Norman Powell practically wrote this article for me during his Media Day press conference on September 28th. He called himself a young veteran on the team, essentially explaining his role with the Toronto Raptors this season. When discussing the areas of his game that he worked on during the offseason — as he enters his fifth NBA season — Powell said he worked on every aspect instead of focusing on one area like he has during previous summers.
It’s my job now to elaborate on what Powell said and what his season with the Raptors could look like.
As mentioned, this is Powell’s fifth season in the league, all with the Raptors. During 255 games played he’s gone back and forth from starter to role player. At times, he’s even been a DNP-CD: did not play, coach’s decision.
After a solid 2016-17 sophomore season, the Raptors rewarded Powell with a 4-year deal worth $42 million. The contract kicked in last season, so he’s still got three year’s left — the final year being a player option. Since the extension Powell’s been more of a role player than starter in Toronto. This season, however, is the one that could define Powell’s tenure with the Raptors and his value in the NBA.
Role On The Team
Coming into training camp Powell is projected to be in the lead to start at shooting guard. He has started 63 games in his career and was supposed to be the starting two guard for the Raptors in 2017-18. An injury led to him missing some games and OG Anunoby taking his spot. Last year, Danny Green occupied the two-spot in the starting lineup to great effect.
This season Powell will most likely start alongside Anunoby, the projected starting small forward. There are realistically two ways Powell isn’t in the starting lineup. First, if Nick Nurse chooses to adjust game-to-game and tinker with the lineup depending on opposing matchups, something he did at times last season. Secondly, if Powell isn’t consistently producing on both ends of the floor, he could lose his spot — most likely to a two-PG lineup featuring Fred VanVleet.
There’s no reason to assume either will happen just yet. Powell is a young veteran leader on this team, as he mentioned on Media Day. The opportunity for him to average double digit points for the first time in his career is this season.
Norm could achieve this scoring goal in the two ways he’s excelled at in his career. No one expected Powell to become a three-point threat, yet he’s averaged 40 percent from three twice in his four seasons, something he could improve on with consistent minutes. Meanwhile, it’s expected that Powell will continue to attack the rim, a strength he has shown throughout his career.
In short, Powell’s role is to take advantage of the scoring opportunities when they come. He doesn’t need to force his offensive game playing around Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol, and should work best as a complementary player (like Anunoby).
Consistency will be important for Powell, this season and beyond. Again, he’s gone back and forth from starter to bench over the course of four seasons in Toronto. With Kawhi Leonard and Green gone the door is open for him to start again with no true two-guard there to challenge him.
The question remains: can Powell produce every night to become a consistent starter as was expected when he signed his 4-year contract?
The Raptors can’t afford to have Powell go on scoring dry spells during this season. He might not be the second or even third option, but he’ll be an important piece without Leonard and Green. Consistency is the only way Powell can progress with other young veterans on the team, like Pascal Siakam and VanVleet.
There’s no Anunoby waiting to steal Powell’s spot in the lineup if he were to miss time due to an injury like a couple seasons ago. If he stays consistent with his strengths, Powell should prove to be a reliable starter for the Raptors.
If there was ever a time for Powell to take the next step in his career — to become more than a 10 to 15 minutes per night kind of player — it’s now. He has an opportunity to earn a starter reputation in the NBA and avoid moving back to the end of the Raptors’ rotation.