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.