Toronto Raptors

Toronto Raptors: Norman Powell's breakout season in four key stats

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Norman Powell (NBA Getty Images)

Norman Powell started the season coming off the bench for the Toronto Raptors, but an early injury to OG Anunoby bumped him into the starting lineup.

It's safe to say that he's made the most of the opportunity.

After scoring 43 points in Toronto's loss to the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday, Powell is up to a career-best 19.7 points per game on the season, putting him a hair behind Fred VanVleet (19.9) and Pascal Siakam (19.8) for most on the Raptors. In a season that has been full of ups and downs to this point, Powell has been one of the few bright spots for the Raptors.

With that in mind, let's take a closer look at four key stats behind Powell's breakout season.

20: How many 20-point games Powell has

It's already the most Powell has ever had in a single season.

In the first four seasons of his career, Powell had a combined 12 20-point games. He then scored 20-plus points in 18 of the 52 games he appeared in last season, followed by 20 in the 38 games he's appeared in this season.

Powell's 20 20-point games is also the most on the Raptors this season. VanVleet (18) has the second-most, followed by Siakam (16), Kyle Lowry (13) and Chris Boucher (11).

Powell's highest-scoring game to date came in Toronto's loss to Detroit this week, in which he scored a career-best 43 points.

One of the knocks on Powell earlier in his career was that he lacked the consistency to be a more steady contributor. He got off to a slow start this season, but he's otherwise been one of the most - if not the most - consistent players on the Raptors.

44.6%: Powell's 3-point percentage

Quite simply, Powell has been shooting the lights out.

Not only is he taking a career-high 6.4 3-point attempts per game, but he's also knocking them down at a career-best 44.6 percent clip. The only player on the Raptors who has made more 3-pointers than Powell (108) as of this writing is VanVleet (115), and Powell leads the team in 3-point percentage.

Powell has long been a big-time catch-and-shoot threat from the perimeter. As NBA.com's Matthew Blum covered in the offseason, where he's struggled in the past is shooting off the dribble. In the first five seasons of his career, he combined to shoot 42-for-168 (25.0 percent) on pull-up 3s.

So far this season, he is up to 32-for-75 (42.7 percent) on those shots.

Norman Powell's 3-point shooting
Season Catch-and-shoot Pull-up
2015-16 32-for-72 (44.4%) 4-for-15 (26.7%)
2016-17 49-for-142 (34.5%) 6-for-24 (25.0%)
2017-18 45-for-145 (31.0%) 8-for-36 (22.2%)
2018-19 56-for-130 (43.1%) 12-for-39 (30.8%)
2019-20 91-for-207 (44.0%) 12-for-54 (22.2%)
2020-21 75-for-166 (45.2%) 32-for-75 (42.7%)

Powell isn't pulling-up from 3 in the same volume as the likes of Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard, LeBron James, VanVleet and Lowry, but his improvement as a shooter off the dribble has opened the door for the Raptors to run a little more offence through him. According to NBA.com, he's gone from running 2.0 pick-and-rolls per game last season to 3.1 this season. That might not sound like much, but it's the difference between pick-and-rolls making up 14.3 percent of his offence to 18.2 percent.

Powell has been highly efficient on those plays as well, ranking in the 95th percentile with an average of 1.16 points per possession.

He is still at his best when he's slashing to the basket out of the pick-and-roll, but being able to do things like this on a more consistent basis...

...makes him a much tougher cover.

68.6%: Powell's true shooting percentage as a starter

If you're unfamiliar with true shooting percentage, it's considered to be a more accurate measure of how efficient a player is scoring because it takes into account 2-point field goals, 3-point field goals and free throws.

As a rule of thumb, anything under 50 percent is considered to be poor while anything over 60 percent is considered to be elite.

For Powell, he's averaging 23.4 points per game as a starter this season on 130-for-217 (59.9 percent) shooting from 2-point range, 88-for-190 (46.3 percent) from 3-point range and 107-for-121 (88.4 percent) from the free-throw line, the combination of which gives him a 68.6 true shooting percentage.

There are a couple of reasons why that's notable.

The first? It has Powell rubbing shoulders with the likes of Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry and Nikola Jokic in the efficiency department. He doesn't carry the same load on offence as they do - there's a reason why each one of them is an MVP candidate - but anytime you're mentioned in the same sentence as them, you're doing something right.

The second? It's way up from what Powell has posted as a reserve.

In the 11 games, he has come off the bench this season, Powell has averaged 10.5 points on 15-for-47 (31.9 percent) shooting from 2-point range, 20-for-52 (38.5 percent) from 3-point range and 26-for-31 (83.9 percent) from the free-throw line, the combination of which gives him a 51.5 true shooting percentage.

In other words, not great.

Some of that could do with him getting off to a slow start, but Powell posted similar splits last season. If nothing else, it gives Raptors head coach Nick Nurse a lot to think about when he has the entire roster at his disposal. Moving Powell back to the bench makes the most sense stylistically because it would allow the Raptors to play a traditional centre next to Lowry, VanVleet, Siakam and Anunoby, but it might not be worth it if he can't produce in the same way.

$11.6 million: Powell's salary next season

If we're being technical, this isn't a stat, but still.

In addition to Lowry, there's a possibility that Powell will be a free agent in the offseason.

While Powell has one more season remaining on his current contract, it's a player option worth $11.6 million. With the way he's been playing lately, it wouldn't be a surprise to see him turn it down to become an unrestricted free agent and pursue a longer-term deal as he enters what could be the prime of his career.

That doesn't necessarily mean Powell is as good as gone at the season's end - the Raptors could have a decent amount of cap space to work in the offseason and they would still have Powell's Bird Rights, which would allow them to go over the cap to re-sign him - but Toronto does run the risk of him walking in free agency in the same way Kawhi Leonard, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka did in the last two offseasons.

For the Raptors, it sets them up for another busy trade deadline and offseason with potentially two members of their core becoming free agents. For Powell, it sets him up to cash in on the best season of his career, whether it's with the Raptors or another team.

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