Norman Powell stepped up once again in Toronto's win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday.
In 35 minutes of play, Powell scored 26 points, grabbed six rebounds, dished out five assists and came up with a team-high four steals. He was efficient from the field, shooting 11-for-15, including 4-for-6 from the 3-point line.
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Starting in place of Fred VanVleet, who has been sidelined since Dec. 9 with a knee injury, Powell is now averaging 22.5 points over his last four games. He's been playing so well lately that Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said after the Cavaliers win that he is reconsidering the starting lineup once everyone is healthy.
"It certainly will make me reconsider it," Nurse said.
Powell has been a different player as a starter this season. Whereas he's averaging 17.6 points in the 15 games he's started, he's averaging 10.5 points in the 11 games he's come off the bench.
Powell's shooting percentages have been significantly better as a starter as well, posting splits of .521/.439/.833 compared to .448/.311/.793 as a reserve.
Despite being at his best as a starter this season, Powell said that he's comfortable doing whatever the team needs from him.
"I've said it before, whatever best helps the team," Powell said post-game. "I'm going out there doing whatever I can to help the team. Whatever decision they make, however they feel, I'm going to go out there and put my best foot forward.
"Whether I'm coming off the bench or starting, it doesn't matter to me. As long as we're winning, I've always been like that and that's not going to change."
If Powell were to start moving forward, the assumption is that he could take VanVleet's place in the lineup. Powell hasn't necessarily played better than VanVleet this season - the starting lineup with VanVleet has been outscoring teams by a whopping 16.1 points per 100 possessions - but he's a more traditional fit with Kyle Lowry, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam and Marc Gasol, if only because of his size. While VanVleet is versatile enough on both ends of the court to function as a shooting guard, him playing alongside Lowry gives the Raptors one of the smallest backcourts in the league, which is problematic against supersized teams such as the LA Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers.
Moving VanVleet to the bench, meanwhile, might give the second unit a boost Powell hasn't been able to provide as a reserve this season. VanVleet has shown what he's capable of doing as a sixth man before and Toronto's bench is among the lowest scoring in the league right now, ranking 23rd with 32.8 points per game.
With VanVleet running the show, Nurse might be able to reply on more bench-heavy lineups built around him and Serge Ibaka. VanVleet and Ibaka have plenty of experience together. According to NBA.com, almost a quarter of VanVleet's assists last season went to Ibaka, making the 7-foot centre his primary target. Being at their best in pick-and-rolls, Nurse could surround the two of them with complementary pieces in Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Matt Thomas, Terence Davis and Chris Boucher, each of them being players who can either attack the offensive glass or space the floor.
Powell starting wouldn't prevent VanVleet from closing games either. In the season VanVleet finished third in Sixth Man of the Year voting, he played the fourth-most clutch minutes on the team, trailing only DeMar DeRozan, Lowry and Ibaka.
So all things considered, what do you think: Should the Raptors stick with Powell or should they go back to starting VanVleet when he returns?
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