Norman Powell’s career could largely be summed up in one sentence: A king against the Bucks or Pacers but largely inconsistent against all others. He has always been a tease of sorts offering some high level production on one night, only to follow it up with a disappointing effor the next two.
Despite this history though he already has his name all over the Raptors history books, almost singlehandedly turning the outcome of multiple playoff series in previous seasons, and being the second drunkest player at the championship parade.
And after four seasons in the NBA a new opportunity stands in front of him: the chance to be a full-time starter.
Yes, he has started previously. Through his first 3 seasons in the NBA Powell started just over 30 percent of his career games, topping out at 24 games started out of 49 games played his rookie season.
Last season was a big change though, as the arrival of Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green meant Norm started just 3 of his 60 games played.
In some senses Norm and the Raptors are back to where they were two years ago. Entering the 2017-18 NBA season Norm had claimed the position of starting small forward and held that role for the first 12 games. That is until he left the game just 7 minutes in on November 12th against the Boston Celtics. It was announced that Norm had a right hip-pointer injury (basically a bruise) after taking an Aron Baynes knee his his thigh/hip.
Two nights later, with Norm now missing time due to injury, OG Anunoby made his first start in the NBA and gave a glimpse of his elite defence while matched up against James Harden and the Houston Rockets.
This was less a matter of a player losing their starting spot due to injury and more a matter of OG taking the spot by the horns. Norm wouldn’t start another game until March when OG was inactive due to a sprained ankle. By this point it was clear the starting spot belonged to OG and there was little chance of anything changing it.
Norm now finds himself in an almost identical situation. With the departures of Kawhi and Danny the Raptors have two spots open in the starting line-up, and once again Norm seems to be the favourite to start at shooting guard (this time beside OG at SF).
Through his first two preseason games (he rested against Chicago) the results have to be considered encouraging. In 19.7 minutes per game Norm is averaging 18 points and 2.5 rebounds, while shooting 60 percent from the field, 70 percent from three (on 5 attempts per game) and 100 percent from the free throw line.
Let’s start with the good news beyond the numbers. Norm has looked to be more decisive in regards to quick decision making, has been less hesitant and more willing to shoot when the opportunity arises, and has been more invested defensively.
Comparatively though, outside of scoring his numbers his preseason stats have a lot of similarities to last preseason across the board:
In fact, last preseason he shot a higher percentage (although on fewer attempts) from the field and had a far better plus/minus at +12.3.
But preseason numbers are not predictive as to what we can expect moving forward. While there may be short stretches where Norm could once again shoot 70 percent over a small sample size, it is highly impossible that he (or anyone) would ever shoot that over a full season.
So while the eye test seems to indicate some hopeful improvement from Norm, can anything be taken away from his preseason numbers?
Some of the same things that can be seen in his performance bear out in the numbers. Norm is taking a higher percentage of his shots from 3, which could optimistically be seen as a sign of confidence and a better shot selection, while also getting to the line at a higher rate.
None of this promises any type of growth or improvement compared to last season. In fact, the most likely scenario based on his history is Norm continues to be the same inconsistent/occasional force that he has been through his first four seasons.
But that’s the great (and frustrating) thing about growth, it isn’t linear. Nor is it progressive. There are ebbs and flows in a player’s development path. No one could have reasonably anticipated Pascal Siakam’s leap last year, and each year there are players (even young ones) that regress unexpectedly.
Hopefully we see Norm take a step in the right direction and take command of a key role in the starting line-up. And if you are looking to be hopeful Norm’s numbers have regularly been stronger when sharing a line-up with Kyle Lowry. Last season Norm scored 1.13 points per shot on the season as a whole. This number jumped to 1.27 points per shot when sharing playing alongside of Lowry.
As a point of reference Norm scored just 1.05 points per shot without Lowry on the floor. It shouldn’t be a surprise that good players play better with talent around them, but Lowry in particular when it comes to the Raptors helps to raise the level of those he shares the floor with. Remember all of the Lowry/Bench units that helped decimate opponents for stretches? Some players are floor raisers and Lowry is one of the best in this capacity.
If you look at only the 3 point shot the results are even more staggering. With Lowry on the floor Norm scored 1.45 points per shot from 3, but without him he dropped to just 1.06 points per shot. Lowry helped raise his 3 point shot by almost a full 0.5 points per shot!
While nothing in the preseason can be taken as gospel, there are indications that Norm is entering the season motivated and improved. With a championship belt around his waist, a summer of anticipating a starting role, and renewed playing time alongside Kyle Lowry, Norm has the recipe for a productive season as his fingertips.
But the question remains: can he finally put it all together?