Somebody Please Talk About Norman Powell
After four infuriating seasons with the Toronto Raptors, Norman Powell has transformed into one of the main contributors for the reigning champions.
I still remember it as if it were yesterday — it was opening night for the Toronto Raptors as they faced off against the Zion-less New Orleans Pelicans. The game had been a back and forth affair all night long, leading to an opportunity for the Raptors to break the deadlock (117–117) with six seconds left in the fourth quarter. Out of everyone on the floor, it was Norman Powell who took the ball and in a Kobe-esque manner said, “gimme the rock and I’ll win us the game.”
Norman Powell isolated near the top of the half-court line against 6'3" Frank Jackson. He began to shimmy himself away from his defender as the paint was seemingly open, shadowed by cautious Pelicans’ defenders. Powell took three hesitation dribbles, pulled up and shot the basketball with his left heel on the logo while Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet held their arms in the air as if they knew that the shot was nothing but net. The shot clanks off the back rim as the buzzer goes — the match goes into overtime.
I vividly remember sitting on the edge of my seat, waiting for a certain off-ball play to take place for someone like Kyle Lowry or Fred VanVleet to take the potential game-winning shot. But it never happened. Instead, Norman freakin’ Powell seized the spotlight, the same player who was 0/4 from three in regulation, shooting a woeful 16.6% from the field on six attempts. This maddeningly inconsistent figure was the one who was supposed to save us from a potential overtime loss. I applauded him for his confidence but I couldn’t help but think, “Mr. Powell, you are not Kawhi Leonard or even DeMar Derozan, why in the hell are you taking the last shot from Steph Curry range?!”
Thankfully, the Raptors pulled through in OT and secured the season’s first win. Yet, the one thing I took away from that night was how baffling it was that Norman Powell attempted the shot which was only reserved for the best of the best.
Fast forward to 254 days later, Norman Powell has exploded into Toronto’s only reliable wing scorer, evolving into a guy who wouldn’t fill me with rage at the end of the ball game.
Side note: it’s sort of hilarious considering that the Raptors used to revolve around isolation to the point where it hurt them. Now, Powell is the only isolation bucket-getter the Toronto Raptors have in their arsenal, struggling in creating half-court offence.
Despite battling through a course of injuries, Stormin’ Norman has been a steady stream of positive productivity, averaging 16.4 PPG, 3.7 APG, 1.8 RPG and 1.3 SPG on 62.9 TS% and 59.3 eFG%. Keep in mind that he’s only appeared in 44 matches this season, starting in 23 out of these 44 games, making a name for himself as an elite bench player. If the Toronto Raptors weren’t forced to start Powell in these 23 matches due to injuries, he could have been a legitimate 6th Man of the Year candidate.
It’s fair to say that Powell has been the defending champion’s third-best player this season. He’s been one of the few shot creators that can be relied upon to create opportunities to tack points on the board, someone who can create some instant offence in the half-court setting. During the beginning stages of the season, Norman Powell constantly made me want to vigorously pull my hair out, screaming at my computer screen in pure vexation. Now, I’m mostly confident (I question if he can keep the production up) in Powell’s abilities, trusting him with the ball when the Raptors are in dire need of some offensive momentum.
If you are reading this article word by word and have reached this point (I applaud you), you may wonder what Norman Powell’s secret sauce is — what separates him from other notable scorers? Well, Powell is one of the few players in NBA history who has recorded 16+ PPG on 62.0+ TS% and 5+ three-point field goal attempts per game. Legendary figures of the NBA such as Steph Curry, Kevin Durant and Reggie Miller are apart of this club alongside Norman Powell.
In terms of the eye test, Norman Powell has shown his profound ability to pick his spots and score from there with ease. It’s almost reminiscent of DeMar DeRozan in the 2017–2018 season in the sense of picking their spots and putting the defence through eternal hell. Only this time Powell can command respect as a deadly perimeter shooter.
Norman Powell makes a living off of off-ball movement, whether that be through certain cuts or jetting past wing screens. According to NBA.com, 77.6% of Powell’s field goal makes are assisted. This is not necessarily a bad thing, it just means that he has thrived when opposing defences fail to truly hone in on denying him. BBall-Index reckons that Norman Powell is one of the league’s exemplary off-ball creators — ranking in the 84th percentile in movement points/75 possessions (3.4) and the 87th percentile in movement impact/75 possessions (+0.4).
In the simplest fashion possible, there are two outcomes when Norman Powell receives the ball through off-ball movement. He will either pull up for a perimeter jump shot or slip through the paint and finish with a hint of English on the ball. What’s impressive about this feat is how efficient he is out in the perimeter and inside the basket.
When it comes to modern basketball’s most valuable skill, Norman Powell has made massive strides in evolving into an efficient, high volume shooter. Powell’s shooting form is consistent with a high arc and fantastic rotation on the ball. He’s recorded a career-high 5.4 3PA per game (his second-highest being 2.8) while sinking 39.8% of these shots (85th percentile). Powell is a prolific catch and shoot marksman and above the break sniper — shooting 44.4% on catch and shoot 3s (90th percentile) and 39.5% on above the break 3s (85th percentile). Despite these glamorous numbers, Norman Powell is among the association’s worst pull up three-point shooters, averaging a woeful 24.4% (33rd percentile) from this shot type and he’s decent at best when it comes to corner threes (42.5%, 69th percentile).
In his irritating past with the Toronto Raptors, Norman Powell used to be a clueless rim finisher, somebody who figured out how they were going to finish over the towering defence while they were in the air. Now, he’s figured out how to plan his moves in advance, taking what the defence gives him. Powell’s revised touch around the rim has allowed him to shoot 64.0% in terms of adjusted FG% at the rim (81st percentile).
Pair these two skills together and it mashes into a reliable isolation weapon. He’s by no means a prototype of the greatest isolation puppeteers such as James Harden or Luka Doncic but he’s certainly deadly when left stranded on an island with an opposing defender. According to NBA.com, Norman Powell places in the 93rd percentile in isolation. Powell averages 1.17 points per possession in isolation, scoring 50% of the time in his isolation plays. Furthermore, he is outstandingly efficient as he ranks in the 86th percentile in total isolation eFG% (66.7%) per BBall-Index. Take these eye-opening statistics with a grain of salt since Norman Powell only spends 0.4 of his possessions in isolation, translating into 0.4% frequency. Nonetheless, in the times where he finds himself one on one against a defender, Powell is proficient in getting the ball inside the basket.
On the other end of the floor, Norman Powell has slotted himself as a valuable piece on Nick Nurse’s defensive system. In a system built around team defence, smart rotations and quickness, Powell has played this role perfectly thanks to his freakish 6'11" wingspan and quick-twitch reflexes. According to BBall-Index, he garners 2.9 deflections/75 possession (80th percentile) and 2.1 steals/75 possessions (80th percentile). When Powell is tasked with locking down the opposing offensive player, he holds opponents to a defensive FG% of 37.8%, among the NBA’s best in this category. Keep in mind that Norman Powell’s defensive agenda doesn’t include guarding the other team’s deadliest perimeter weapon, a job usually given to someone such as O.G. Anunoby. Instead, he guards primary and secondary creators 49.6% of the time — his main rivals being spot-up wings, movement wings and tall creators per BBall-Index.
Overall, impact metrics paint Norman Powell as an effective wing scorer:
- PIPM: +0.5 (77th percentile)
- RPM: +2.3 (96th percentile)
- BPM 2.0: +2.3 (88th percentile)
A fascinating phenomenon surrounding Norman Powell portrays the aftermath of his injury woes. It’s as if he takes one step back, two steps forward whenever he was sidelined with a lengthy injury.
His first of four injuries took place on December 18, 2019, as he was diagnosed with a subluxation of the left shoulder. Before Powell succumbed to this injury, he was recording 14.4 PPG, 1.7 APG and 3.9 RPG on 61.8 TS%. After missing the past 11 games, Norman Powell returned against the San Antonio Spurs dropping 20 points on 71.43 EFG%.
From January 12th until January 31st, Norman Powell was a noticeably improved player, playing with a sense of swagger and confidence that graciously aligned with his impressive performances. In this timeline, Powell recorded 17.5 PPG, 1.6 APG and 3.8 RPG on 63.7 TS%. It’s noteworthy to point out that the Toronto Raptors won all but one game during this 11 game stretch (their one loss came down to a one-point margin against the Spurs).
Once again, Norman Powell’s fiery run had come to a halt as he fractured his finger on January 31st, 2020. Thanks to the All-Star break, Powell was only inactive for nine matches before returning on February 28 in Raptors’ bout against the Denver Nuggets. In his first game back in nearly a month, Stormin’ Norman once again seemed like a re-invented machine, recording 22 points, 3 assists and 1 rebound on 52.9 TS%.
Norman Powell continued his scoring reign in the next four games as he’d go on to average 29.5 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 2.8 APG and 1.8 SPG on 69.05 TS% — earning the crown as the Eastern Conference Player of the Week.
Before the NBA deemed it too dangerous to continue the season, Norman Powell injured his ankle one minute in during the Raptors’ last match of the delayed season. Sadly, we never saw Norman Powell 3.0, a newly enhanced machine who would give Giannis Antetokounmpo a run for his money for the MVP award.
With the re-structured NBA season continuing this month, Norman Powell will play a crucial role in the Toronto Raptors’ campaign of defending their title. The Raptors are in dire need of offensive initiators who can put the ball in the basket at an efficient rate and Powell is one of the few players who fit this bill perfectly. It’s not far fetched to say that he is the second deadliest scorer on the roster behind Pascal Siakam and Powell is certainly a more consistent shooter and finisher than Fred VanVleet and Kyle Lowry.
Norman Powell’s role is clear — go out there and score the ball — and he understands this. He’s not asked to facilitate the ball or anything to that degree. Powell is an explosive wing scorer who could bend the results of crucial postseason games in favour of the Toronto Raptors. It all comes down to whether or not Norman Powell can keep this production up after four months without playing in the NBA.
This in-season leap Norman Powell has showcased is unprecedented. He’s finally evolving into one of the best and efficient scorers in the NBA, a dream which was shared among many hopeful Raptors’ fans in his early years with the team. Powell’s undoubtedly been one of the best players on the roster this season and he’s garnered meagre media attention outside of the Canadian media.
So please, do me and the other Toronto Raptors’ fans out there a favour, talk about the guy who’s held the Eastern Conference Player of the Week crown for the past 115 days.