When asked about Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens answered without a beat of hesitation.
"They're going to be all-stars," Stevens said before his Celtics took on the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday. "I have no doubt about that."
On Thursday night, the NBA will announce the starters for its Feb. 14 all-star game, while the reserves, selected by head coaches, will be revealed on Jan. 28. The Raptors' two backcourt stars are not only gelling together better than ever, they're both putting up career stats. Many believe both will be in the star-studded midseason showcase when the basketball world convenes in Toronto.
"They are just killers," Brooklyn Nets coach Tony Brown said after the duo combined for 61 points on Monday to beat his team, the first time they both topped 30 in the same game – hours before all-star balloting closed.
"Most likely, both will be all-stars; I don't see why they wouldn't be," Brown continued. "Lowry, he's in better shape this year, and DeRozan obviously is more poised than he probably has been in the past. They know the ball is going to come their way and they are making the right decisions, whether it's been scoring or they are moving the ball to one of their teammates. They have a good chemistry going. These guys have been together a while, so I'm not surprised by their performance."
Lowry was third behind Dwyane Wade and Kyrie Irving among guards in the most recent voting numbers announced by the league, so he could get a starting nod. DeRozan was sixth, and perhaps could be a reserve.
DeRozan and Lowry are averaging career highs of 22.8 and 21.0 points – good for 11th and 15th in the league – respectively. They have the Raptors sitting second in the Eastern Conference.
On Wednesday, DeRozan dazzled with imaginative spin moves and slick jumpers over Boston's double teams. He had 34 points and six assists to lead the Raptors to their season-high sixth straight win, 115-109.
"He's growing up – three years ago, he probably [would] have gotten rattled and missed a shot, but now he's playing through contact," Casey said. "Now if he doesn't get a call, he completes the play, continues to attack, get to the paint, and good things happen. That's the maturing of his game."
Lowry had a quiet night scoring compared to his recent performances – just 12 points – but had eight assists. The team improved to 27-15.
"He's playing extremely well right now he's playing at a really high level and he's about to hit his prime right now," Lowry said of DeRozan. "I think you can expect him to get better over the next couple of years, grow and be an all-star type player and a perennial all-star."
DeRozan was an all-star in 2014. Lowry was voted in last year, impressing as he shouldering the load when DeRozan missed 21 games with a groin injury. Shortly after DeRozan returned, Lowry struggled with injuries, which left many to wonder what was possible had they both stayed healthy all year.
We're getting a glimpse of that now.
They've played in 234 games together as Raptors. Their lockers are next to each other, and one often heckles the other during media scrums. The NBA's nightly highlight videos are littered recently with clips of one making a stunning pass to the other for a big finish – such as a Lowry arc to DeRozan for an alley-oop, or DeRozan seeming to drive toward the basket, only to dish a no-look pass out to Lowry, who nails a three-pointer.
"It's easy for me because that's our guy, that's our scorer," Lowry said, with his friend making faces over his shoulder. "At the end of the day I get him the ball and he makes plays. It's about getting him in a position to be successful. It makes my job a lot easier when you have a guy who can get you 10 assists or 30 points."
According to Hollinger's Player Efficiency Rating (an overall rating of a player's per-minute statistical production), Lowry rates fourth among NBA point guards behind Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul. DeRozan ranks third in this category among shooting guards, behind only James Harden and Jimmy Butler.
"They've tasted a fair amount of success together – but not a great amount – and that's bred belief and trust in each other," Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. "I think when they first got here, they looked at each other like [the coach looks sideways hesitantly], but then as the games went on and winning went on, they saw they could co-exist together and the trust and the friendship built."
The Raptors had two all-stars in the same season just once. In 2001, Antonio Davis was added late as a replacement player to an East roster that already included Vince Carter.
"It's second-nature now; a lot of things never need to be said," DeRozan said of the partnership. "It's just a feel for things, something that comes with years of playing and knowing each other's games."