Missing Persons Report: Norman Powell

Early in the first quarter of Wednesday’s tough loss to the Warriors, Norman Powell drove baseline past Kevin Durant and finished with authority at the rim to give the Raptors a four point lead.

The rim still shaking seemed as sure a sign as any that Powell was going to bounce back from his last two outings and help keep the Raptors competitive against the best team in the league. While the Raptors lived up to their end of the promise, Powell’s dunk turned out to be his only two points of the night. He attempted just one other field goal (a three that missed) and watched the majority of the game from the bench as his younger teammates took their turn in the spotlight.

Powell was given the start (as he has in all four games this season) but looked undersized on defence and unsure on offence. His 16 minutes of action were the fewest on the team next to Fred Van Vleet’s five and he failed to hit a shot from beyond the arc for the third straight game. With the changes the Raptors made in the offseason, a lot of pressure was put on Powell to become a major part of this Toronto team. His talent has never been a question, but his ability to consistently deliver has.

Those inconsistencies can’t all be pinned on Powell. Dating back to last season, coach Dwane Casey used the third year shooting guard in a maddeningly unpredictable fashion. It got to the point that Powell best resembled a baseball closer, asked to come in at the end of games to shut down the opposition or provide a scoring boost off the bench. Now the unpredictability of Casey’s decisions are starting to rear their head again – but this time it may not be the coach’s fault.

The addition of C.J. Miles, OG Anunoby and emergence of the Raptors’ young guns has forced Casey’s hand. The Raptors employ one of the deepest benches in basketball, and while that can be a blessing, it also means someone has to suffer. So far the martyr has been Powell. He’s yet to crack 25 minutes in a game despite starting all four and has fallen under 18 minutes twice.

Despite the Raptors’ plans to make Powell a spark plug of both offence and defence in limited minutes, the formula simply doesn’t work for a guard who needs to find his rhythm in order to take over the game. Powell averaged 17.3 points a game on 52.7% shooting from the field when he played 30-39 minutes compared to just 13.0 points on 46.5% shooting when he was stuck in the 20-29 minute range. While the points are obviously a reflection of more touches, the shooting percentages are a direct result of Powell being able to understand the game and find his place.

Look, we’re still in the small-sample size of the season, but there’s enough evidence from last year that Powell needs to improve his shot (either with form or confidence) and become a more decisive player in the starting five…or head back to captaining the bench. Either way it needs to happen fast if the Raps want to start beating teams like the Spurs and Warriors.

Watch Norm go for 28 against the Lakers tonight now *sigh*

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