The city of Toronto adores Norman Powell, and it appears the feeling is mutual.
“I didn’t have the mindset that I was gonna get an extension,” the 24-year-old wing said Sunday, “I just knew I wanted to stay here. No matter what happened, whether I got it or I went into restricted free agency, I wanted to stay here. I love Toronto, I love the city, I love the organization, I love my teammates, and I think we have something special here.”
This comes after Powell’s recent signing of a four-year, $42 million extension, a well-deserved deal that is not only positive relative to Norm’s ability, but also allows the Raptors to avoid bargaining with other teams in restricted free agency, which in all likelihood would have seen Powell leave for a team that could offer more money.
If fans were enamoured with Powell prior to last season, they’re just about ready to offer him a 24 carat diamond ring with the promise he showed in 2016–17. During the regular season, Powell displayed a general uptick in his overall performance, scoring a bit more, shooting better on two-pointers, and playing decent defense with his added minutes. Perhaps the most exciting thing was his focus on getting to the rim more than his first year—in 2015–16, Norm took 27.9 per cent of his shots from within 0–3 feet of the basket, while last season he took 41.1 per cent of his shots from there and made 60.6 per cent of them.
Then came the postseason and the first-round Bucks series. It’s safe to say that Norm lost his mind over the first six games, channeling his inner Human Torch and roasting Milwaukee on 55/91/92 per cent shooting and averaging 12.4 points per game. He was a fundamental part of the best lineup the Raptors put out in the playoffs (a +5.3), which also consisted of DeMar DeRozan, Serge Ibaka, Kyle Lowry, and DeMarre Carroll.
So what about this season? Well, with a notable subtraction of veterans and an all-in mindset on a plethora of young guys, Norm will need to live up to the expectations that come with his new extension and try to produce a season consistent with how well we have seen him play when he’s at his best. He should see further increase in play time and aim to have a Sixth Man of the Year-type of season, becoming a leader for the second unit as its best shot creator and scorer. His experience will be vital here, since most of the young guys who will be seeing more minutes this year are simply being thrown into the fire after playing as third-stringers (Delon Wright, Jakob Poeltl, etc.) so far in their careers.
Powell has averaged 24.9 minutes this preseason and jacked up more shots (11 per game) than anyone else on the team. He is averaging 15.5 points, but he’s shooting a mere 40.9 per cent and having some trouble finishing in traffic. As ball handler, Norm loves to wait for a pick (this preseason it’s usually been from Poeltl), curl around it and explode to the rim without any hesitation, for better or worse. For the most part, it’s great—he either scores or gets fouled. However, there are instances in which making the pass to the roll man would be preferable, and there aren’t too many examples of Norm making those passes successfully or on-target.
Even with his performance in the playoffs, there are still concerns over Powell’s three-point shooting as well. Last season he shot a poor 32.4 per cent from deep after draining 40.4 per cent his rookie year. Thankfully, his shooting this preseason has been optimistic, taking three treys per game and nailing 50 per cent of them. He’s also been good on catch-and-shoot triples, which is a great sign for lineups in which he’ll play next to DeRozan—if he can be a legitimate spacer, then the Raptors only become that much more dangerous, especially with how they’re attempting their culture reset and aiming to take (and make) more threes than any season in franchise history.
There are certainly still questions to be answered about Norm—can he improve his passing (especially on drive-and-kicks and in the pick-and-roll)? Can he sustain a high three-point shooting percentage for a full 82-game season? Can he become a tertiary leader after Lowry and DeRozan? Can he continue to improve defensively and evolve into an athletic “3&D” force? Only time will tell, of course, but with what we’ve seen over his short NBA career thus far, he’s off to a pretty good start.
Come get that diamond ring, Norm, and let’s do this.