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NorMVP: Is it time to consider Powell’s Sixth Man candidacy?

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Stormin’ Norman has finally hit consistent levels of production that were teased since his breakout rookie campaign. With half a season to go, he may be in line for some award buzz.

Toronto Raptors Norman Powell: Sixth Man of the Year Candidate Photo by Ron Turenne/NBAE via Getty Images

The legend that is Fred VanVleet Jr. continues its unprecedented growth.

Since that tweet, the Raptors have played three more games and none of those numbers have dropped (20.7 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.8 steals; 57/48/86 splits on 5.9 3PAs), despite Norm coming off the bench and playing fewer minutes!

Norm’s impact stretches beyond his recent scoring surge. It’s been talked about ad nauseam, but the Raptors have endured one of the toughest schedules while missing several key rotation pieces, Powell included. When Norm hasn’t been injured himself, he’s picked up the scoring slack in Pascal Siakam’s absence, lifted bench units when Serge Ibaka was out, and has been one of the best bench players when everyone’s been healthy.

Sure, it’s a small sample size, but maybe we should start considering Norm’s Sixth Man of the Year candidacy. Currently, Norm doesn’t qualify, because he’s started more games (17) than he hasn’t (15). But with the team finally at full strength, Powell has resumed his role as Sixth Man and hasn’t missed a beat. Before diving into the competition, let’s take a quick look at Norm’s numbers.

When Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green departed last off-season, the biggest questions surrounded how the Raptors would recover all that lost production. Siakam has somehow made another ‘leap’ this season and made up a large portion of Leonard’s stats. Powell may not be an elite defender like Green, but he’s more than made up for the offensive impact, while having spurts of good defense.

Danny Green, 2018-19: 10.3 points, 2.5 threes, 45.5 3-pt FG%, 63.2 TS%, 0.9 steals, 13.0 PER, 119 ORtg, 108 DRtg, 0.128 WS/48

Norm Powell, 2019-20: 15.8 points, 2.2 threes, 41.8 3-pt FG%, 64.4 TS%, 1.2 steals, 17.4 PER, 117 ORtg, 106 DRtg, 0.161 WS/48

The Candidates

The conversation for Sixth Man of the Year starts and stop in Los Angeles (with an honourable mention going to a former MVP in Detroit). Lou Williams — the first and only Raptors 6MOY award winner — is the prohibitive favourite to win every season, and 2019-20 isn’t any different. He’s on track to being the fifth 6MOY award winner to average 20 points off the bench. The other four instances were produced by Eddie Johnson (21.5 in 1988-89), Ricky Pierce (23.0 in 1989-90)... and Lou Williams, twice (22.6 & 20.0 over the last two seasons)! He would also be the oldest to score that many off the bench in a single season.

In the same locker room, Montrezl Harrell is making his own push for the unofficial title of NBA’s best bench player. Trez is attempting to make some history of his own. His current averages of 19.3 points and 7.1 rebounds off the bench have only been achieved twice in NBA history — both by Hall of Famer Kevin McHale, of course.

While the Clippers probably house the two hypothetical 6MOY favourites, some recognition should be thrown to Derrick Rose. He probably has the longest odds between the three, but his candidacy has been gaining steam. It’s a neat story that the former Rookie of the Year and former MVP is the driving force for a playoff contender. However, his best numbers (18.4 points and 5.8 assists per game), while stellar in their own right, still fall short of Sweet Lou’s averages (20.0 & 6.2). It also doesn’t help that he plays for the Pistons and their “playoff contention” really just masks that they’re a 16-28 team that’s, at best, destined for a first-round sweep.

Now that their resumes are laid out, let’s do a little analysis.

Of the four candidates, only Rose plays for a sub .500 team. His stats have already been undermined by the other favourites, so let’s eliminate him.

The Case for Norm

Between the 2 Clippers and Norm, Lou is easily the worst defender. Pick your defensive stat — defensive rating, defensive BPM, defensive win shares... heck, even steals — and his numbers pale in comparison to Harrell and Powell. Admittedly, the Sixth Man award never looks at defensive impact. It’s a shame that it’s voted differently than, say, MVP, where offense and defense are factored in. At the end of the day, voters will gravitate towards scorers. Good news is that Norm’s candidacy is a topic of interest because of his scoring. Getting 20+ points in each of his last eight (full) games, moves the needle from “fluke” or “circumstance” to “emerging trend worth tracking.”

The Raptors have one of the easiest upcoming schedules. Between now and the end of February, Toronto only faces 5 teams above .500: a Joel Embiid-less Sixers team tonight, a Bucks team that Norm seems to enjoy playing, and three games against Indiana. It’s a prime time for Powell to pad some stats against lesser opponents. A team’s record is also a fairly minor factor with voters, but a Raptors team that ends the season 10 victories higher than pre-season predictions versus a Clippers team that ends around what they were expecting, could sway the narrative in Norm’s direction.

The biggest positive on Norm’s side is the voter split. If voters feel that all three candidates are fairly equal in merit, they may decide that neither Lou nor Montrezl are more valuable than the other. It could even be as simple as, Norm carried a bench unit that helped a two-seed win 10 more games than pre-season predictors estimated.

The Case against Norm

History dictates that Norm will eventually fall back to earth. Two months of fantastic productivity (with a large three week gap in the middle) cannot fully erase four and a half seasons of inconsistency. All signs are pointing in the right direction for Norm. As long as he keeps this pace up, this will no longer be a concern.

Unlike his Clippers competition, Norm’s season isn’t approaching any historical milestone. The flashiest number to target would be the aforementioned 20 points per game benchmark. Assuming he plays every remaining game, he’d need to average 23.4 points. Even if Nick Nurse manages starter minutes, Norm’s not looking at anything more than 28 minutes a game. For reference, Siakam is averaging 23.7 points over 35.3 minutes.

I have no statistical analysis or damning evidence to support this last point, but it wouldn’t surprise me if there was a Los Angeles bias in this year’s voting process (or any season’s process). Whether or not there will be voter fatigue for Williams, who’s won the award the last two seasons and three of the last five, there probably wouldn’t be any voter fatigue for the city of L.A. The City of Angels has been hogging the highlights all season long. With all other major awards seemingly locked up by players in smaller markets like Milwaukee, Utah, and Memphis, giving this one to a denizen of Staples Center seems predestined.

Final Verdict

If voting was today, Norm would not show up on any ballots. However, the Raptors still have 39 games left and, if the last 15 from Norm are a precursor of things to come, then don’t be surprised to see Norman stormin’ up the leaderboard.

Besides, he can always turn to the baby with magic powers when he needs it!