The NBA preseason is here and with the start of the 2019-20 season just around the corner, we're busting out the microscope and taking a closer look at the best-case and worst-case scenario for every player on the Toronto Raptors.
With the amount of changes the Toronto Raptors went through this summer, they're going to need a number of players to step up this season if they are to return to the playoffs and truly contend in the Eastern Conference.
That includes Norman Powell.
Powell has now been with the Raptors for four seasons. The franchise selected him in the second round of the 2016 NBA Draft and showed their commitment to him entering the 2017-18 season by signing him to a four-year, $42 million extension.
Now entering Year 5, what can the Raptors expect from Powell this season?
Much has been made of how the loss of Kawhi Leonard impacts the Raptors moving forward, so much so that it seems to be forgotten that Toronto lost another starter this offseason in Danny Green.
In the lead-up to the playoffs, I wrote about how there was a case to be made that Green was the most valuable role player in the league during the regular season. Though he has a very defined role as a 3-and-D wing, there are few players who shoot and defend as well as Green. Not only did he make 45.5 percent of his 3-point attempts last season - a career-high and the second-highest rate in the entire league behind only Brooklyn Nets guard Joe Harris - he came close to making an All-Defensive Team for the second time in his career.
The combination makes him someone who could fit in with just about any team in the league.
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It's unreasonable to expect Powell to replace 100 percent of what Green provided to last year's team, but there's no denying that the 26-year-old impacts the game in a similar way.
First and foremost, Powell is coming off of a season in which he set new career-highs in 3-pointers made (68), 3-pointers attempted (170) and 3-point percentage (.400). Assuming that's a better indicator of his potential as a shooter than the season prior, when he made 28.5 percent of his 3-point attempts, he's best suited to take over Green's role in the starting lineup as a spot-up shooter.
There's still a tremendous need for someone who can space the floor at a high rate, if only to make teams think twice about loading up on Pascal Siakam and punishing them when they do.
Secondly, Powell has flashed some potential as a defender throughout his career. He spent time guarding Terrence Ross and JJ Redick during the playoffs, for example, holding the sharpshooters to a combined 9-for-24 shooting from the field. With Leonard and Green now gone, the Raptors would benefit greatly from Powell sharing the responsibility of guarding the opposing team's best perimeter player with OG Anunoby, as it would prevent Kyle Lowry and Siakam from having to do so.
Where Powell begins to separate himself from Green is that he's far more capable of making plays off the dribble. According to NBA.com, Powell had 101 more drives than Green last season despite playing almost half the amount of minutes. Seeing as the Raptors also have to make up for the 26.6 points and 18.8 field goal attempts Leonard averaged on a nightly basis last season, his comfort putting the ball on the floor opens up the door for him to absorb some of Leonard's possessions.
Nurse mentions how there is more room for Siakam, OG, Fred and Norm to expand their roles.- (((Eric Koreen))) (@ekoreen) September 28, 2019
Powell is a dynamic cutter as well, which will come in handy when he's sharing the court with Marc Gasol, who figures to have more of the offence run through him this season.
All in all, there's a clear path towards Powell establishing himself as the starting shooting guard on the Raptors this season. It all just comes down to him being much more consistent than he has in the past, primarily as a shooter and defender.
The worst-case scenario is that the issue that has plagued Powell to this point of his career continues - inconsistency.
The playoffs were a perfect example of the need for Powell to be more consistent. The Raptors wouldn't have won the title without him, as his three straight games of scoring in double figures against the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals gave them a much needed scoring punch outside of Leonard and Siakam. Had he not stepped up, the Raptors could have very well found themselves down 3-0 or 3-1.
Powell, however, scored double figures only two other times in Toronto's championship run, both of which came in blowouts against the Orlando Magic in the first round. He was almost non-existent in the Philadelphia series and he scored a total of 11 points in the Finals.
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The Raptors had the depth to overcome those performances from Powell last season, but inconsistency this season could impact them in a number of ways. Chief among them: Fred VanVleet or one of Patrick McCaw, OG Anunoby or Stanley Johnson would have to play more shooting guard than they should.
VanVleet has at least proven that he can play alongside Kyle Lowry. (The Raptors often closed games with the two of them in the 2017-18 season because of VanVleet's defensive versatility and ability to play off-ball). They just make for a tiny backcourt that will have a tough time going up against any team with size, such as the Philadelphia 76ers, Houston Rockets or Boston Celtics. If Powell does become a more consistent two-way player, it would make it much easier for Raptors head coach Nick Nurse to mix and match lineups depending on what's needed.
The 2017-18 season would be a point of concern for Powell. After a breakout season of sorts, which led to his $42 million extension, he averaged career-lows of 5.5 points per game on 40.1 percent shooting from the field. Even though that could very well end up being the low point of his career, the Raptors can't afford for Powell to take a step back this season like he did then.
FiveThirtyEight's CARMELO projections doesn't expect Powell's play to drop quite that low again, but it doesn't expect him to play at quite the same level as last season either.
We'll soon find out.
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