Raptors president Masai Ujiri is looking within for the change needed to take his team to another level and no one has looked more ready to take on a new major role next season than Norman Powell.
Going back to his rookie season Powell has shown the signs of huge potential despite his second round status and the persistent doubts about his jump shot. Ignore the career averages of 7.3 points per game and 35.1 percent shooting from three and focus on his 42 regular season starts where he averages 12.5 points and 43 percent three-point shooting. It seems like every time he has been called upon, he has performed.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Powell has played better when given a consistent spot in the rotation with consistent minutes. Almost every young player performs better under those circumstances.
Unfortunately for Powell, he has been stuck in a spot where it has taken injuries to get regular consistent minutes at either the two or the three and when everyone is healthy, he’s been battling an uphill fight against the Raptors big free agent addition DeMarre Carroll and until last year’s trade, Terrence Ross.
Now Ross is gone and it’s time to admit the Raptors have played better with Powell starting instead of Carroll even if that means an undersized three-guard lineup. Just ask Milwaukee about the difference Powell made to the Raptors in the playoffs.
“In the Milwaukee series being the ball handler, taking the pressure off of DeMar and Kyle in that series,” Powell explained. “Being able to make plays off the bounce is always a focus. I draw so much attention driving to the rim, getting to the bucket and when I attack, find the open player, being able to create off the bounce.”
Milwaukee had no answer for Powell and going back to last year’s playoff experience against Paul George and the Pacers, the postseason has had a big impact on Powell’s development.
“It’s really helpful,” Powell responded to Pro Bball Report after Game Four against the Cavaliers. “Letting me see myself in these moments, reading the game, slowing down, seeing what I can work on, seeing how to play, calming myself down and keeping myself even keeled.
“It’s going to be really big for my development down the road and makes me even more motivated and fired up to keep working to get better. To see myself being in these moments and playing with DeMar (DeRozan) and Kyle (Lowry).
“Every game I go in trying to figure out how to get better and ways I can take my game to the next level and get to where I want to be. Being in a (playoff) series like this and situations like this really helps with that.”
The Raptors believed in Powell’s potential as a secondary ball handler from the start and took advantage of the Raptors 905 D-league team to get him minutes as a point guard early in his rookie season. However, Powell first earned minutes on the big club with his defense on the wing, but in the current high scoring NBA, the Raptors now need him for his offense and Powell is ready to step into the starting rotation and make a big impact.
“I am always ready,” Powell said. “That’s where I see myself, playing a bigger role. That’s what I work for.
“I want to be(come) a focal point. Watching DeMar, watching Kyle, I am learning from them. How to be the guy. How to take that responsibility and it’s fun being able to talk to some of the best players in the league and pick from them what I can and what they see.
“(Lowry’s) bulldog play, playmaking mentality. He’s a great guy who can create in tight spaces. How he is able to thrive in those situations and then I am able to watch DeMar and how he is able to thrive in iso situations using his body, his footwork to create separation and get guys off balance. So I get the best of both, scoring from DeMar and playmaking from Kyle.”
And the lessons don’t end with the season. The summer is where players build on what they learned during the season and work on new aspects of their game.
“I am going into the off season with that, learning from DeMar and hopefully going to work out with some of the other best players in this league and really develop my game, to focus and learn from them.
“It’s definitely going to be a good summer for me.”
Powell has looked good when given an opportunity in his first two seasons with the Raptors, however, his third year with the club should be expected to open some eyes. The ability to drive, dish, finish and hit threes is all there. He’s ready to take on a major role next season.