Welcome to Let’s Make an NBA Swingman! I’m your host, uhhh... Laniel Drant. Yeah, that’s the ticket.
I am going to offer you three options. Behind one of them? The Raptors freshly extended
small forward. Shooting guard. Player? Is player OK?
Anyway, whatever position he is, it’s Norman Powell!
[The crowd goes wild ]
We’re not going to go in totally blind like on the old Let’s Make A Deal; instead, we’ll throw in a Dating Game-esque twist. You’ll get a brief description of the player, and you need to guess which one is Powell.
Think you’re up the to the challenge?
Choose wisely my friends.
Door Number One
A downhill slasher with a 6’11” wingspan, this player excels in traffic, defends his butt off and displays good coachability and underrated court vision. However, he struggles to shoot from distance and sometimes makes bad decisions when defenses collapse around him.
Door Number Two
An offensive minded reserve, this player possesses a strong three point shot (40.4 percent) while always being ready when called upon. In limited playing time, he impresses on both ends of the floor, despite being a second round pick in the NBA draft.
Door Number Three
This player struggles when given fluctuating roles — he puts up spectacular numbers when inserted into the starting lineup, though this may have to do with the fact that he was only called upon to start once a week or so. In far more appearances as a reserve, his once promising three point shot regresses badly, as does his defense (at times). He hits a wall around mid-season but improves towards the close and plays very well in the post-season.
Got your choice?
They’re all Norm Powell!
(No? Not so surprising? We’ll work on it for next week.)
Door Number One is the Powell the Raptors thought they were getting when they drafted him out of UCLA. A four year veteran, he had a great senior year, and despite shooting only 31.3% from three, showed enough athleticism to get himself drafted.
Door Number Two is Powell’s scouting report after his unexpectedly great rookie campaign in 2015-16. He appeared to be the steal of the draft as he excelled in limited playing time for the Raptors, leading to many fans clamouring (somewhat prematurely!) for the trade of Terrence Ross after his excellent playoff series versus the Indiana Pacers. Who could forget this little beauty?
Door Number Three is the Powell we got last season. His raw splits as a starter versus reserve are astounding, particularly in terms of his efficiency. He shot (FG/3P/FT) 48.9/39.7/77.8 in 18 games as starter, with a 59.2% true shooting percentage. In 58 games a reserve, he was just 41.2/27.0/80.0 with a 52.3% true shooting mark.
Three distinct players with three distinct identities. Real and very different strengths and weaknesses behind each of Door 1, 2 and 3. Which do you choose? Do you have to?
Which Powell can we expect this season? That’s the real question.
If everything breaks right, it’s ideally going to be an amalgam of the best parts of all three.
A consistent role is something Powell has never had at the NBA level. It remains to be seen if he’ll have one this season. With the absence of Terrence Ross/P.J. Tucker, and also DeMarre Carroll replaced only by C.J. Miles, there’s room in the rotation and Powell is expected to play a huge part. However, even armed with his new four year contract, he’s still going to have to compete for minutes on a nightly basis, particularly given that it looks like both Delon Wright and Fred VanVleet are going to get run at the backup guard slots.
If he starts at small forward, he’ll be able to use his length to hold his own on defense and ideally will help to stretch the floor in the new-look Raptors offense, which so far this pre-season ranks second in 3-pointer attempts per game, but just 25th in percentage from deep. If he comes off the bench, he’ll have to help provide secondary offense in Lowry or DeRozan-centred units.
Either role would work just fine, and it’s conceivable this could even change based on match-ups — though that’s not the style of the regular-season Dwane Casey I know and defend with my mind and body against thousands of HTML sharpened verbal assaults. Regardless, Powell seems like he would benefit from some consistency.
Shooting like he did in his rookie season (40.9 percent) and when he started last season will be a huge key to the Raptors in-house revolution. We already know Miles can stroke it from deep, and Toronto having a threat from the small forward position for 48 minutes is a luxury they haven’t had, well, ever. In the pre-season Miles canned 4.3 of 8.7 attempts per game, which is kind of like buying lightning at Costco — you’re getting fire and volume.
Powell? He’s had an ugly pre-season. He’s made just 1.3 of 4.0 attempts from deep, good for 31.3%. He’s also posted a team worst -10.1 net rating. He has both the worst offensive (96.9) and defensive (107.0) ratings on the team, despite having the third highest usage rate (24.9%) on the team.
It’s just the pre-season — the usage rates will change, Powell’s will almost certainly go down, while DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry’s will skyrocket. The difference between shooting the 31.3% he did and an elite 43.7% in Powell’s 16 three point pre-season attempts is literally two made shots. It’s possible that a guy who works as hard as Powell does is simply just pressing too hard, trying to prove that he’s worth the contract he just signed.
Still, his showing leaves Raptors fans with more questions than answers, chief among them: what’s behind Door Number Four?