Welcome to King of the Court, our daily celebration of the best players in basketball from the night that was. We’ll be keeping track of the best player of every night of the NBA season, and tallying the results as we go along.
King of the Court: Kyle Lowry
On a night largely marked by balanced scoring (of the four games, three featured a team with at least six players in double figures), the Raptors once again leaned on their two best players, with Lowry and DeMar DeRozan combining for 62 points in their 105–102 victory over the Nuggets.
DeRozan has gotten off to an impeccable start to his season, with three consecutive 30-plus-point games, but Lowry won the night with 12 points in the fourth quarter, including the final two field goals to seal the win. There is something endearingly basic about Lowry’s game. Despite slimming down over the past two seasons, he continues to give off the illusion of being bigger than he is; his crossovers aren’t particularly snappy, but they take up a lot of lateral space, and his power dribbles force defenders to concede breathing room. Against Denver, his style of play created a lot of real estate for layups driving right. Lowry has had a rough start to the season, but Monday night was a return to classic form.
Looking into the Raptors’ existential position in the East last week, I chose to focus on the development of DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas, because as far as utility goes, there are still huge adjustments that can be made in their respective games. I spent little time delving into Lowry’s game, because there just aren’t that many holes in it. He’s one of the few players in the league who has proved he can be a team’s best facilitator, defender, and shooter on any given night. Whether he’s the right player to have that responsibility on a championship contender is a separate argument, but there’s rarely anything to worry about with Lowry during the regular season.
Runner-up: Jimmy Butler, the Tip of the Spear
Chicago’s three stars covering over three-fourths of a court on a fast break: two passes, no dribbles, and an alley-oop finish. A truly majestic play, from three players who have blurred the lines between selfless and selfish over the years. Is it possible Chicago struck gold on this (still!) puzzling trio?
Well, yes. It is. The Bulls have the second-highest average margin of victory in the league through three games at 17.67 points, buoyed by a 30-point win Monday night against the Nets. Shit. OK. The Bulls are shutting us up. Did anyone foresee this chemistry materializing so quickly, if at all? Did anyone foresee both Butler and Dwyane Wade shooting over 50 percent from 3 on at least three attempts apiece per game? There is plenty of time for all of this to regress, but the Bulls’ easy coalescence has been the early-season antidote to the Warriors’ growing pains.
Honorable Mention: Blake Griffin’s Efficiency
Griffin scored 21 points on only seven field goal attempts Monday night, with 12 of those points coming from the free throw line. With his excellent 12-for-14 performance from the charity stripe, Griffin’s free throw percentage is up to 82.8 percent on the season on nearly 10 attempts per game. Five seasons ago, Griffin was shooting 52.1 percent from the line. With Blake increasingly involved in playmaking duty, he’ll be a foul magnet with the ball in his hands.
This doesn’t mean Blake’s free throws look any better than they did in the past — there’s still a terrible hitch just before the ball is released above his head. Hard to argue with results, though; this could be his fourth consecutive season shooting freebies in the 70 percent range. Getting into that 80 percent tier would be a game changer, especially if he continues to get to the line at a career-high rate.