A great many NBA players venture into the offseason with the objective of returning to the court in the supposed best shape of their lives.
Their "shape" is one of the most vital and relevant factors to their professional success. But for all the work athletes invest into achieving peak physical condition, at a certain age that work includes staving off undefeated Father Time.
That is to say, many players are in the best physical shape of their lives relative to their age. Unless, of course, that player is Kyle Lowry.
Not only has Lowry begun the 2015-16 season in what is undeniably the finest shape of his life, but he’s done it at the age of 29. Even more interesting, this spike in production has been part of an upwards trend for him–just not at the age we might consider an NBA player’s prime.
David J. Berri and Martin B. Schmidt are two economists who wrote a book called "Stumbling on Wins," examining, in part, the primes of NBA athletes. In this book they contrive a formula that suggests NBA players improve and regress on a "U-Shaped curve."
They improve until they reach the age of about 25 and then peak between the ages of about 25 to 26. From there, there is a very slow, barely noticeable decline until the age of 30, and after that, there is an incredibly sharp decline after the age of 32.
Lowry, however, has defied these odds, beginning with his all-time-best physical condition. Amused by all the questions about his body this offseason, he told CBS Sports’ James Herbert, “I can still bench press you.”
He wouldn’t reveal how much weight he lost, only that none of his pants fit. “It’s nice having abs,” he said wryly. "I can walk around with my shirt off, my wife’s like, ‘Wow.’ She likes me.”
His peak form has not just had aesthetic benefits. Take, for example, Lowry’s PER this season and seasons past.
"Stumbling on Wins" suggests that Lowry should have peaked in 2011-12, his age-25 season. Indeed, to that date, it was his highest PER. However, after a small dip in 2012 in tandem with SOW’s formula, Lowry has done little but improve from there, culminating in what has been not only the most efficient but also the most statistically rich season of his career at the more seasoned age of 29, as can be further explored below.
Lowry himself credits this improvement to simply being a smarter athlete. "I’m still lifting, still moving the same way I used to. So there’s no change in that. I’m going to play the best basketball I can play. I’ve always tried to be stronger than people and just a bigger bully," he said to Jordan Zirm of STACK.
"This is just me changing up the way I do it, the way I dieted and the way I eat, the way I grind. I’ve always worked hard, it’s just now I’m smarter and older and I know how to work."
Last season, Lowry ended the season ranked sixth among point guards in scoring, eighth in assists, fifth in rebounds, ninth in steals, and 14th in usage rate. This season, Lowry is ranked fifth in points per game, 15th in assists, fifth in rebounds, second in steals, and second in usage rate.
Not only has Lowry been used more this season, he’s risen to the occasion and been markedly better. He is the life-force of this Raptors team; their offensive performance craters without his presence. This, by the numbers delineated in "Stumbling on Wins," shouldn’t be happening beyond the age of about 27, let alone at 29.
Last season, Lowry won Player of the Month in December and started in the NBA All-Star Game. After that? He ran into a slew of injuries, missed a good deal of March, and watched from the sidelines as the Raptors slumped their way into the playoffs.
Lowry’s new body may mean that he will not only continue his trend of improvement, but also increase the likelihood of maintaining his health and sustaining his incredible season.
"[Losing weight] was about me wanting to be the best player I could possibly be, and trying to educate my body to make sure I’m the best player I can be for 82 games and a long playoff run," Lowry said to James Herbert.
The Raptors are 17-11, good for fourth in East. There’s something of a basketball renaissance going on in Canada, as the Raptors have looked better year by year. Against the odds, so has Lowry. Sit back and watch Lowry lead Toronto to its finest season yet, dazzling the crowd and capturing the hearts of millions along the way.