Few would have expected two years ago that Norman Powell would be one of the more important players on the Raptors roster. Yes, the team starts and ends with Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, and we often talk of the potential of Jonas Valanciunas in the next breath. Newcomer Serge Ibaka changed the team’s calculus quite a bit. But Powell’s development has added a more intriguing question: just how good can he be?
In his second season with the Raptors, one spent fully with Toronto (and not in Mississauga with the 905), Norm played in 76 games. In the process, Powell put up averages of 8.4 points, 2.2 rebounds, 1.1 assists, and 0.7 steals in 18.0 minutes per game. He also shot 45 percent from the field (on 6.7 shots per game), 79 percent from the line (on 2.1 attempts per game), and 32 percent from three (on 2.3 shots per game). On paper, these numbers are nothing special — though they are quite good for a second year player drafted in the middle of the second round.
But Norm’s potential value and role in Toronto remain both very important and very much up in the air. Here’s a quick review of his 2016-17 season.
Well, Norm saved the dang season again, didn’t he?
After barely playing in the first three games of the Raptors’ opening round series against the Bucks, Powell was inserted into the starting lineup and promptly helped blow Milwaukee away to even the series. His follow-up in Game 5 was one of the more satisfying performances of the year — 25 points on 8-of-11 shooting, including a perfect 4-of-4 from 3, plus 4 assists, 4 rebounds, 3 steals, and a block. As with last year in Game 5 against the Pacers, coach Dwane Casey went to Norm and Norm delivered in a huge way.
For most of the season, that was how things went for Powell. Like many bench rotation players, some nights he would have it, and others he would not. I put this in the “Good” section because, well, when Norm had it, he could sometimes dismantle teams on his own — he defense would stifle an opponent’s attack, his finishes at the rim would dishearten, and the force with which he played would ignite the rest of the Raptors. Sure, there were nights when Norm would press in an attempt to find the frequency of the game, but the Raptors were able to live with that when the results — as in Game 5 vs. the Bucks — paid off as they did.
Norm still hasn’t quite blossomed into the star we hope he’ll be. That’s as much on the burden of expectation as it is on Powell himself. While some would argue he should be the full-time starter over DeMarre Carroll, the consistency of Powell’s play sometimes leaves that in doubt. What’s not in doubt, however, is the effort Norm is putting in to become a better player. It’s how the 46th pick in the NBA Draft even cracks a rotation in the first place. But season-saving efforts aside, the results of Norm’s 2016-17 season are still a ways away from being consistent.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that! Yes, we can point to Powell’s 32 percent three point percentage that came and went throughout the year. He couldn’t buy a bucket late in the season, but then had a stretch against the Bucks in the first round when he couldn’t miss. Norm’s defense was his calling card in his rookie year, but with an increased role on the offensive end, there was some concerning slippage on D. It takes a lot of concentration to play at a high level on both ends of the floor, every night, for big minutes. Despite improvements to his ball-handling and driving abilities, Norm’s playmaking and finishing still leave something to be desired at times. He can make things happen, but usually as the beneficiary of other action, not as the initiator.
If there’s a leap for the Raptors to make next year, a lot of it could hinge on what kind of Norman Powell they get come 2017-18. If expectations were high before, well, look out.
The Grade: B+
Though you could convince me an A is warranted based on that Bucks series alone.
There’s still a ton of upside to Norm’s game, and his value for the Raptors is enormous. With P.J. Tucker maybe gone, and DeMarre Carroll on the wane, Norm is the team’s only other wing (besides, you know, All-Star DeRozan). Sure, he’s undersized at the 3, but the fact that he can play there at all and make the Raptors faster and more unrelenting on both ends of the court is significant. Assuming he continues on his development curve, there’s no reason not to expect an even bigger role for Norm next season.
On top of that, Toronto is only paying Powell $1.47 million next season. That represents a value that goes well beyond the, ahem, norm. Yes, there are holes to Powell’s game, and expectations (some a little too rabid) that want him to be an All-Star yesterday. But this is still the 46th pick in the draft. That we’re even talking about Powell as he heads into his third season, and talking about legitimate opportunities for improvement, speaks volumes. The kid can play, and he’ll get another chance to prove it.