and tries to get back in front of Hayward.
Hayward picks up his dribble just inside the 3-point line to kick it out to Wanamaker for a wide open jump shot, but Lowry stands his ground and draws the charge.
Why it matters: Based on data collected by Krishna Narsu of Nylon Calculus and Patrick Miller of The BBall Index, Lowry has spent 77.1 percent of his minutes guarding tertiary options this season, the highest rate among Toronto's starters.
Having him guard weaker defenders is less about covering up for Lowry's limitations as a defender and more about freeing him up to roam around the court like a free safety. He hasn't been quite as disruptive of an off-ball defender as Fred VanVleet has this season - not by the numbers, at least - but he's still among the league leaders in steals and deflections while being the league's most prolific charge drawer. He always seems to be in the right place at the right time and he's fearless, willing to put his body on the line even when someone like LeBron James is barrelling their way towards the basket.
FiveThirtyEight's Chris Herring wrote a great article about Lowry's charge drawing last season. As Herring explained, part of what makes the Raptors such a difficult team to score against is that pretty much everyone can "at least hinder, if not completely halt, the progress of a player trying to get to the rim." Lowry has neither the length to protect the rim nor the mass to wall off the paint in the same way that Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby do, but him being a threat to draw a charge serves the same purpose - it makes opponents think twice about attacking the basket knowing he's always a risk to slide over in a moment's notice.
Again, we tend not to talk about drawing charges as a skill, but Lowry has turned it into an art form. His anticipation is on another level and he has a knack for drawing charges in game-changing moments.
"His instincts are unbelievable," Raptors head coach Nick Nurse told Herring of Lowry's charge drawing. "He sees that stuff coming way ahead of time and gets himself in position. That's just being a super smart, high-IQ player. He's pretty good at knowing how to take them.
"Every now and then, he takes a pretty crushing blow. But you know how it is: The good [charge-takers] kind of start to fall just before they take a hit, and hopefully don't get hurt on those [sorts of plays]. But his instincts to play hard amaze me almost nightly."
It helps explain how the Raptors have been able to not only survive but build an elite defence this season despite starting two smallish guards in the backcourt in Lowry and VanVleet. The two of them are capable of guarding both guard positions as well as most forwards in a pinch and they've learned how to weaponize themselves as help defenders, which allows them to play much bigger than their size. More than anything, they're both just really annoying. They're in constant motion on defence, using their speed to fly around the court and their IQ to blow up plays.
There are a number of ways to show how effective they are in that regard, but when it comes to Lowry, nothing illustrates his defensive impact quite as much as a drawn charge.
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