Watch out for Raptors rookie Norman Powell, especially if your name is James Johnson or possibly even Terrence Ross. Head coach Dwane Casey favors defense above all and even he was impressed by how Powell was able to stifle the Hawks red hot sharpshooter Kyle Korver in Toronto on Thursday night.
“(Powell) played like an old man,” Casey said. “He was physical. He was gritty. He was grimy. His attention to detail, he didn’t fall asleep. Korver had one three in the first half and that wasn’t on Norm, that was in transition. I was really proud of the way he competed. Again, he’s growing as a player each every time he’s out there on the floor.”
In case any of the Raptors other players fighting for minutes in the rotation didn’t notice, those were shots fired by the head coach. Powell took a defensive assignment against a tough veteran player who had been shooting 55 percent from three-point range over the past four games and helped shut him down. Korver finished shooting 2-6 from the field for 5 points and as Casey pointed out, the one three-pointer wasn’t Powell’s fault.
The second round pick has been on Casey’s radar since the beginning of the season and he just started his seventh game in the last five weeks. Powell has been gaining his coach’s confidence by playing tough physical defense. The fact his own shot is finally starting to fall is just a bonus and a real threat to the guys who might have believed those minutes Powell is playing belong to them.
Powell has fun playing defense and it looks like Casey has noticed.
“I thought it was fun (guarding Korver),” Powell told Pro Bball Report. “A little different for me, but he definitely kept me active just staying attached to him. He’s always moving, so you have to be alert on everything. On quick pin downs his setups are great just because he gets to his shot, so he really kept me active all game. I thought I did a great job running him off, making him frustrated, making it tough for him to catch the ball.”
Earning a coach’s trust as a rookie when a team has more veteran alternatives is never easy and it can be doubly tough for a second round pick, but Powell had confidence that Casey has believed in him from the start. It’s starting to look like his confidence was justified – or maybe that confidence helped him play the tough physical style that Casey wanted to see?
“I think it goes to my work ethic,” Powell said. “When I was in here for the predraft talking to (Casey) after the workout I had with him, he said he liked my game. He liked the way I played. My energy and just my defensive toughness that I brought to the game, so I am fortunate to be here in Toronto and he liked the way that I played early on. (I am) earning (his) trust, earning those minutes and showing that he can put me in the game and I am going to give him 110 percent.”
Powell is living the rookie dream. Not just playing garbage minutes, but actually starting games on a top two team in his conference. This is fun.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Powell said. “This is something I’ve dreamed of as a little kid. One of my goals this year was to get a start, the fact I’ve got multiple starts now in my rookie season is a blessing and I’m looking forward to completing a couple more accomplishments this season and just go out there and play my role and help this team win to the best of my ability. I’m really glad I’ve been able to go up against some of the guys that I’ve watched. It’s just a dream come true.”
A dream for the rookie and maybe, possibly, a nightmare for opposing guards and wings in the future.