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Swingin’ Wings: The world can’t handle Norman Powell

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Powell appears to have made a deal with the devil: You can have your best season ever, you’ll just be hurt for half of it.

Swingin’ Wings Toronto Raptors wing rotation: Norman Powell’s best season marred by injury Russell Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

The 2019-20 Raptors are not only defending their championship, they’re also replacing two starters at key positions on the wing. Each week on Swingin’ Wings, we’ll be tracking the progress of those possible replacements.

March 4-March 10

What, Norman Powell must be asking, did I do to deserve this? All our guy Norm has done is have an incredibly effective and efficient season as a scorer, provide tons of highlights — from dunks to “he’s-on-fire” shooting outbursts — for us to salivate over, and given his teammates and head coach Nick Nurse a reliable scoring option, either off the bench or as a starter.

All the world has done in return is give him one injury after another.

Oh, and an Eastern Conference Player of the Week award.

I guess you could say Norm’s week followed the same trajectory this Raptors team has all year: Success, recognition, injury. The team is still missing bodies, and every time they get one back someone else goes out. But they keep winning: 3-0 in the last week, and 4-1 on their just-wrapped Western trip.

I have learned not to worry about setbacks for the team at this point: They overcome everything, it seems. So I will choose not to worry about Powell, and assume he’ll come back, healthy, and playing the same inspired ball in no time.

Who did What?

Powell started all three games, and although he only played 95 seconds of the third game, he still scored a total of 68 points on the week. Averaging 22.5 points per game over three games when he scored zero in one of them? Not bad!

OG Anunoby didn’t put up the same scoring numbers as Powell, but he was just about as brilliant, shooting 60% from the floor and from three, and doing all the little things (including getting inside Rudy Gobert’s head) that helped the Raptors sweep the week.

Terence Davis, on the other hand, is slumping. Big time. There were two points earlier in this season where I thought he hit the so-called rookie wall, and both times he smashed through. The wall may have finally caught up with him though: He scored 10 points with a couple of nice dunks against Golden State, but is only averaging 3.5 ppg on 29% shooting over the last six.

Patrick McCaw played an insane 42 minutes on Monday night, subbing in for the injured Powell. And he was pretty good! Solid D, mostly a non-factor (but not a negative) on offense. He also threw a near-disastrous turnover late, though, much like Powell did agaist Golden State. Neither mattered in the end, although had the Raptors lost at Utah, Raptors Twitter (including me) would have had a collective meltdown.

Matt Thomas hit the floor in a few sustained bursts over the week. He didn’t score much against Golden State or Sacramento but had a few chances against Utah, helping bust the Jazz’s zone D. He also continued to show his value on the glass, with three boards against the Jazz.

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson bounced back after three straight scoreless games to notch eight against Utah, and every single one of them was an adventure. As always.

Fred VanVleet missed all three games with injury, and Stanley Johnson and Malcolm Miller did not play.

Wing Stat of the Week: .653; .612

Those two numbers are Norman Powell’s true shooting and effective field goal percentages, respectively, since he came back from injury. (Uh, his previous injury.) That’s on almost 19 shots per game too (if we exclude Monday). Most players need a little time to shake off the rust and get their legs back; Norman Powell, apparently, is not most players.

Wing Highlight of the Week

He may not be playing well overall, but Terence Davis II did some damage against the Warriors:

What are the Wings Saying?

Norman Powell, on how he’s managed to sustain success this season:

It’s just reading... I pride myself on being a student of the game and watching the clips of myself and the opponents. Coaches do a great job of breaking down film, what each player individually does and seeing how we can improve and get better collectively. And just reading the game, you know, some teams they’re riding me over, so it opens up drives, some teams are going under so it’s just reading when it’s a shot or it’s playing through the big, or whatever it is I’m just reading the game and playing it.

Powell again, on what makes this Raptors team special:

One, the work that everyone puts in on their game, and two, the confidence. We have a group of guys who believe in themselves, go out there and lay it on the line and have a lot to prove. I said it at the beginning of the year, we have a lot of dogs on this team who wanna make a name for themselves in the league and we go out there and play that way, we scratch and claw on every possession and try to get it right and try to get wins. And that’s top to bottom and that’s really helped us this year, to focus in on what we have to do and trust one another.

What’s Coach Saying?

Nick Nurse, on feeding the hot-handed Norman Powell:

In the little stretch where he really got it going, almost all that stuff was set pieces, you know we kinda feel him going, and we start running some stuff where he can turn hard and get into the paint and then we just ran a couple plays for threes, and he was in that mode where we’d be silly not to give him an action or a play to let him touch it at least.

When he gets in that mode, the ball seems to get to him and he’s got a variety of stuff going, he’ll go the hole, hit a three, hit a pull-up, he’ll make a lot of good decisions. And he was like, this close away from making a couple other great ones.

And on Norm’s overall reliability:

This is what I’d hoped [would] happen this year, I think that, when you look at — I know we talked a ton about, “well, what are you gonna do” well, there’s lots of new opportunities there and it included him. You know, we lost a guy at his position in Danny Green... I think we’ve always known he can vault up and get his own shot... it might have been opening night where I held the ball and gave it to him and let him go to work and I think that... we were hoping (this is what he could do). Maybe this is beyond a little bit but that’s good, right, I think we have a couple guys who keep going up a level where we’re surprised or whatever, but, I think, his maturity level — I don’t don’t see the mistakes or the turnovers or the lapses on D or whatever, he just is playing like so much more of a complete basketball player.

Wingman of the Week: Norman Powell

It may not have quite the same shine of an actual NBA Player of the Week Award, but Norman Powell’s continued excellence in the face of horrible injury luck deserves recognition. Powell is averaging career highs across the board and, as noted above, has become something he could never master before: Reliable. Heck, if he hadn’t been hurt so much, he might have had a case for Most Improved Player! In any event, we wish Norm a speedy recovery and look forward to seeing him slash through the lane again soon.