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Player Review: Norman Powell bounces back after a tough season a year ago

One season ago, Norman Powell lost his starting job and began to see limited minutes. This season he bounced back and played a key role for the Raptors.

NBA: Miami Heat at Toronto Raptors John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

It was a bounce back season for the Raptors’ Norman Powell. In fact, the numbers say it was relatively similar to his breakout sophomore year in 2016-17.

It was a different story for him a season ago. Powell started the first 12 games before missing the next four due to a hip injury, which led to OG Anunoby replacing him in the starting lineup for most of the 2017-18 season. Powell would only start six more games the rest of the way, his minutes began to decrease significantly, and he was a non-factor throughout the playoffs. This all happening after the Raptors handed the 2015 second-round pick a 4-year extension worth $42 million just weeks prior to the start of the season.

The setback for him last year may have been caused by the big contract, and potentially the fact that Anunoby was on his tail in the depth chart and quick to take his spot in the lineup.

Whatever the reason may have been for Powell’s tough season a year ago, he was able to reincarnate the version of himself from the 2016-17 season as he posted almost identical numbers in 2018-19. Amidst all that, after all the trades by Toronto, Powell also became the second longest tenured Raptor behind Kyle Lowry. It’s how he came to truly earn moments like this:

Focusing in on the 2018-‘19 season, Powell saw some new career-highs as he regained his offensive confidence. He again dealt with an early season shoulder injury that kept him out for 21 games, but this season he was able to bounce back to be a key rotation player.

Here is a list of Powell’s career-high’s this season:

  • 8.6 points per game
  • 18.8 minutes per game
  • 3.2 field goals per game
  • 38.3 field goal percentage
  • 1.1 three’s per game
  • 82.7 free throw percentage
  • 2.3 rebounds per game
  • 1.5 assists per game

Now, all these numbers are relatively similar to his 2016-17 breakout season. And when I say similar I mean some of these numbers are one or two tenth of decimal point better. He also played 16 less games this season than in 16-17. However, he proved to be a much more efficient scorer, with a true shooting percentage of 59.6 percent — 4.4 points better than his previous high.

The TS% is the real number to look at when assessing Powell’s regular season numbers. It shows that he was able to find the confidence in his shooting and the aggressiveness in his game that seemed lost last season.

He didn’t only find himself behind Aunuoby in the depth chart a year ago, but Delon Wright and C.J. Miles were getting more minutes. This season Powell got opportunities to play and took advantage, and when Wright and Miles were traded, he continued to progress in the right direction.

Focusing now on Playoff Powell, who last year scored a total of 12 points in six playoff games, he found himself on the court a bit more this time around.

The issue with Powell in the playoffs was that he became too inconsistent. After the first two games versus Orlando where he struggled, Powell was effective as he shot over 50 percent from the field in three consecutive games. When the Philadelphia series began, Powell became somewhat of a ghost on the court. Nick Nurse began to have a short leash as the series progress, leading to Powell being hit with a DNP-CD for Game 7. He was also held to 10 or less minutes between Game 4 and 6.

Powell found his game in the Milwaukee series though, a team he seems to strive against in the playoffs. Dating back to the 2017 playoffs, Powell has averaged 12.4 points in 11 games versus the Bucks. Then in the NBA Finals, as the rotation got even tighter, Powell’s scoring became non-existent once again.

The important thing for Powell this season was to be able to find himself back in the Raptors rotation. He was consistent throughout the season, but he needs to be able to do this again for back-to-back seasons and improve his game as he goes along. The next step for Powell is to be able to keep the confidence in his shot and aggressiveness when attacking the rim — that’s when he is at his best. Staying in the rotation during the season and playoffs is important for Powell, instead of constantly being in and out of the lineup because of his inability to adjust to match-ups or stay focused on defense.

Masai Ujiri hopes to run-it-back with the same core, assuming Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and Marc Gasol all return. With Aunuoby expected to be healthy next season, where Powell and his remaining two years, roughly $20 million stand in the Raptors future is up in the air. He’s the only player on the roster with a guaranteed contract beyond next season, which also opens the door to him being a possible salary dump if needed.

Powell can establish himself as a solid rotation player in this league. He did so this year with the Raptors. He also became an NBA Champion, giving him the additional experience. He’ll have a role on this team next season if he’s back. If he’s not, Powell’s still a Raptor for life.