The Toronto Raptors put a lot of emphasis on developing their NBA D-League affiliate Mississauga Raptors 905 at the start of this season and in the process they drafted two players they didn’t have a spot in their rotation for in Delon Wright and Norman Powell. They added these two players to last year’s rookies Bruno Caboclo and Lucas Nogueira who equally had little chance at cracking the Raptors rotation. Then they picked up Canadian reclamation project Anthony Bennett.
Based on how head coach Dwane Casey has used the last five players on his bench, the Raptors best prospect so far this season has been their 2015 second round draft pick Powell.
All five of these players have spent time with the Mississauga Raptors 905 and it’s a good thing they have as meaningful minutes in Toronto have been few and far between for any of them. Powell has led this third string group of players hoping to find a place in Casey’s rotation as he got minutes in eight of his NBA team’s first 13 games and has played 157 minutes in 25 games so far this season.
Of the other fours players, it’s Lucas Nogueira with 138 minutes in 19 games, Anthony Bennett 80 minutes in 17 games, Delon Wright 44 minutes in 15 games and Bruno Caboclo 4 minutes in 3 games. The biggest case this group of extras has made for NBA minutes has been for president and general manager Masai Ujiri to find Casey a veteran journeyman third stringer off the waiver wire for insurance in case of injury – although that is seeming to become less and less likely to actually happen.
Toronto’s rookie 6’4 shooting guard hasn’t won his minutes this season with offense, the scrappy guard has struggled finding the bottom of the net when playing with the big boys, but Powell hasn’t been afraid to mix things up and plays with a lot of energy on defense. That’s what a defensive-minded coach like Casey values and when James Johnson went down with a turned ankle recently, it was the undersized Powell that got the nod to start in his place.
“I was really surprised when I got the start,” Powell told Pro Bball Report. “It felt good just getting the experience. Being able to play on the floor with Kyle (Lowry) and DeMar (DeRozan), two All-Stars, two guys I look up to and (can) learn a lot from. It really helped with my development. As the game(s) went on, I got more confident with myself in the offense and doing the little things on defense that gained their trust and the coach’s trust. I thought the four starts that I had were really key to my development.
“It’s just being aggressive. I talked to Kyle. I talked to DeMar. They said don’t lose that aggressiveness. Don’t get hesitant on offense just because you are on the floor with us because usually I am just getting opportunities with the young guys. Just play my game. They aren’t going to get mad if I take a shot, so as the games went along. I just started to play my game, take the shots that I know I am capable of making.”
In his first three starts, he went 0-5 from the field and wasn’t looking to shoot, but Powell has an offensive flair to his game that he wasn’t taking advantage of. In his last start, he was more aggressive looking for offensive opportunities and went 4-6 for 8 points, only missing on his two three-point attempts, but that’s an aspect of his game that’s still underdevelopment.
We know Powell can fill the basket from his extensive run with the 905. In his 25 D-League games, he’s averaging 23.4 points on 48.8 percent shooting and he’s hitting on 31.8 percent from three-point range. He’s also averaging 4.1 rebounds and 4.4 assists plus 2.1 steals.
“The difference is in Mississauga I am the go-to-guy,” Powell said. “Guys are looking for me to score the basketball, set them up. I think that will really help me when my role does increase at the NBA level (as) I’ll have that playmaking ability, see the floor better, making decisions with the ball in my hands more often. I think that is what Mississauga has helped me with. I’ve been able to run point guard and be the facilitator out there.
“It is really different. The D-League is more a pick-up type feel game. (We have) similar sets and things, (but) the spacing, the gaps, a drop off in height and athleticism, centers are like 6’9. Up here you got JV (Valanciunas) 7′ 7’1 so, that’s the real difference and the athleticism, guys close up really fast.”
Of the five guys at the back end of Casey’s roster, Powell is the one player that doesn’t look hesitant on the court other then a reluctance to shoot. The other four players were all first round draft picks, but it’s been Powell who aggressively goes after loose balls, defends without looking at the name on the back of the jersey and has shown the most fight.
First round picks are expected to have the most talent and the higher upside, but they have to show the effort necessary to overcome inexperience early in their careers. So far it’s been Powell that’s looked like the Raptors best prospect.