TORONTO -- Most media day storylines are hogwash, especially when it comes to weight loss. The #MUSCLEWATCH phenomenon is very real, with 85 percent of NBA players supposedly in the best shape of their lives. There is one instance this season, however, where a professional athlete dropping some pounds is legitimate news: Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry looks like he’s been preparing for a movie role. 

If you’ve watched Lowry for nine seasons, seeing him makes you want to ask many questions. Most of them are variations of "why?" and "how?" 

Raptors forward Patrick Patterson, who as a rookie was teammates with Lowry in Houston, had an even more basic one. “I asked him if it was real; he said, ‘Yeah,’” Patterson said, referring to the jarring image on Instagram posted by New York Knicks forward Kyle O’Quinn. “I see him in the locker room the other day and I’m like, ‘Man, I’ve never seen this before. You’ve always been this short, chunky, bulldog fat kid that I’ve known since my first year in the NBA. Like, seeing you like this, it’s like the evil twin brother or something.’”

Neither Patterson nor swingman DeMar DeRozan could recall another player making this drastic a change in a single offseason. Toronto head coach Dwane Casey called him “svelte” and “slender.” General manager Masai Ujiri said Lowry had a “super summer,” which sounds like a decent name for a personal-training plan if Lowry ever wants to get in that business. (Hey, he has a drink called FamJuice.) 

“Y’all seen the picture,” DeRozan said. “It was a shock. It was a shock to everybody, it was a shock to me. So I made him come see me in LA to see if it was real.”

Good AM run with the Fellas!!!

A photo posted by Kyle OQuinn (@kyle.oquinn) onAug 5, 2015 at 10:57am PDT

Despite being backcourt mates and close friends, DeRozan and Lowry apparently haven’t talked in detail about what this transformation would mean. “I think he's trying to be more athletic or something,” DeRozan said. “Trying to play above the rim or something. I don't know what he's doing.” 

Lowry was noticeably lighter in more ways than one. Amused by all the questions about his body, he told a reporter, “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.”

Casey said that most of the Raptors couldn’t make it through the regimen Lowry followed, but Lowry downplayed it. While he admitted that he hired a new nutritionist as a complement to his personal chef, he also said he took a month off at the end of last season. He “changed a few things that needed to be changed,” but to him it’s just a part of not being a “young pup” anymore.

This skinny version of Lowry isn’t notable just because it’s new. If it means he can sustain his level of play from early last season, it could completely change Toronto’s fortunes. After leading his team to a 24-7 record, winning Player of the Month in December and earning a starting spot in the All-Star Game, he shot 34 percent from the field in February and the team decided to rest him. A back injury meant he had to miss more games in March, and the Raptors limped to the finish line, winning just 16 of their last 34 games. Then they wasted home-court advantage for the second straight year, this time in a first-round sweep at the hands of the Washington Wizards.

Casey said “a lot of nicks and bumps” were responsible for Lowry falling off after his strong start, and being hurt made it difficult to get in peak physical condition later on. Lowry won’t use that as an excuse, and he has been unable to stop thinking about the tailspin that started in February. He said he still doesn’t know what exactly happened. 

Lowry didn’t become a scapegoat, but he did take criticism and his fair share of blame for Toronto unraveling. “I read everything, I see everything,” he said, adding that he uses it for motivation like most of his peers do. This time, though, he’s not even arguing. 

“It's true,” Lowry said. “I know how bad I played. But at the end of the day, it is what it is. I want them to say those things because they're going to change their minds. Early in the year, it was, ‘Oh my God.’ Now I've got to go back to making them say, ‘Oh my God’ again. That’s all that matters.”

Is that why he was running up hills in Las Vegas, then? Is that why he got in the -- excuse the horrible cliché -- best shape of his life? To change what people think and say about him?

“No,” he said. “I worked on my body because I wanted to work on my body. Personally. Honestly, that's the truth. Because I wanted to do something different, and I know what I can be.”

Kyle Lowry is looking to lead the new-look Raptors.  (USATSI)
Kyle Lowry is looking to lead the new-look Raptors. (USATSI)