After last seasons loss in the Eastern Conference Finals to the Cleveland Cavaliers, The Toronto Raptors needed to address a glaring need at the trade deadline. They did so in trading for Serge Ibaka. But with all blockbuster trades, it came at a cost. Going the other way: Terrence Ross. Though Ross wasn’t a game breaker, he was a strong offensive presence and gave the team that third outlet on offence. There was also an element to his game Toronto thought they could replace. That was, until he was already gone.
Norman Powell Proving to be Perfect Outlet for Toronto Raptors
The Raptors don’t run a complicated offence. It has two main outlets: DeMar DeRozan, and Kyle Lowry, and their game plan is simple: a) get the ball in their hands, and b) allow the play to develop around them. The third outlet was shared amongst the other three players on the floor.
When Ross was around, the system worked well. He could shoot the three, drive the basket, and was a solid third option in a good offence. The only problem for Toronto was after Ross was traded, the third outlet became one dimensional.
Carroll doesn’t have that offensive explosion to exploit one on one matchups. Joseph, a good player by all means, is not Lowry, and has struggled mightily thus far in the postseason. Valanciunas is what he is: a center.
Ok yes, Ibaka and other deadline acquisition P.J. Tucker can be a difference makers with their physicality and range, but both were brought in for their defensive prowess above everything else.
Enter The Outlet: Norman Powell
Throughout the first half of the season, Norman Powell showed the organization that as a 23-year-old, he can play with the big boys. Even if it was off the bench in a limited role, Powell created some controversy in Toronto. Ross was playing regular minutes, which he earned over his tenure in Toronto, but was not outplaying the energetic second year player. This made Ross expendable, and a key part in the Ibaka trade.
While Powell has had his ups and downs throughout the season, he’s coming through for his team at the perfect time.
Being a one-dimensional player doesn’t cut it in today’s league. You have to be fundamentally sound on both sides of the ball, yet still offer up a little something extra that makes you stand out. Between long range shots, to driving the basket, Powell can play a multitude of positions, both offensively and defensively (something Ross struggled with in Toronto). He can range from a guard to small forward, and is the perfect compliment to the big three up front.
Though the stats don’t show it in the regular season, the playoffs have been a coming out party for Powell.
Taking Advantage of His Opportunities
While he started 18 games this season, Powell averaged less than 17 minutes per game over the course of the season. Though his 8.4 points per game isn’t eye popping, what is his is shot selection. Powell shot 45% from the field, a respectable number for a player who at times, went multiple games without seeing the floor. This didn’t go unnoticed, specifically by one of his All-Star teammates, DeMar DeRozan.
“People don’t understand how tough it can be to go games without playing. You’re coming in every single morning, putting in work, putting in extra work. You may play a game, two games, three games. Not play. That’s tough.”
DeRozan also added the metal toughness needed to thrive in that role, which motivated him.
“To have that strong mentality and push through it and still continue to be ready, and be able to show up like he did, like (Monday) night winning us a game in a big way, stepping in, it’s inspirational to me.”
It may only be a small sample size, but Powell has come to play in the 2017 playoffs.
He’s shooting at a 57% clip, is averaging over 13 ppg and is the spark plug in the Raptors starting unit they desperately needed following their Game 3 debacle. He does a little bit of everything on the floor and gives the Raptors that third outlet that will force teams to take notice when he’s on the floor.
DeRozan wasn’t the only person to give praise to Powell. Head Coach Dwayne Casey felt the sense of urgency to grab momentum back after Game 3. Powell was the guy Casey wanted to seize the opportunity.
“We went looking, and we found it,” Casey said. “We were looking for Norm, and Norm as usual came in and has done what he’s supposed to do as a starter. He hasn’t been as effective coming off the bench, for whatever reason. But as a starter his numbers back it up. And we needed something different, we needed speed and quickness, and he’s that guy that provides that for us.”
This was the third outlet Toronto was trying to find.