It feels like it was yesterday when Playoff Powell stole the hearts of Toronto Raptors fans.
Trailing two games to one against the Milwaukee Bucks in the opening round of the 2016-17 playoffs, the Raptors were searching for answers following a 27-point blowout loss in Game 3. With a daunting Game 4 in Milwaukee looming and the threat of a 3-1 series deficit a very real possibility, head coach Dwane Casey needed to find a way to spark his club’s offensive production, while simultaneously slowing down superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks’ plethora of shooters.
Starting DeMarre Carroll in the series’ opening three games proved fruitless, making Casey’s decision to insert Powell into the starting lineup for Game 4 both a logical and unscrutinized decision. And at that very moment — whether we recognized it at the time or not — Playoff Powell was born.
Norm’s presence in the starting five for Game 4 at the Bradley Center provided a must-needed jolt, in large part due to his silky smooth long-range stroke that evening. In fact, Powell finished a perfect three of three from distance that game. That was just the start of his playoff coming out party.
Powell miraculously carried over his perfection from deep into the series’ final two games. Across his three starts to close out the Bucks, Powell shot a perfect 9 of 9 from three-point range, playing a pivotal offensive role in helping the Raptors advance.
That three-game spurt was undoubtedly Powell’s peak as an NBA player, at least so far. Since then it’s been all downhill for the pianist extraordinaire.
Fresh off earning a 4-year, $42 million contract extension following his promising playoff performance, Powell entered the 2017-18 season in position to challenge for the team’s starting small forward spot. A painfully slow start coupled with rookie OG Anunoby’s emergence quickly led to Powell falling out of Casey’s rotation. Adding sharpshooter C.J. Miles into the equation only limited Powell’s playing time further.
Powell never looked confident from the outset of last season and it showed in his numbers. The 25-year-old shot a career-low 40 per cent from the field, including a pitiful 28 per cent from three-point range. The reliable stroke from the Raptors’ playoff run the previous spring quickly became a distant memory after last season’s performance.
So, with Powell in limbo trying to climb on the team’s depth chart heading into the pre-season, one has to ask themselves whether the former second-round pick will even be able to secure a rotation spot by the time exhibition games conclude. With Anunoby and Kawhi Leonard cemented as the team’s starting forwards — with the latter being an absolute lock — and Miles’ role as a spark plug off the bench secured, Powell’s minutes and opportunity will be limited once again in 2018-19.
With that being said, don’t be surprised if new head coach Nick Nurse gives Powell significant run during the pre-season. With new management comes new evaluation tactics. Nurse has repeatedly preached lineup experimentation since taking over, so one can expect Powell to figure into that equation in some capacity during exhibition tilts. It’s the least the Raptors new bench boss can do in an effort to evaluate the talent he has at his disposal.
That being said, Nurse was an assistant coach with the Raptors since 2013 prior to his promotion, meaning he may already have all the evidence needed to make an informed decision on what Powell’s workload may look like this regular season.
Considering the viable options ahead of him on the depth chart, Powell’s opportunities to prove himself this season will be few and far between, barring injury of course.
One thing’s for sure: Powell certainly hasn’t given up on himself.
That counts for something at least.