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The Norman Powell Discussion: Should he stay or should he go?

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It’s a tough question, but what should the Raptors do with Norman Powell moving forward?

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Masai Ujiri and the Toronto Raptors have decisions they need to make in regards to the present and future aspects of the team. One of the biggest decisions will surely involve Norman Powell, the Raptors’ playoff hero of the past two seasons. So just like the Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go” asks, let’s try to figure out what Toronto should do with Norm.

Powell has been fan favourite for most of the Raptors’ faithful for his integral part in comeback wins with his lock-down perimeter defense and ability to make big buckets in the clutch. What comes to mind first of course, is his steal and game-tying dunk on the Indiana Pacers in Game 5 of the opening round of the 2016 Playoffs.

Could the Air Canada Centre get any louder? Absolutely electrifying.

But that was then, and this is now: what has Norm Powell done since? Heading into the current 2017-18 season, expectations were high on the 24-year-old, especially after more strong playoff performances against the Milwaukee Bucks. He started off the season signing a well-deserved extension for four years at $42 Million — not bad for the 46th pick in the 2015 NBA Draft. But what’s followed is an unpromising first half of the season. Powell began the year as the Raptors’ starter at the 3-spot, and since then has dealt with injury, and struggled mightily with his consistency.

In 35 games so far, Powell started the first 12 of the season before injuring his hip. As a result, his playing time started to become inconsistent (much like it had been the previous two seasons). Since his four-game absence, Powell has averaged 15.1 minutes per game, three minutes below his average last year, and something of a downward trend in what was supposed to be a big opportunity year. He then lost that starting role to rookie OG Anunoby, who is fitting in well along side soon to be named All-Star, DeMar DeRozan.

The question on the mind of all Raptor fans is simple: is this it for Norman Powell? Due to his contract extension at the beginning of the season, Norm cannot be traded until he has officially entered his new agreement with the team, per CBA rules. In other words, he cannot be traded during this year’s trade deadline — and it’s worth noting his cap hit is still only $1.4 million.

With Powell’s new contract coming into effect next year, and with many other big contracts still around for Toronto, this will reduce the Raptors’ financial flexibility to sign any new upcoming free agents. That’s not to say the Raptors shouldn’t or can’t keep him, but it does mean Powell has some work to do.

Perhaps most obvious, Powell’s current three point field goal percentage of 28.7 percent is well below the ‘norm’ of the NBA, at around a respectable 35 percent. To survive on the wing in the modern NBA, it means you have to have a steady and reliable three-point shot, and Powell’s has left him so far this season. Fortunately, the Raptors’ ball movement has improved as of late, which will generate more open shots — it’s now on Norm to start making them.

What’s equally distressing is that all of Norm’s averages are below his career baseline (even modestly so): PPG (7.1 vs 7.2), FG% (39.6 vs 43.0), 3FG% (28.7 vs 33.2), and eFG% (46.0 vs 49.3). And beyond the numbers, his decision making with the ball has been questionable at times. On the brighter side however, all of his defensive statistics (rebounds, steals, etc.) and contributing player evaluation categories (plus/minus) are all on par or slightly improved from his previous two seasons. It’s easy to see that Powell is still making an effort.

So while we could nitpick things in his all-around game, clearly it is Norm’s offensive skills that needs improving. Fortunately, the Raptors don’t need him to do a ton now — and these are things Norm can work to improve.

The Raptors have a lot of young depth at the 2- and 3-spots, starting with DeRozan all the way to Alfonzo McKinnie, leaving Powell somewhere in between. There are still questions about Norm’s consistency, and about how he fits in on the Raptors. Masai Ujiri and his brain trust will have to re-evaluate the team depending how far they go into the playoffs, and see whether or not Powell is a piece for the future, or a necessary asset to be moved to create something else.

I ask you then Raptors fans: should Norman Powell stay or should he go?