Kyle Lowry lifted up his game by dropping the pounds

January 22, 2016, 2:41 PM

— -- NEW YORK -- "Bro, is that Kyle Lowry?" J.J. Redick asks Kyle O'Quinn.

It is the morning of Aug. 5, 2015, and O'Quinn has just posted an Instagram photo of the Toronto Raptors' franchise point guard that seems to have blown up the Internet.

"Skinny Kyle Lowry" is about to become a thing.

Over the summer, between rigorous workouts at Villanova University and then Impact Basketball in Las Vegas, Lowry managed to lose 15 pounds -- dropping from 210 to 195, with just 4.3 percent body fat.

"yeah!! Lol. The slimmer version," O'Quinn replies to Redick's question.

"he looks amazing. Geez" a surprised Redick responds.

Raptors coach Dwane Casey, whom Lowry describes as "the nicest gentleman in the world -- a stubborn, Southern coach who's hard-nosed and knows what he wants" -- remembers having a similar reaction to Redick upon seeing the photo.

"I hardly recognized [Kyle]," Casey says. "As an organization, we knew what he was planning to do, but when I woke up that morning and saw the photo I was like, 'Whoa!' "

Sitting on a couch in the lobby of the Trump SoHo, the luxurious hotel where the Raptors are staying before their Jan. 6 game later that night against the Brooklyn Nets, Lowry laughs about the whole thing.

"I'm telling you right now, it was all J.J.'s fault," Lowry says. "But I do give J.J. the credit for getting it out there. It was a good thing. So thank you, J.J."

Lowry has experienced all sorts of entertaining reactions to his physical transformation.

" 'What happened to Kyle?' 'The old Kyle ate the new Kyle.' Stuff like that. Funny things," Lowry said. "But it's all love and fans being fans and friends being friends and family being family."

The impact of his new physique and condition has been nothing short of career-changing.

Lowry currently ranks sixth in the NBA in ESPN's real plus-minus (RPM), which measures overall on-court impact while taking into account quality of teammates and opponents.

And Thursday, he was selected as an All-Star for the second consecutive season. Lowry overcame a 32,000-vote deficit to Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving in the last update to claim the second backcourt spot and the right to start on his home court in Toronto. But for Lowry and those closest to him, remaking his 29-year-old body wasn't just about enhancing his performance in October, November, December and January.

"I want to play longer, to be a more effective player into my mid-to-late 30s," says Lowry, who has logged the 10th-most regular-season minutes in the league since 2013-14, with 6,807. "I don't want to be a guy that's just out there to be out there; I want to play and contribute. So for me it's just maintaining it. Now I'm at a point to where it's, 'How do I get even better?' I'm at a point to where I want to be even better."

The pinnacle of physicality

According to Lowry, when it comes to losing weight, there was no revelation.

"It wasn't, 'Oh my god, I need to do this,' " he says. "I've been talking about doing this for three years now, honestly. No one knows that -- I don't tell people my business -- but it started a couple years ago with getting a chef and getting a nutritionist. 'Now you've learned your body. Now you can do it.' "

Last season, Lowry put together a superb first half -- averaging 18.6 points and 7.2 assists on 42.3 percent shooting over the first 53 games -- and was voted to start in the backcourt for the Eastern Conference in his first All-Star Game.

But in the second half, Lowry missed 12 games because of injuries. At first, his calf and hamstring bothered him, causing the Raptors to rest him for three games. He also dislocated a finger in Memphis in late January.

Then, in late March, as he was attempting to drive to the rim, Lowry got kneed in the back by Minnesota's Gorgui Dieng, and suffered a contusion. He returned after missing only two games, but his comeback lasted only 11 minutes before he needed to exit again. Lowry would need seven more games off to recover from back spasms.

He closed out the regular season averaging 15.1 points and 5.4 assists on 37.3 percent shooting in his final 17 games. The playoffs proved to be even more of a struggle for Lowry, who frequently found himself in foul trouble as the Raptors were swept out of the first round by the Washington Wizards. In those four games, Lowry averaged only 12.3 points and 4.8 assists on 31.6 percent shooting. Meanwhile, his counterpart, John Wall, had 50 assists in the series.

"I don't want to make excuses," Lowry says. "At the end of the day, I didn't play well. I don't think about last year. It is what it is. My goal coming into this year was to make sure that doesn't happen again. That's all I really focused on." Multiple sources close to Lowry, however, suggest the tipping point was right after the team's postseason ouster, when the 10-year veteran's weight became the subject of great scrutiny.

"That was the last straw," according to one source. "It bothered him that he was taking criticisms about his body unnecessarily.

"People were making it seem like he was over 225 pounds [when he was 210].

"Kyle's production -- or lack thereof -- wasn't attached to his weight, but somehow his body always became a point of emphasis. He didn't mind being criticized on his performance, but he wanted to take any criticisms about his body out of the conversation. He thrives under the concept of being a 'bulldog,' but the concept of being overweight gives off a soft demeanor."

Says Lowry: "People make it out to be that I had a bad playoffs and then I changed my body. But you can't just change your body and not prepare for it. You've got to prepare for these things.

"Preparation is key in life, and I think that's what I did. I prepared for it, and I just wanted to make sure that I started to live the way I wanted to live. Yes, it's going to help me play in the NBA, but after I'm done playing, too."