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NBA Toronto Raptors PJ Tucker

Raptors Are Winning With Crushing Defense

The Raptors silver lining in the cloud of not having Kyle Lowry available after the All-Star break has been a forced buy-in to playing better defense and the numbers speak for themselves. When Toronto plays the crushing defense they are capable of, they win easily, but in a high scoring game without their second leading scorer and floor general, stealing a victory by out-scoring their opponent is hard to do.

In their seven wins post All-Star break, the Raptors are holding teams to just 91.4 points and are 5-0 when holding teams under a 100. When they give up over 100 points, Toronto is 2 wins and five losses.

“We got to make our stand on the defensive end,” said Norman Powell. “We can’t play an offensive game. Offensive games are not going to win us basketball (games.) You got to be able to get stops. You can’t just go back and forth scoring the ball. We got to get stops.”

Earlier in the season going back and forth scoring worked for the Raptors. If it wasn’t DeMar DeRozan, 12th in the NBA in 4th quarter scoring with 6.3 points, it was Lowry, 3rd best in 4th quarter scoring with 7.8 points. But with Lowry unavailable, getting bailed out by a big offensive comeback just got a lot harder to accomplish.

“That’s how we got to play,” said P.J. Tucker after holding the Pistons to just 75 points in Detroit. “Today was the definition of Toronto basketball, how we got to play. We didn’t win with our offense.”

After an embarrassing 123-102 loss to the Thunder in Toronto the night before, the Raptors rolled into Detroit on a mission, holding the Pistons to just one field goal in the first six minutes of the game and one field goal over the final nine minutes of the fourth quarter.

The Raptors know what they are playing for, an opportunity to move up in the standings if they can pull their defensive game together without having to wait for Lowry’s return.

The second place Celtics and third place Wizards have gone just 6-4 over their past 10 games and it isn’t about to get easier for them. Isaiah Thomas is expected to miss a couple of games (or more) with a right knee bone bruise. The Wizards are just a week away from a brutal five game road trip that could go 0-5.

The Celtics and the Wizards face-off on Monday and Washington hosts the 5th place Hawks on Wednesday providing the 4th place Raptors additional opportunities to make up ground.

“We are all looking at (the standings),” Powell said. ” We are all talking about it. We talk about how close the playoff seeding race is right now. This is the best part of the season, fighting for playoff position. Especially in the East, it is really close.”

The Raptors hope to get Lowry back at the end of the month, but they can’t afford to wait if moving out of the less desirable 4th place in the standings is going to happen and their only reliable way of getting wins for the moment is with the crushing defense they proved they could do against the Pistons (87-75), Mavericks (100-78) and Pelicans (94-87) recently.

 

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

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Norman Powell

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

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Norman Powell & Delon Wright

The Raptors Will Be Relying More On Norman Powell

By Frank McLean

When Terrence Ross was traded to the Orlando Magic last week for Serge Ibaka one member of the Raptors stood to gain a lot more playing time and that’s second year guard Norman Powell.

Powell, whose rights were acquired by the Raptors on draft night in 2016 from the Milwaukee Bucks for Greivis Vasquez, has shown some spurts of brilliance in his year and a half with the Raptors. He has been a fan favorite and his two way play on the floor and hard work in practice is something head coach Dwane Casey loves and he will tell you that when asked.

He was factor in last year’s playoffs in the first two rounds against Indiana and Miami, but as a rookie he was not as successful against a Cleveland Cavaliers team that was headed for their first ever championship.

This season during DeMar DeRozan absence due to his ankle injury he started and since DeRozan came back he has been a big cog in the fourth quarter providing impact off the bench like a fourth line player in hockey.


He’s only been averaging seven points and two rebounds a game, but in the last two games before the All-Star break with Terrance Ross gone he got to see a lot of time and he produced.

In 18-minutes against the Chicago Bulls he put up 13-points and the next night against the Charlotte Hornets he played 28-minutes and scored 17-points.

Raptors head coach Dwane Casey admits that way Powell has been used it hasn’t made things easy for him.

“As a coaching staff, we put him in a tough situation. He starts one game and has a rhythm. He comes off the bench in the fourth quarter when we need him and it’s a different rhythm. That’s hard to do and it’s tough on him, but as I mentioned to the players, this is the NBA. You have a chance to do your job. If it’s two minutes, five minutes, the whole game, go in and do your job. And don’t forget what got you here. The dirty work, the grimy work. So whether it’s Norm or whoever is in that role has to remember that I got here by being a grinder, a tough defender at my position, and offensively do what comes naturally.”

Powell says it would be easy knowing what the rotation is going to be on a given night, but as the old saying goes, it is what it is.

“I think it would be easier knowing the rotations, knowing when you are going to go in, knowing when your name is going to be called, but it’s still the same thing for me. I have to go in there and produce and help on both sides of the ball, defense first. Take some of the workload off Kyle (Lowry) and DeMar (DeRozan) when asked and just try to be productive in my minutes. That’s presented to me and I’m just looking forward to it. It’s a new opportunity that I’m ready for.” 

Powell is happy for the opportunity to get more playing time, but he was close to Ross and this was a lesson that professional basketball is a business and sometimes you lose friends.

“I mean it’s crazy waking up and seeing not just your teammate, but a close friend of yours gone. Being here my first year and a half, I just wish him the best and thank him for everything we talked about and helping me along the way. All the best to him in his new situation. There’s an opportunity for him down in Orlando but, you know, he’s going to be missed.”

Powell’s opportunity almost vanished at the last second on trade deadline day when the team acquired the versatile defensive specialist P.J. Tucker, but before a game could be played, Kyle Lowry showed up with a sore wrist. A wrist injury that has now been determined will keep Lowry out of the lineup for a month or more. Minutes that supposedly had vanished were back on the table for the Raptors second year guards Delon Wright and Powell.

In the first three games after the All-Star break Powell has averaged 15.3 minutes, 4.7 points and 4.3 rebounds. It’s not the same role as he would have enjoyed if the team hadn’t of acquired Tucker, but it’s a role he likely gets to keep – for a while at least. Wright is averaging 13.7 minutes as the two young guards have been splitting the time the now starting Cory Joseph was playing off the bench.

Powell knows this is his opportunity to make a name for himself in the NBA and if the last five games are any indication, he’s not going to waste it.

 

 

   DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Norman Powell and Kyle Lowry

Raptors Should Be Starting Norman Powell

After last season’s impressive performance post NBA All-Star break and then in the first round of the playoffs, the Toronto Raptors rookie Norman Powell might/should have been expecting a significant bump up in head coach Dwane Casey’s rotation this time around and he is getting more minutes than in the first half of last year, but based on what he can do, Powell should be starting.

Most rookies, even NBA Lottery Picks, find it hard to average double-digit scoring and it’s even rarer for a rookie to play a physical brand of defense without fouling, but Powell managed to do both as a starter in 24 regular season games with the Raptors last season. It cost Toronto nothing to put Powell in the starting lineup either as the team went 18-6 in those games to claim second place in the Eastern Conference.

Powell only got his chance because of injuries to DeMarre Carroll and James Johnson, but that’s typically how it goes for second round draft picks. What was unexpected is the 6’4 wing/guard took the veteran 6’9 forward Johnson’s spot in the rotation and kept it, only losing out to Carroll when the Raptors highly-paid free agent acquisition finally got back to some semblance of his pre-injury form.

Carroll was still easing his way back into the rotation at the start of this year because of continuing knee soreness, but the veteran has been handed the starting role since his return without question and somewhat surprisingly, Powell was even bumped back of Terrence Ross coming off the bench.

“(My role is) the same as last year,” Powell told Pro Bball Report. “It is a little difficult with DC (Carroll) being healthy, but just being that energizer coming off the bench trying to make a spark being a defensive stopper. Trying to get the confidence in the coaching staff that when they put me out there I’m getting stops on defense and picking the team up, changing the pace.

“Pretty much the same role as last year. Just trying to find areas in the game where I can be effective.”

That role is as an injury replacement for Carroll and DeMar DeRozan plus whatever time Casey can squeeze out of the rotation by stealing minutes from Ross and Cory Joseph. It hasn’t been easy not having a regular defined role, but when Powell gets to start, he shines brightly once again.

In 11 starts this season, Powell is averaging 15.1 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.1 steals in 31.2 minutes. That would put him third in points per game on a team that has struggled to find anyone who can consistently provide a third scoring option behind Kyle Lowry and DeRozan.

But its more than just offense. As a starter, Powell seems to find a way to energize his teammates with at least one opponent demoralizing steal that he takes in for a spectacular dunk every game. Unafraid, Powell will take on the challenge of guarding guards, wings or forwards, whomever is giving the Raptors fits that night and even when it seems he’s overmatched, Casey doesn’t often have a better option when his team is in trouble defensively. It’s just a lot to ask of a sophomore who has often been nailed to the bench until his coach gets desperate.

It isn’t going to be easy to find a way to put Powell into the starting lineup. It would be a lot simpler to just carve him out a role as the first wing off the bench (sorry Ross) and steal some minutes away from Joseph, but there is a strong case to be made for starting Powell in Carroll’s place.

Carroll is still showing signs of a player coming back from a knee injury. He almost certainly wants to start and play big minutes, but if the Raptors want to have him available for the playoffs, it would be wise to bring him off the bench and manage those minutes until they face the matchups in the postseason he was signed to help with. Besides, Powell is putting up better numbers as a starter than Carroll is.

Carroll is averaging 9.6 points, 3.7 rebounds, 0.9 assists and 1.2 steals in 44 starts this year. However, in starts, Powell is the more aggressive player on offense and based on his defensive rating, the more effective player at that end as well. Powell has a team best defensive rating of 100.2 compared to Carroll at 106.7. It’s not close, offensively or defensively.

But perhaps the best reason to start Powell is to give him confidence. It isn’t often a second round pick shines this brightly this quickly and as president Masai Ujiri’s mantra is developing his own young talent, it’s been a long time since the Raptors drafted a player that has shown this much promise this early.

Carroll won’t fall apart coming off the bench either. He’s a veteran with a solid team oriented attitude and just maybe he can give that second unit a badly needed boost.

Powell won’t be shaken by being given a starting role. It’s far more likely he’ll blossom and improve by leaps and bounds with greater responsibility and trust. The risk seems low and this team needs the ‘kick-in-the-pants’ a young, high-energy, unafraid player like Powell can bring.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Norman Powell

It Should Be Norman Powell Time In Toronto

At 16 wins and 7 losses, the Eastern Conference second place Raptors are running well ahead of last year’s 56-win season, so there isn’t much to complain about in Toronto, but after watching this team easily handle their main challenger in the Atlantic Division, just maybe one Norman Powell should be asking when it will be his time in Toronto?

In Boston on Friday night Powell started his fifth game for the Raptors this season and for the fifth time he scored in double-digits. No one should be surprised either. Powell was outstanding as a rookie after the All-Star break last season and had a huge impact in Toronto’s opening playoff series win over the Pacers. The hot hand and solid defensive play this season is just a continuation from last year.

Head coach Dwane Casey has used Powell as a starter in order to give DeMarre Carroll the night off in back-to-back situations with solid success and squeezed out a handful of minutes in other games whether there has been a good reason to do so or not.

Powell has been ready to play every time. However, the backup small forward job was Terrence Ross’ job to lose and he’s been playing some of the best ball of his career. Casey and the Raptors have depth on the wing and it’s a problem, albeit a good problem for the Raptors.

 

 

Casey has put so much time in effort into developing Ross that he has to be genuinely happy to see the 25-year-old putting everything together this season. His shooting and decision-making are better, his turnover rate is way down (again) and his nose for steals and blocks has improved. Ross is having a good year.

Powell is having a better year.

If there is one thing that is biting the high scoring Raptors this season it’s their rebounding and while Ross has 3″ in height over Powell, Powell is tougher on the glass. In fairness, Powell plays tougher than most players. It’s what caught Casey’s attention last season and it’s why this second round pick got on the court in the first place.

Surprising to those that didn’t follow Powell’s brief D-League stint with the 905, he’s also a lot better ball distributor. When Powell was sent to Mississauga to get playing time early last season, then head coach Jesse Mermuys let him have significant minutes running the team at the point. Powell had a knack for it too and it shows as he’s racked up assists at double the rate of Ross or Carroll. Powell is the team’s fourth best player at dishing the ball.

Giving Powell more minutes isn’t going to be an easy change to make. He’s undersized at small forward and isn’t going to displace Carroll. Also, while Powell is handling wild fluctuations in minutes from game-to-game, Ross isn’t likely to do so well in an inconsistent role.

The Raptors are winning with Powell bouncing in and out of the rotation and he gives them a solid starter on the wing if any of their regulars goes down. That’s a luxury few teams can boast. However, Powell has earned more consistent minutes than he’s getting. It should be time for Powell to somehow someway get a bigger role.

 

 

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.

 

 

 


 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Norman Powell

Stuff Happens To The Raptors Powell, Siakam And Poeltl

By Frank McLean

The Toronto Raptors they were hoping the Celtics free agent big man Jared Sullinger could fill the one hole they had in their starting line-up, but sometimes in sports, just like in life, circumstances play a big part into how your lot with a team is going to go. Like the T-shirt says, “Stuff Happens”.

In the case of four different players on the current Raptors roster the “stuff” that has happened since the start of the off season has affected them good and bad.

First you have to feel sorry for power forward Jared Sullinger who signed a one year six-million dollar contract in the summer in the hopes of parlaying that into a long term mega-deal as an unrestricted free agent next summer just like Bismack Biyombo did.

Sullinger and bad luck hit smack on in the Raptors first preseason game when he landed on the foot of one of his teammates and will be out of the line-up till around the All-Star break. However, bad luck for Sullinger has turned into an unexpected opportunity for rookie forward Pascal Siakam.

Drafted 27th overall in the first round out of New Mexico State the rookie is getting a chance to start games and bring an element of his game, speed.

“Speed is a great advantage to have,” Siakam said. “As a big man being able to run the floor I think a lot of big men don’t do that. The fact that I can do that on a consistent basis is great. I’m just trying to use all my advantages and be able to help my team win.”

As a result of Siakam’s success a major contributor from last season’s playoff run, Norman Powell, has become a forgotten man. Powell says he just has to keep working hard and earn head coach Dwane Casey’s trust.

“I trust Norm,” Casey said. “It’s not about trust. It’s about it being hard to play 11 or 12 guys. It’s not trust at all. Hell I trusted him in the first round of the playoffs last year as a rookie, so it’s not about trust.

“It’s just he has a guy like DeMar DeRozan in front of him on a hot streak and DeMarre Carroll who is our defensive guy who is healthy now so it’s a tough situation for him to be in. Then there’s Terrence (Ross) shooting the ball the way he is shooting, so he’s got a triple-headed monster he’s fighting against.”

Meanwhile at center the Raptors other first round pick Jakob Poeltl is getting a chance to play some quality minutes because the Raptors did not re-sign Bismack Biyombo this past summer.

This past Sunday he got a chance to start against Sacramento with Jonas Valanciunas out with a knee bruise. He got a quick lesson in how to deal with big centers in the NBA. In this case DeMarcus Cousins.

“It’s like every other game,” Poeltl said about the Sacramento game. “Learn from it, watch what we did, what we did wrong, and try and improve that. Obviously, it was far from a perfect game from us today and from me personally, too. So look at it and try to learn from it.”

As you can see circumstances have changed the complexion of the Toronto Raptors line-up and with the playoffs not until the middle of April you can be sure that more “stuff” will happen to change the line-up a few more times.

 

 

DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

 

 

 


 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Terrence Ross, Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, DeMarre Carroll

Raptors Are Fighting To Be The Next Man Up In Toronto Again

Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey has one of those nice problems to have. He has too many deserving players and not enough minutes to go around leaving a group of guys fighting to be the next man up when opportunity finally knocks.

Even with the departure of starter Luis Scola, back up center Bismack Biyombo and heavily used fill-in James Johnson, finding meaningful minutes for players outside of the team’s top nine players will be a challenge unless someone gets hurt.

Plus, if Casey can, he’d like to find more minutes for some of the guys in his top nine, but if all of them were to just average playing the minutes they had last season, he’d have to create about 10 more minutes a game just to do that.

The Raptors will feature a three guard rotation with Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Cory Joseph soaking up virtually all of the minutes at the one and the two spots. These three very durable guards averaged so many minutes last season (98.5 minutes combined out of 96 available) that the only way Casey could keep them on the floor was to play them together. In 74 games Casey ran a lineup of Lowry, Joseph, DeRozan, Patrick Patterson and one of Jonas Valanciunas or Bismack Biyombo for an average of 3.2 minutes per game.

Heading into this season, the developing Joseph could see even more than the 25.6 minutes he averaged in his first go around in Toronto and since the All-Stars DeRozan and Lowry aren’t likely to be cut back, those minutes will have to come from somewhere (someone) else.

The one player Casey has already hinted at trying to “protect” this season so he’s available in good shape for the playoffs is DeMarre Carroll. Carroll averaged 30.2 minutes, but only played in 26 games due to injury and has only recently returned to playing five-on-five basketball in practice. Known as the Junkyard Dog 2.0, Carroll won’t exactly be excited about playing 24-26 minutes a game, but he’s secure in his contract and a team player. Besides, Casey knows he has to create minutes for the very deserving Norman Powell somehow, someway.

With very limited opportunities expected to be available at shooting guard, Casey will be left searching for ways to get Powell and three-point specialist and all around super tease Terrence Ross 24 minutes a game each this season. Casey can create time by playing small ball and the Raptors, like so many other NBA teams these days, have featured very successful lineups of guards and wings with one big man on the court.

Ross led the Raptors bench in three-point attempts last season (4.6), averaging 9.9 points in 23.9 minutes. As much as Ross can frustrate the fans for not doing more, Toronto needs his ability to stretch the floor. Post All-Star break, Powell averaged 9.6 points in 22.8 minutes and hit on 45.5 percent of his 3.1 three-point attempts, plus Casey loves his physical brand of defense.

The squeeze may come with the big men, although it won’t be easy to sit these guys down either.

Jonas Valanciunas was third in Raptors scoring (12.8 points) in just 26 minutes per game last season and he came up huge in the postseason before he was injured. Now entering his fifth NBA season, the pressure will be on to find JV more playing time. It’s easy to project Valanciunas at his 2016 pre-injury playoff numbers of 15 points, 12.1 rebounds, a steal and 1.4 blocks if he gets 28 to 30 minutes a night.

The crunch may come with Jared Sullinger and Patrick Patterson. Sullinger averaged 23.6 minutes a game in Boston putting up 10.3 points and a team best 8.3 rebounds. He replaces Scola (21.5 minutes per game) at starting power forward, plus Sullinger is expected to spend some time at backup center. Patterson played 25.6 minutes a game last year. However, both players are on expiring contracts and will be pushing hard for a bigger role this time around.

Sullinger and Patterson are highly motivated and very talented players, so Casey isn’t likely to find any minutes here to hand out to someone else. If anything, these two guys should be expected to earn more playing time than last season. It just isn’t that easy to see where the additional minutes for them are going to come from.

Then there’s the crew fighting to be the next man up if and when Casey needs someone.

Sitting on the sidelines and hoping to make an impression on coach Casey at training camp are centers Lucas Nogueira, rookie (9th pick) Jacob Poeltl and rookie (27th pick) center/power forward Pascal Siakam (who is eerily similar to Biyombo except this kid can score too). In other circumstances, on a team without so many quality big men or not fighting for a high playoff seed, these guys would play.

Nogueira has natural gifts of length, hops and quicks that are hard to find. He has the ability to be the best screen setter on the team, the potential to be a three-point threat or to feed the post from the outside for dunks and layups, and a is natural shot blocker. He just has to stay healthy and put it all together for longer than a quarter at a time.

Poeltl was described as the least likely player to be a bust in this year’s draft, a back-handed compliment to be sure, but not wrong. He has all the earmarks of a solid traditional NBA center. He might even become better than JV given time to develop.

Siakam is the guy everyone is likely to get excited about. High energy with more skill than he’s been given credit for, this is the guy to watch in preseason – even if he’s the one pegged as most likely to see time in the 905 right away. There’s just a “Norman Powell-like” feel to this kid.

Just maybe Casey makes the effort/sacrifice to create a few minutes for one of these three big men at backup center?

There never really was an issue with Delon Wright or Bruno Caboclo.

Wright won’t be available until December and he might not even get backup minutes at point guard if Lowry or Joseph aren’t available. Powell looked just as good as Wright running the offense with the 905 last season.

Is Bruno still two years away? t.b.d.

Of the six guys in training camp hoping to land the 15th roster spot, 26-year-old 905 Wing E.J. Singler has the three-point stroke and all around game that would make him an ideal replacement for last season’s injury reserve James Johnson. However, nothing is for certain with this group.

Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey has a lot of decisions to make before the regular season starts, but they feel more like tweaks than earth shattering moves. His biggest issue may be trying to keep everybody happy with the number of minutes he has available and to keep guys fighting to get more.

 

 

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.

 

 

 


 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Norman Powell

Raptors Norman Powell Style Combines Dwyane Wade And Tony Allen

The Toronto Raptors found themselves a gem in the second round of the NBA Draft last summer. A throw in from the Greivis Vasquez draft day trade with the Bucks for salary cap space and the Clippers lottery protected 2017 first round draft pick, 6’4 guard Norman Powell is striving to combine the strengths of Dwyane Wade, Russell Westbrook, Jimmy Butler and Tony Allen and based on the second half of his rookie season, he is on his way.

“On film, I’m watching Dwyane Wade, Russell Westbrook and Jimmy Butler on offense, and Tony Allen on defense. I watch those guys because they play like me with an aggressive mindset,” Powell told Jared Zwerling in an NBPA interview. “Dwyane was one of my biggest idols — somebody I looked up to and really tried to model my game after with how he uses his body, his Eurostep move, his step throughs, his finishes.”

“Playing against Dwyane was really competitive in the Eastern Conference finals, and I was still in the, “Damn, I’m playing against Dwyane Wade phase.””

Powell was supposed to be a mainstay of Toronto’s new NBA D-League affiliate the Raptors 905 located 20 minutes away in Mississauga last season. However, unexpectedly, head coach Dwane Casey kept giving the rookie a regular look, starting with eight appearances in November and 24 in total before the All-Star break. He was only averaging 6.5 minutes a game, but that was a lot more than the Raptors 2015 first round draft choice Delon Wright who only got into 14 games totaling 41 minutes by that time.

It was becoming obvious why Casey kept throwing the young man out there. He liked the toughness, the physical defense. It isn’t that common for a rookie guard to figure out how to make opponents “feel” him on defense and that Tony Allen comparison was exactly what his coaches were looking for.

“When (Powell) came down (to the D-League) and even in the summer when he was guarding DeMar (DeRozan) a lot during our workouts, he was playing college defense,” Raptors 905 head coach Jesse Mermuys told Pro Bball Report. “He was a good defender, but you can’t use your hands up here, especially as a rookie that’s automatic, (the refs) are going to hit you (with a foul). It’s an easy call for them.

“I was teaching him. You got to play NBA defense. You have to figure out a way to be Tony Allen. Be aggressive, be up in them, harass them, be physical without fouling and that’s not easy to do in the NBA.

“He got better at it as the season went on and now you see him doing it up there (in the NBA). (The Raptors) are putting him on the best player and that’s big time man. That’s really hard to do.”

“Just his toughness,” Casey said. “I like his toughness, his confidence as a young guy. He’s a four-year (college player). In coaching we still look at him as a young guy because it’s his first year in the NBA. He’s a confident young man. The moment doesn’t bother him, but his overall physical toughness, his presence gives us a person at his position to guard, to put in front of a person like Westbrook, chase Kyle Korver. He’s really been a plus for us from that standpoint.”

That ability to be tough defender continued right into the playoffs where Powell played in 18 of the Raptors 20 games and was a significant contributor in their 4-3 first round series win over Indiana averaging 18 minutes per game.

The predraft scouting report on Powell indicated he had the potential to become a lockdown multi-positional defender in the NBA, although no one reasonably expected him to progress as fast as he did. However, offense was a different story. No one believed he could shoot coming out of college. His offense was suspect and he didn’t do much to dispel that impression before the All-Star break except maybe to a few believers.

“I saw (Powell could shoot) in the summertime,” Raptors 905 head coach Jesse Mermuys told Pro Bball Report. “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.”

“Specially with Norman, I thought he learned to be aggressive (in the D-League), but not be – selfish isn’t the word – not be tunnel vision of one a one trick pony guy and that I think has really carried over to the big club.”

“Right before All-Star I went 4-6 in Minnesota and that’s when it started to click, started to be able to recreate that feeling, recreate that feel on my jumper in games,” Powell said. “Calm myself down and focus on the little things that just make it more natural and after that things started to flow and I really started to find my grove in the offense.”

Injuries created opportunities and Powell played in 25 games averaging 22.8 minutes and started 20 games after the All-Star break. Once he was in, there really was no way for Casey to get him out of the rotation.

Playing at the two and the three, Powell averaged 9.6 points, 3.4 rebounds and 1.6 assists after the All-Star break. He was shooting 46.6 percent from the field and 45.5 percent from three-point range on 3.1 three-point attempts a game. Eventually even Casey had to stop calling Powell’s offensive production “gravy.”

Powell was tenth in rookie scoring after the break and had the fifth best rookie plus/minus at +2.9. He had earned his right to be on the court with his defense, but his offense was just getting too hard to overlook.

In April, he earned the Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month award averaging 15.3 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 31.6 minutes in eight games.

At 23-years-old, Powell isn’t a finished product and he doesn’t have to look like Wade or Allen to be a very important and effective player for the Raptors next season. Just maintaining that aggressive mindset and taking another step forward in his skills development will be big for Toronto.

Lots of young players come into the NBA every season with much higher assessments of their skills and potential, but few arrive willing, able or confident enough to work as hard or as effectively on the defensive end of the court. By focusing on the games of Wade, Westbrook, Butler and Allen, Powell has set a very high bar for himself and after the strong finish to his rookie season, his coaches and teammates will expecting a lot from him as well.

 

 

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.

 

 

 


 

NBA Toronto Raptors Terrence Ross

Can Raptors Terrence Ross Shake The Underachiever Label?

The eighth overall pick of the 2012 NBA draft, Terrence Ross was credited with one NBA ready skill by Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey, he could shoot the three-ball. The 6’7 sophomore had averaged 16.4 points by hoisting 194 three-pointers for Washington that season and in just his second NBA season, he was averaging 10.9 points on 39.5 percent shooting from three. Expectations were Ross would live up to his lottery pick status, but instead he’s earned an underachiever label as his second NBA season remains his best NBA season two years later.

Ross knows what he needs to do in the summer to get better and it sounds like he might be on the right track as Basketball Insiders’ Oliver Morney quotes Ross as saying,

“I’ve been putting a lot of focus on getting stronger too; that’s the main goal for me this offseason. I want to make sure I can be more physical when my team needs me to be.

“I want to continue to get stronger and be able to absorb contact better when I’m driving. I’ve been shooting a lot of mid-range shots too. I’m just learning how to read defenses and make the best play possible when I’m out there. Strength helps a lot of things, but thinking about the game and putting myself in scenarios in practice is just as important. I want to become a complete player, so that means I have to work on every area of the game. I’m fully taking advantage of the offseason to improve my game and that’s what I’ve done since I came in the league.”

If this quote sounds like deja vu, there’s a reason. After his second season with the Raptors, Ross said he had put on 15 lbs and just prior to the start of training camp told Pro Bball Report,

“I don’t feel like a rookie. I feel like one of the young guys. I’ve been in too many situations. I’ve had enough playing time that I can’t use that excuse anymore. Right now I feel like I am a different player and I can do a lot more than I did last year.”

“I feel like even where I am at right now there is a lot more to go. I am never going to be complacent or content where I am at. I just took it upon myself to go further than I did last year and that is always going to be my new thing – do a little more than you did last year.”

Blame season three on the bone spurs in Ross’ ankle, it was a small step back from the year before, but last year Ross still didn’t get back to his sophomore stats and his four year career averages are starting to look like that’s who he is. 9-10 points, 2-3 rebounds, 38 percent shooting from three and a former Slam Dunk champion that takes less than 10 percent of his shoots within three feet of the basket.

That wasn’t the picture Ross painted for Pro Bball Report as he headed into his fourth NBA season.

“(Go) inside and be a little more versatile and switch everything up, a couple more moves to get separation for shots. A lot of running on the down screen. I just run all over the court and get into condition to do it during the season.”

Ross told Morney, “I’m pretty motivated” and this summer, he should be. Raptors rookie Norman Powell outplayed Ross last season and is poised to take his spot in Casey’s rotation. Powell is stronger, plays a more physical style of game and he shot 40.4 percent from three.

Ross has the potential to become a complete player, as he stated, since he has impressive athleticism and the ability to shoot threes. He seems to possess all the necessary tools to be a talented scorer. – Morney

Ross does have all the tools to become a complete player and a talented scorer. He’s had them since he stepped into the League and occasionally he shows them off in a big way. He thought there was a lot more to go after his second season and so did everyone else, that’s why he’s earned the underachiever label he desperately needs to shake. There is a young talented hungry player working hard to get Ross nailed to the bench next season if he doesn’t.

 

 

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 Paul Saini
Instagram:  @fylmm.lifestyle and  @paul_saini

 

 

 


 

NBA Toronto Raptors Norman Powell

Raptors Norman Powell From The D-League To The NBA Playoffs

By Frank McLean

If a team is going to advance in the NBA playoffs they need contributions from every single player on the roster not just the starting five. Heck when it comes to playoff time a team’s starting five is not exactly etched in stone. It can change from game to game depending on how an opposing coach makes adjustments to who the other coach is starting.

For the Raptors their rookie guard/forward Norman Powell’s work in game five and game seven of their first round victory over the Indiana Pacers was one of the reasons why the Raptors are heading to the second round for only the second time in franchise history.

First to Game Five and the fourth quarter when the Raptors came back from a 13 point deficit to beat the Pacers and take a three games to two lead in the series. The Raptors opened up the quarter on a 15-2 run to tie the game 92-92. The run was capped when Powell stole the ball from Paul George and went coast to coast for a slam dunk to tie the game. Then in Game Seven Powell played 23 minutes going five for six from field, three for four from behind the three-point line for 13 points.

Powell started wasn’t thought to be a rotation player at the start of this season. As a rookie on a veteran team, he was sent down highway 401 to Mississauga and their new NBDL team the Raptors 905. However, Powell never got down with the demotion, he knew playing in the NBA would happen sometime.

“I knew it was going to be up and down,” Powell said. “I was going to have to prove myself, let my work ethic and determination prove everyone wrong. Get into the gym and working to give me the opportunity I wanted.”

The scouting report on Powell said that he lacked poise and maturity and he has used that as motivation.

“I never get tired of it. I added it to my motivation. I’m just proud of myself just trying to achieve more.”

Of course if you are going to get any playing time out of Raptors head coach Dwane Casey you have to play defense. Powell has proven that he can do that and that just might get him more minutes in the second round against Miami Heat than the 18 minutes a game he averaged in the first round.

“What I expect of him is to continue to be an elite defender, like I said earlier in the season,” Casey said. “His three-point ball has gotten to be a part of his repertoire, but it’s not the most important part. It used to be just gravy, but it’s gotten to be a little more important now because he’s proving that he can do it.”

“If that happens, if that matchup is there, if we have that matchup, again, it’s a challenge,” Casey hinted if Powell will get time defending Dwyane Wade and Joe Johnson.

“Dwyane Wade and Joe Johnson is a challenge for any team. They’re veteran scorers, they’re born scorers, they’ve done it for a long period of time, in the playoffs. It’s a challenge for whoever guards him. I’m not saying Norm’s going to guard him, but whoever guards him, it’s going to be a challenge.”

Powell is definitely up for the challenge.

“It’s going to be fun. Dwyane Wade is one of the guys I modeled my game after growing up. He was a role model for me. It’s going to be fun for me in the minutes I do get to guard him. I’ve been watching him my whole life, so I’m looking forward to the challenge.”

It’s been a whirlwind year for Norman Powell that all started with the Raptors 905 and now it has landed him as a rotation player in the second round of the NBA playoffs.

Powell’s play is proving to everyone he is ready for the NBA.

 

 

DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

 

 


NBA Toronto Raptors Norman Powell

Raptors Should Start Norman Powell In Game Six

Based on his play in the second and fourth quarters of Game Five alone, Toronto Raptors rookie Norman Powell should start in Game Six. The 10 points, 4 rebounds and 2 steals were nice, but as head coach Dwane Casey likes to say, Powell is in there for his defense and the scoring is gravy, nice gravy, but gravy.

Powell was in the defensive group that held the Pacers to just nine fourth quarter points in Game Five as the Raptors snatched victory from the near certain jaws of defeat to take a 3-2 series advantage. He led his team in plus/minus for the third time in the playoffs with a +16 and is a team best average of +8.2, more than double Kyle Lowry’s +4.0 who holds down the second spot.

“He played well,” Lowry said. “The kid’s been doing well. He’s been doing this for the last month and a half, two months now. He’s been phenomenal throughout this whole season.”

Coach Casey hasn’t been trying to hide his rookie out there against the Pacers. Powell has often been the primary defender on the Pacers All-Star Paul George and the numbers in the playoffs speak for themselves. Toronto is winning with Powell on the court.

1. Powell +8.2
2. Lowry +4.0
3. Biyombo +2.2
4. Joseph +1.0
5. Scola +0.8
6. Patterson -1.4
7. Ross -1.8
8. Valanciunas -2.0
9. DeRozan -3.0
10.Carroll -5.0

“The only thing I told him today when we were sitting on the bench is that you have to do one thing for all of us to be able to win this game,” Patrick Patterson said after Game Five. “We all have to do one thing and right now we just have to play defense. You’ve got Paul George who is an All-Star. You have to take one thing away from him.”

George scored two points in the fourth quarter of Game Five and Powell stole two balls intended for the Pacers All-Star. He took away more than just one thing and he brought some “gravy” to the game as well.

In Game Five Casey changed the starting lineup and shortened his bench in an attempt to shake the team out of a Game Four malaise that allowed the Pacers to tie the series. Luis Scola was a DNP-CD and Patterson started. The result was as disastrous as it was predictable.

Casey had attempted to use Patterson as a starter last season, but this very effective player off the bench never looked comfortable or effective as a starter. He tried again in preseason this year, but was forced to give up and insert the 35-year-old veteran Luis Scola into the starting unit.

Scola wasn’t giving Casey a lot as a starter in the playoffs, but he wasn’t hurting the team either. Unfortunately Patterson crashed and burned as a starter once again. He was a -15 in the first quarter and a -4 in the third quarter of Game Five.

“Pat was a -20,” Casey said. “I love him to death, but I don’t know if I took him out of his rhythm or whatever. We got to re-evaluate that.”

While Casey could go back to Scola, he has another option that just might give him the boost he’s looking for. Plus Patterson averaged a +3.5 coming off the bench in the first four games and that’s the kind of “rhythm” the Raptors need from him.

A starting unit of Lowry, DeRozan, Powell, Carroll and Valanciunas with Patterson, Joseph, Biyombo and Ross coming off the bench should give Casey the additional speed and quickness he needs to counter Pacers head coach Frank Vogel’s move to put the rookie Myles Turner in his starting unit and give the Raptors more options when defending George.

It would also add some toughness to the starting unit and in a series where the Pacers are quite literally trying to push the Raptors around at every opportunity, a boost in physical play off the start should be a good thing. Powell loves the physicality of the playoffs.

“I’m loving (the physicality),” Powell said. “It brings me back to my high school days, being physical, putting pressure and intensity into the game. It’s going to be a war out there and that’s how I look at it every time I step on the court. It’s going to be a battle you know, not to back down no matter who is in front of you.”

It can be tough for a coach to put a rookie in the starting lineup over a veteran, but sometimes the rookie has earned it and sometimes the rookie has what you need.

 

 

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 Paul Saini
Instagram:  @fylmm.lifestyle and  @paul_saini

 

 


NBA Toronto Raptors Luis Scola & Norman Powell

Raptors Scola And Powell Unfazed By The Playoffs

With the Toronto Raptors All-Stars starting to admit they were feeling the pressure of the playoffs in their home opener against the Pacers, their oldest and youngest active players came through with steady, solid efforts.

“I think we was just too tight on both ends,” DeMar DeRozan finally admitted after shootaround. “We really didn’t get a rhythm offensively. We let a couple of things get past us defensively that hurt. That one’s over, we get another opportunity tonight.”

Much to the dismay of his detractors, Raptors veteran power forward Luis Scola got the start, just like he has all season and the 35-year-old veteran did what he usually does. He was steady, solid and came out of the game midway through the first quarter with the score tied.

Scola doesn’t play big minutes for Toronto and when he has the occasional big game it’s a bonus. In Game One he played 14.6 minutes, scored 4 points on 4 shots, grabbed 6 boards and a steal and exited with a -1, the second best plus/minus on the team.

What Scola did was hold his counterpart Lavoy Allen to 4 points on 6 shots and 7 boards in nearly identical minutes. Scola did his job and he’ll be expected to do it again as long as the playoffs last for Toronto.

As much as rookie Norman Powell has caught the imagination of the local fans, it wouldn’t have come as a shock if head coach Dwane Casey had turned to the veteran DeMarre Carrol or even James Johnson for the start in Game One. However, in fairness, Powell earned the start with his play since the All-Star break and he didn’t disappoint.

“(My coach and teammates) thought I did well,” Powell explained. “Just focus on details. Pick-and-rolls being more physical, trying to feel out the game how physical I can be. They thought I played well in the minutes that I’ve gotten.”

Getting permission to play more physical should draw an interesting response in Game Two from a rookie who likes the rough stuff.

In 16.8 minutes, Powell scored 5 points on 4 shots and his corner three-ball rimed out in the third quarter or Casey probably can’t take him out of the game. Powell was a -2, good for the third best plus/minus on the Raptors. It was tough watching Terrence Ross struggle at both ends of the court in the fourth quarter and not wonder what if that was the rookie out there instead?

Casey attributed Ross’ struggles to the team’s deeper rotation with DeMarre Carroll back, but this is the playoffs. If a player can’t handle his assignment, someone else has to take over.

The Raptors success or failure in the first round of the playoffs is not going to hang on the play of their youngest and oldest players. As they have all season, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are expected to carry them. However, it should be apparent Toronto isn’t going to lose a series in the playoffs because of Scola and Powell. They aren’t fazed by the moment.

 

 

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.

 

 

 


NBA Toronto Raptors Norman Powell

Raptors Norman Powell Is EC Rookie Of The Month

The National Basketball Association announced Friday that Toronto Raptors guard Norman Powell has been selected as Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for April 2016.

Powell is the ninth Raptors player to win the award, joining Jonas Valanciunas (March 2013), Jamario Moon (January 2008), Andrea Bargnani (January and February 2007), Jorge Garbajosa (December 2006), Charlie Villanueva (December 2005), Vince Carter (March and April 1999), Marcus Camby (March 1997) and Damon Stoudamire (November 1995 and January 1996).

In April, Powell averaged 15.3 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 31.6 minutes in eight games (all starts). He shot .548 (40-73) from the field and paced the team in scoring four times. He led all Eastern Conference rookies in average points and three-point makes (1.9) and tied for second in steals (1.4).

The native of San Diego, California set careers highs with 30 points, nine rebounds, 12 field goals made and five three-pointers and also matched his career-high five assists in Toronto’s 103-96 win April 13 at Brooklyn.

Earlier this month, he played a career-high 41 minutes and recorded a career-high 14 points from the free throw line in a 27-point effort in Toronto’s 111-98 win April 8 versus Indiana.

Powell also collected a career-high three steals in the Raptors’ 122-98 victory April 12 versus Philadelphia.

The Raptors acquired Powell in a draft day trade with the Milwaukee Bucks on June 25, 2015, along with a future first-round draft pick in exchange for guard Greivis Vasquez. Powell was selected by Milwaukee in the second round (46th overall) in the 2015 NBA Draft.

Powell has averaged 5.6 points, 2.3 rebounds, 1.0 assists and 14.8 minutes, while shooting .424 (97-229) from the field in 49 games (24 starts) this season. Powell also played in eight games (all starts) with the Raptors’ NBA Development League affiliate, Raptors 905, where he averaged 24.9 points, 5.1 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 2.1 steals and 39.4 minutes.

Pro Bball Report predicted Powell would win the award immediately after the Raptors final regular season game even though he has never been on anyone’s NBA Rookie Ladder and until the middle of March, he really hadn’t played enough minutes to gain much attention outside of Toronto.

Raptors head coach Dwane Casey finally admitted he should stop calling Powell’s scoring gravy in his pre-postseason media availability.

 

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NBA Toronto Raptors Norman Powell

Raptors Norman Powell Deserves Rookie Of The Month

The Raptors rookie Norman Powell ended the month of April with a bang, 30 points, 9 rebounds and 5 assists in Toronto’s 103-96 win over Brooklyn. He shot 5-6 from three-point range and 12-18 from the field as he led the Raptors in scoring to win number 56 on the season. This game was just the exclamation point on 17 straight starts for the rookie. If Powell doesn’t win the NBA Rookie of the Month for April in the Eastern Conference, something has gone very wrong.

Powell has never been on anyone’s NBA Rookie Ladder and until the middle of March, he really hadn’t played enough minutes to gain much attention outside of Toronto. However, Powell has started every game since then with the Raptors and in April, he’s continued to play the tough defense that got him into head coach Dwane Casey’s rotation and he’s been shooting the lights out from everywhere on the court.

The 22-year-old guard has made a big impression. He played in all eight of his team’s games this month as the Raptors went 6-2 while Casey kept giving his two All-Stars and other players in the regular rotation chances to rest before the playoffs. Taking advantage of his opportunities, Powell averaged 31.7 minutes in April, 15.3 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.4 steals while shooting 54.8 percent from the field and 53.6 percent from three-point range. He did this while playing in three sets of back-to-back games over the last two weeks.

Powell was second in minutes played (254) among Eastern Conference rookies in April, first in field goals attempted (73) and made (40), first in three-point shots made (15), first in free throws attempted (35) and made (27), fourth in assists (20) and second in steals (11). His 122 points scored was 35 more than the next closest rookie and his 15.3 points per game was first as well. The Raptors were a plus 37 points with Powell on the court in April, the second best plus/minus total among Eastern Conference rookies.

Eventually, Casey might have to stop calling Powell’s scoring gravy.

 

 

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.

 

 

 


NBA Toronto Raptors Norman Powell

Raptors Rookie Norman Powell From Slasher To 3-Point Shooter

The Toronto Raptors got a big surprise when their 2015 second round draft pick Norman Powell showed up with a three-point shot at NBA Summer League and they were even more surprised when he just kept shooting well through his workouts over the rest of the summer. The UCLA Bruins senior guard was known as a solid defender and slasher with a less than reliable jump shot.

“I saw (Powell could shoot) in the summertime,” Raptors 905 head coach Jesse Mermuys said. “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.”

Norman Powell interview:

 

Powell was a player who progressed steadily through his four college seasons to become a leader with the Bruins as a senior and while he was taking three-point shots with some regularity from the beginning, he wasn’t hitting that many until his final year.

As a college senior Powell started the season hot, hitting 39.6 percent of his three-point attempts in November and December, but things went back to normal in the new year as his long range shooting plummeted back to 25.7 percent over the final three months of the season. His scoring actually increased as he took more two-point attempts and hit them at a higher rate, but the jump shot was gone and the slasher image was solidified.

This didn’t stop the Raptors from doing the draft day trade with the Bucks to land Powell and a 2017 first round draft pick from the Bucks for Greivis Vasquez. As Raptors head coach Dwane Casey continues to say to this day, Powell’s three-point shooting is gravy. Casey wanted Powell for his defense.

However, there was a really good reason why Powell’s jump shot vanished. It dramatically affected his draft stock, but right about now the Raptors are pretty happy about Powell’s mid-season college blunder.

“All throughout college I worked a lot on my shot,” Powell told Pro Bball Report. “I felt comfortable shooting a the beginning of (my senior) year and I kind of like tweaked with my shot before Christmas break and was trying to work with a different shooting coach because the one I normally worked with was overseas in Japan.

“Tweaking with your shot in the middle of the season is probably not the best idea, especially when you can only get like four workouts in when you are working on the new mechanics you are putting in on your shot. I picked the wrong time to do it.”

After the college season ended, Powell got back to work on his shot and by the time NBA Summer League started, he was good to go.

“It was just staying consistent with one thing,” Powell explained. “Not trying to change it, doing what feels comfortable. I found that and just continued to work on it. (I) continued to get more comfortable and consistent with it, put in more and more reps not changing anything, focusing on the little mechanic parts and it worked out well for me.”

Like most NBA rookies, not everything went exactly as planned for Powell when he arrived in the NBA. Coach Casey still liked his defense and gave his second round pick significantly more minutes and more chances than his fellow rookie Delon Wright or sophomores Bruno Caboclo or Lucas Nogueira, but it was his defense that kept him on the court. His offense was still suspect and NBA minutes were hard to justify, so Powell got to work on his game with the Raptors 905.

Powell didn’t spend long with Coach Mermuys in Mississauga, but the D-league experience helped him and he really tore things up at that level.

“If it weren’t for what we are doing down here (in the D-League), (Powell) probably wouldn’t be as comfortable being plugged in and (starting with the Raptors),” Raptors 905 general manager Dan Tolzman said. “Without question, this helped him.”

“Specially with Norman, I thought he learned to be aggressive, but not be – selfish isn’t the word – not be tunnel vision of one a one trick pony guy and that I think has really carried over to the big club,” Mermuys said.

The more Powell has played in the NBA, the better he’s looked and Casey has even begun trusting his rookie to play crunch-time minutes in meaningful games as the season has progressed. These haven’t just been gifts or to give Powell the experience either, he’s earned those minutes. He’s figured some things out as the year has progressed.

“It was just calming myself down,” Powell said. “A couple of times when I did get thrown in there and I wasn’t shooting the ball well, I had a lot of adrenaline. I was just figuring out how to relax my nerves and ease my way into the game.

“Right before All-Star I went 4-6 in Minnesota and that’s when it started to click, started to be able to recreate that feeling, recreate that feel on my jumper in games. Calm myself down and focus on the little things that just make it more natural and after that things started to flow and I really started to find my grove in the offense.”

“It’s different when you are making them in an NBA game and I do believe his time in the D-League really helped him,” Mermuys said. “It got that summer feel back of making shots, that I can do this. I know I can do it and then he just needed a couple to go in up there and now it’s a confidence thing and he looks really good shooting it (in the NBA.)”

Powell has played in 46 games for the Raptors this year with 21 starts. He’s started every game since the middle of March and hasn’t looked at all out of place in the starting line-up.

Over his last 14 games, he’s averaged 28.2 minutes, 11.9 points, 3.9 rebounds and 1.8 assists, plus he’s playing tenacious defense and firing on all cylinders on offense, shooting 45.8 percent from the field and 45.5 percent from three-point range. Powell doesn’t often look like a rookie anymore – on defense, on offense and especially when firing that corner three-ball.

 

 

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.

 

 

 


NBA Toronto Raptors Norman Powell & Delon Wright

Pacers Make Powell And Wright Look Like DeRozan And Lowry

The Indiana Pacers only needed a win in Toronto to guarantee themselves a spot in the postseason and the Raptors gave them every advantage by resting starters Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Luis Scola. Even the recently returned DeMarre Carroll sat as he isn’t playing back-to-back games yet, but instead of grabbing the win, the Pacers made rookie guards Norman Powell and Delon Wright look like Toronto’s resting All-Stars.

“I don’t think we respected the guys that were out there,” Pacers head coach Frank Vogel said after the game.

The Raptors rookies combined for 46 points, 10 rebounds and 6 assists as they bullied their way to the free throw line for 27 attempts and Toronto coasted to a 111-98 home victory while going deep into their bench.

It was a night of personal bests by Powell and Wright.

Powell playing a season-high 41.2 minutes and blowing past his previous best scoring game (of 18 points) with 27 points on the night. Over half of those points coming at the free throw line as Powell did his best DeRozan impression by drawing fouls driving to the bucket to go 14-19 from the charity stripe. At one point Powell was 10-11 from the line, but he seemed to get a bit tired in the fourth quarter taking advantage of all the opportunities the Pacers kept presenting to him.

“The team just told me to be more aggressive with Kyle and DeMar resting,” Powell said. “I was trying to attack the rim and draw fouls.”

“One thing (Powell) did a good job of, in transition he caught them backpedaling and he’s got that other gear to go to,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey explained. “He’s one of our fastest guys on the team with the ball and he gets guys backpedaling and he does a good job of attacking and getting them in a compromised situation and getting the foul.”

Wright’s previous best was 13 points in a game and he blew that away with a 19 point night in just 26 minutes. The young point guard also had his best game from the line this season going 6-8.

“It just feels good to finally get out there and play when Kyle rests,” Wright said.

“(Wright) just needed an opportunity,” Casey said. “He’s playing behind one of the top point guards in the league in Kyle and one of the top backups in the league in Cory. He stayed ready.”

Casey was justifiably proud of the effort from his rookies.

“They came out and played,” Casey said. “That’s one thing you don’t have to worry about and that’s effort and intensity. I thought our young guys came out and played with a lot of effort and intensity.”

Powell and Wright were the top two scorers in the game. Cory Joseph was the third high scorer with 18 points as the Pacers just couldn’t find a way to slow down any of the Raptors guards.

Monta Ellis led the Pacers with 17 points in the lackluster effort.

 

 

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.

 

 

 


NBA Toronto Raptors Norman Powell

Raptors Teaching Powell To Defend Like Tony Allen

There is nothing Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey likes more in a player than toughness, so maybe it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that it was their 2015 second round draft pick Norman Powell who kept getting chances to show what he could do during the season. The Raptors saw a potential Tony Allen level lockdown defender in Powell if they could teach him how to defend in the NBA.

“When (Powell) came down (to the D-League) and even in the summer when he was guarding DeMar (DeRozan) a lot during our workouts, he was playing college defense,” Raptors 905 head coach Jesse Mermuys said. “He was a good defender, but you can’t use your hands up here, especially as a rookie that’s automatic, (the refs) are going to hit you (with a foul). It’s an easy call for them.

“He was doing that and even down here he was struggling with foul trouble. He had to guard some really big-time players. I’m pretty sure he had to guard (Nets Sean) Kilpatrick, (Cavaliers Jordan) McRae, guys that are now in the NBA. He was guarding NBA guys down here and he was fouling.

“I was teaching him. You got to play NBA defense. You have to figure out a way to be Tony Allen. Be aggressive, be up in them, harass them, be physical without fouling and that’s not easy to do in the NBA.

“He got better at it as the season went on and now you see him doing it up there (in the NBA). (The Raptors) are putting him on the best player and that’s big time man. That’s really hard to do.”

The college scouting report on Powell was mixed, but pointed out his potential as a defender at the next level. Just prior to the draft, Matt Kamalsky described Powell on Draft Express as,

Powell’s grit can’t be questioned.
He’s one of the more hard-nose competitors you’ll find in the college game.

Plays with good energy, doesn’t get out of position too often, and isn’t prone to giving up anything easy one-on-one. His athleticism and length allows him to make impressive plays as a rebounder and scrapping for turnovers.

There’s no question he has all the tools you look for in a multi-positional shut-down defender.

With those kinds of accolades, it’s no wonder the Raptors grabbed Powell with their second pick.

It isn’t easy transitioning to the next level, however. Often times rookies are described as only having one gear, playing at 100 miles per hour on every play and it isn’t until they slow down that the game slows down for them and they start to realize their full potential. That’s usually talked about on offense, but the same principles apply on defense as Powell was finding out.

“(Mermuys) was trying to have me focus on not just defending – like – everywhere, trying to be everywhere at once, just stay in your position,” Powell told Pro Bball Report. “Learn how to fight over different screens, work different schemes and skills and tactics to guard against different guys up here.

“(He) let me focus on that and being a lockdown defender. Focusing on getting over screens, working off the ball, being pulled in and things like that.

“I think early on (I used my hands). I am just used to defending one way, especially you’re in college and you get that rep of being a defender and the refs allow you to guard and be physical and you don’t get those calls, but you come back up here (at) the next level and you’re starting at the bottom, they’re going to call those ticky-tack touch fouls for the older veteran players. So, it’s just adjusting, try to focus on moving your feet and beating guys to spots.”

Developing a defensive presence isn’t easy for a rookie and it isn’t going to get a player on SportsCenter either. Even though Powell has started 15 games for the second place Raptors since the beginning of March and been an effective addition to Casey’s rotation, he barely gets noticed outside of Toronto, but his head coach surely appreciates what Powell has brought to the table. Every team wants and needs physical defenders even if they don’t see any national media coverage.

“Just his toughness,” Casey said. “I like his toughness, his confidence as a young guy. He’s a four-year (college player). In coaching we still look at him as a young guy because it’s his first year in the NBA. He’s a confident young man. The moment doesn’t bother him, but his overall physical toughness, his presence gives us a person at his position to guard, to put in front of a person like Westbrook, chase Kyle Korver. He’s really been a plus for us from that standpoint.

“It is impressive for a young player to come into the league.

“(His scoring,) that’s gravy, it’s good gravy, but it’s gravy. We wanted him for his toughness. He is in there because of his defense, his toughness, athleticism.”

“That’s my game,” Powell said. “Be physical, be aggressive, that physical style of basketball was a part of me from an early age. Watching Jerry Stackhouse, Kobe Bryant, all those guys I looked up to, that’s how they played. They aren’t backing down from nobody and I put that in my game. I have something to prove and I play with a chip on my shoulder.”

Somewhat surprisingly, Powell is already starting to get some respect from NBA officials. Sometimes he’ll get called for his aggressive play, but other times officials are looking at those whining veterans and telling them to just play through it.

“Some games they call it, some games they don’t,” Powell said. “The game in San Antonio I picked up two early fouls trying to be overly aggressive, but sometimes they don’t call it and it surprised me a little bit because the vets are complaining and the refs are just looking at them like play through it.

“It is just trying to adjust to the way the refs are calling the game and just trying to be smart.”

Those are interesting thoughts from a player in his first NBA season. Maybe 905 head coach Mermuys is having an impact on these young guys?

 

 

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.

 

 


NBA Toronto Raptors Norman Powell

Raptors Norman Powell Reaches New Highs In Milwaukee

It was a game in which  head coach Dwane Casey gave All-Star DeMar DeRozan the night off to rest and Norman Powell a start at shooting guard and the rookie took full advantage of his opportunity to rewrite his personal bests across the stats sheet in the Raptors 107-89 victory over the Bucks in Milwaukee.

Powell played 35 minutes, 10 more than in any of his previous games, and he got up 15 shots, making 6 and scoring 17 points, all career bests. He was 3-7 from three-point range having never made more than 2 nor taken more than 3 shots from deep previously. He was active and effective on both ends of the court, dishing 2 dimes and blocking 2 shots.

Getting the rookie treatment from the referees on his drives to the basket didn’t dissuade Powell from going inside and he made a surprising end-to-end drive for a dunk that caught the entire building off guard. He made a couple of impressive layups thru traffic as well.

As we are unexpectedly coming to expect, Powell continues to earn his keep at the defensive end of the court. Casey said this before and it was true tonight, “He was physical. He was gritty. He was grimy. His attention to detail, he didn’t fall asleep.” These things have earned his Coach’s trust and the only starts (8) this season by any of this team’s rookies and sophomores.

This kid is looking good.

“I thought Norm came in and did an excellent job,” Casey said after the game. “He did exactly what we thought he was going to do, nothing more, nothing less. He’s a defender, a hard-playing guy.”

 

 

Kyle Lowry carried the Raptors early on in this contest, finishing with 25 points and 11 assists, but as the Raptors pulled away in the second half, Casey was able to give his other All-Star the fourth quarter off.

Bismack Biyombo had a 12 point, 13 rebound, 2 block double-double and was intimidating in the paint. Jason Thompson played 23 solid minutes as Jonas Valanciunas was given the night off to rest a bruised hand.

Bucks future star Giannis Antetokounmpo had 18 points, 12 rebounds, 9 assists and 3 blocks in the loss.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Norman Powell

Raptors Rookie Norman Powell Stifles Kyle Korver

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.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Norman Powell & Delon Wright

Raptors Find A Third Point Guard In Norman Powell

The Raptors went into this season with two rookie guards in Delon Wright and Norman Powell and things could have gotten dicey for Toronto if something had happened to either of All-Star Kyle Lowry or his backup Cory Joseph as neither rookie was even close to being proven at an NBA level.

It didn’t take long to figure out which guard head coach Dwane Casey saw the most immediate potential in as he started giving minutes to Powell early on and he’s been the more heavily favored prospect all season with 28 appearances and five NBA starts to his credit. Wright has only played more than 6.7 minutes once in his 17 appearances and his 30.8 minutes backing up Joseph when Lowry was given the day off in Detroit recently only made one wonder why Casey didn’t stick with the rookie guard he had favored all season.

Both Powell and Wright have been honing their skills with the Raptors NBA D-League affiliate in Mississauga and while both players look good at this level, it’s been Powell who has been standing out here as well.

In his last D-League appearance Powell set the franchise record for points scored in a game with 36 on 15-27 shooting in 39 minutes and added 12 boards, 6 assists, 2 steals and a blocked shot. With the Raptors 905, Powell is averaging 24.9 points per game, 6 more than Wright.

“I was just comfortable getting to my spots in my midrange area,” Powell told Pro Bball Report after his record setting night. “That’s one of the strengths of my game. My pull-ups, creating space off the pick-and-roll (when) guys go under and waiting for the re-screen, they go under again and from 17′ I’m knocking them down or getting to the rim and just being effective. I feel comfortable out there, especially when I just get to play my game.

“My game is to score, get to the rim, create off the dribble, put pressure on defenses and I’ve been doing that really well in my opportunity down there.”

As much as Powell has been showing off his scoring ability with the 905, the Raptors are looking for him to develop his point guard skills and it’s happening. Powell is averaging 4.6 assists per game in the D-League.

“That’s what they want me to go down there and do,” Powell explained. “Work on my playmaking ability. I am running heavy minutes at the point guard down at the D-League, setting up guys off my penetration, drive-and-kicks, pick-and-roll for the bigs rolling or popping on their reads and that’s something that translates well when I get the opportunity to get thrown up at that position up here (with the Raptors).

“I feel that I am a combo player and I can play multiple positions. I feel that it really important. I feel that it gives this team another look, another lineup that can go small and make it tough for bigs in pick-and-roll situations when you have two quick point guards that can put pressure on defenses and create for others.

“For me to be able to develop that will add another layer to my game.”

Powell got his fifth start of the season against Portland recently precisely because Casey believed he was ready to defend against another quick guard.

“(Powell) was someone to guard C.J. McCollum,” Casey explained postgame. “We put DeMar (DeRozan) on Aminu so DeMar didn’t get caught up in pick-and-roll and get in foul trouble.

“I am very confident in Norm, he gave us the hustle, the fight, the grit that we needed to chase those guys and try to wear them down and he did. He also gave us 10 points and 6 rebounds and I thought that was very solid.

“Just his energy, just his energy gave us a bump that we need to go against a guy like McCollum, a guy like when you play two point guards out there. (Powell) let me buy us some time at that position until I could get Cory out there.”

Powell has been the more confident rookie from day one. He goes into a game at 100 miles per hour without any hesitation. It took a while before the ball started to go in hole at the NBA level, he was just 9-46 thru his first 23 games, but even that’s come around since he shot 4-6 at Minnesota in the last game before the All-Star break. In his last 5 games, he’s shooting 52.6 percent from the field and even nailed a pair of corner three-balls against Portland. The “fresh meat” smell that comes with rookies has left the building.

What has undoubtedly allowed Casey to keep throwing Powell out there this season has been that he  isn’t afraid to stick his nose in against a veteran on defense. Powell has picked up 12 steals and 37 boards in his 28 games and he’s averaging 2.3 steals and 7 rebounds per 36 minutes played. He’s earned those possessions. As Casey says, Powell brings the energy.

“It means I’m doing something well,” Powell said about getting the start. “It’s exciting. I’ve been putting in a lot of work, getting shots up, studying film and doing all the small things, the little things that install trust in the coaching staff and front office. I’m just glad it’s paying off and it’s being noticed. It’s a real confidence boost for me.”

Watching Powell since his arrival in Toronto, confidence isn’t something the 22-year-old second round draft pick has been lacking. He exudes confidence. He doesn’t look like the typical 19 or 20-year-old rookie either. Powell looks physically ready to play in an NBA game and when he gets on the court, he acts like he believes he belongs there.

While Powell still has a lot to learn and like all rookies, needs to find another gear to play in occasionally, he gives his team something useful when Casey gives him minutes. The Raptors coach knows Powell is going to bring the energy and effort and if the rookie can hang onto his recently found shooting stroke, it’s going to be hard to not give him more minutes.

 

 

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.