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Can Raptors Norman Powell Become A Fourth Quarter Star?

The Toronto Raptors second year guard Norman Powell is slowly gaining notoriety as a fourth quarter player. Someone head coach Dwane Casey can count on at critical points in the game to get a stop or more surprisingly, get a bucket and that’s something from a guy who earned his minutes as a rookie with physical play at the defensive end of the court.

Surprisingly Powell seems reluctant just go with the idea that he plays better in the fourth quarter. He takes pride in playing hard from the moment head coach Dwane Casey puts him in the game, but this isn’t about playing hard, games are won and lost in the fourth quarter and coaches need players that can step it up in crunch time.

“I’ve talked about it,” Powell told Pro Bball Report. “It’s figuring out how to go in there and play all out hard basketball. It’s nothing about me taking my time to get ready or anything like that. I go out there and play hard, but being effective, being just a little bit more active, a little bit more smart in how I impact the game rather than just going out there and playing hard.

“I don’t feel that I am pushing at all. I take the same shots I take in the fourth as I do anytime I am on the court, it’s just whether or not they are going in. I’m not pushing myself or pressing as a lot of people think. I go in there and warmup or practice or workout the same way that I do in the game. Some nights in the first quarter or second quarter the shots are falling and everything’s good. I got the whole game going. Some nights it takes one, two, three shots and you get an easy one and it starts clicking all over again. It’s just about finding easy plays.”

It’s not just a causal observation, Powell seems to consistently find those “easy plays” in the fourth quarter and for some reason, they get easier to find after the All-Star break.

The under-sized second round pick peaked Casey’s interest early on. It isn’t often a rookie can bump and grab veteran players without picking up quick fouls and an unhelpful reputation with the referees, but Powell had the knack for physical defense without fouling and he got minutes while the Raptors first round pick Delon Wright was toiling away with the NBA D-League 905.

Now Casey never believed Powell could shoot and the rookie did little to dispel that in the first half of his initial season, so Powell was playing solely because he would play bump and grind defense, but sometimes things can change.

Injuries created opportunity and the rookie was ready to take advantage. After averaging just 6.5 minutes and 1.3 points on 27.5 percent shooting before the All-Star game in his rookie season, Powell became an impact player on offense after the break averaging 22.8 minutes and 9.6 points on 46.6 percent shooting.

An unexpected three-point shot appeared as well and the rookie Casey didn’t think had a jump shot started nailing 45.5 percent of his long balls, but maybe there were clues about his ability to shoot before this. While his offense was almost non-existent to start, when Casey played Powell in the fourth quarter, the rookie was hitting 33.3 percent of his threes when he wasn’t hitting much of anything else. Hints of a Mr. Fourth Quarter even from the start.

While Casey remained reluctant to believe in Powell’s shooting, the former Raptors 905 head coach Jesse Mermuys had no such reservations. He’d seen what Powell could do in the summer after the draft and he believed.

“I saw (Powell could shoot) in the summertime,” Mermuys told Pro Bball Report last year. “One, he made a ton of shots in Summer League. He was knocking it down. Into our workouts after Summer League in L.A. and in the Clippers facility workouts, he was making a ton of shots and that was my message coming back out of the summer. I said look, for a guy that can’t shoot, this guy is making a lot of shots. It’s getting to the point where this isn’t, it can’t be just he’s hot. He’s shooting the ball really well. So, I felt really confident about his shooting ability coming out of the summer.”

Powell started out shooting this season like he did after the All-Star break last year, but his minutes were wildly inconsistent and he is currently averaging just 33.9 percent from three. Powell found himself behind Cory Joseph, Terrence Ross and DeMarre Carroll in the rotation, however, Casey kept looking for excuses to find him minutes, especially in the fourth quarter.

However, his fourth quarter offensive output also started to level off until it wasn’t really any different from the any other time in the game, but things were about to change. A Ross trade and an injury to Kyle Lowry has handed a consistent role to both of the Raptors second year guards after the All-Star break and it’s like someone flipped a switch on Powell’s fourth quarter offense.

Since the break, Powell has been averaging 10.7 points on 42.9 percent shooting, but it’s been in the fourth quarter where he has really shone scoring 7 points on 48 percent shooting and hitting on 42.9 percent of his threes. There much be something about consistent minutes, the stretch drive to the playoffs, and the pressure of the fourth quarter that brings out the best in Powell.

“It means a lot,” Powell said. “In our development, playing together, learning the game, learning how to be big time players in big time moments when you are playing meaningful minutes and it’s going to help us.”

It’s a big help to the Raptors when a second round draft pick can step in during his rookie and sophomore seasons and make a positive impact, especially in the fourth quarter.

After the All-Star break last year Powell averaged an impressive 4.2 fourth quarter points as a rookie. This year, thru six games, his post All-Star break fourth quarter scoring is running at 7 points. That’s higher than top 10 fourth quarter scorer DeMar DeRozan (6.6) is averaging this season. If he can keep this up, Powell is a fourth quarter star.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

  Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson