With the NBA season being suspended indefinitely, we're taking the next couple of weeks to roll out our Raptors Report Cards on each key member of this season's team. The plan? Take a closer look at how everyone performed, from Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam to Terence Davis and Chris Boucher.
Next up: Norman Powell.
If there was one word to describe Norman Powell's NBA career coming into this season, it was inconsistent. He's always had the potential to be an impact player off the bench - the Toronto Raptors wouldn't have signed him to a four-year, $42 million extension in the summer of 2017 if they didn't believe he did - but he's never quite been able to put it all together.
This season has been a different story.
Through 44 games, Powell is averaging 16.4 points per game. Not only is that the highest mark of his career, it's almost double his scoring average from last season (8.6). A bump in minutes has something to do with that, but Powell has managed to increase his scoring without experiencing any drop off in efficiency. He's shooting 50.2 percent from the field and 39.8 percent from the 3-point range; the former being a career high, the latter being only slightly below his career high.
Throw in his free throw percentage, and Powell's true shooting percentage is above 60.0 for the first time in his career.
REPORT CARDS: Pascal Siakam | Kyle Lowry | Fred VanVleet
Those numbers give Powell a solid Sixth Man of the Year and Most Improved Player case on paper, but there are a couple of things holding him back from being a finalist for either award.
First and foremost, Powell has started in more games than he's come off the bench, the result of the Raptors being one of the most injury-ridden teams in the league. Fred VanVleet began the season as Danny Green's replacement in the starting lineup, but injuries to both him and Kyle Lowry have paved the way for Powell to start in 23 games, the most games he's started in since his rookie season.
Although he's posted slightly better numbers in the games he's started in, Powell has shined in both roles.
For example, Powell scored 20 or more points in five straight games in January, making for the longest such streak in his career. He came off the bench in four of those five games.
In his last 5 games, Norman Powell is averaging 23.6 PTS, 59.2 FG%, 3.6 3PM, 2.8 REB & 1.6 STL per game for the @Raptors! 🔥 pic.twitter.com/B07QQ2pbg1- NBA Canada (@NBACanada) January 21, 2020
Powell tied that streak later in the season, only by starting in all five games. It was perhaps the best stretch of his career to date, as he scored 26 points, 37 points and 31 points, respectively, in the final three games of that streak.
The 37 points he scored against the Golden State Warriors set a new career-high.
Norman Powell poured in a career-high 37 PTS on 65% (13-20) shooting in the Raptors road-win!#WeTheNorth | @Raptors pic.twitter.com/rHCgnL88im- NBA Canada (@NBACanada) March 6, 2020
While starting in more games than he's come off the bench means he's ineligible for Sixth Man of the Year, it bodes well for the Raptors that Powell has played as well as he has in both roles this season given VanVleet's uncertain future on the team. If VanVleet re-signs with the Raptors in free agency, Powell has shown that he can be one of the league's leading scorers off the bench and serve as a break-in-case-of-emergency starter. If he chooses to sign elsewhere, Powell has shown that he can fill in for VanVleet as Toronto's starting shooting guard should the Raptors not replace him with anyone else.
"Norm's been great," Lowry told FanSided's Gerald Bourguet a couple of months ago. "His energy, his shooting. I think just his overall understanding of who he is and understanding that sometimes he's gonna start, sometimes he's not gonna start, but just playing with that energy and aggressive attacking."
As for Most Improved, health will prevent Powell from being featured more prominently in that award discussion.
Powell has missed a total of 20 games this season, which represents almost a third of the season. He's been sidelined with two difference injuries - a subluxation of the left shoulder that cost him 11 games, followed by a fractured finger that cost him nine games.
Powell also suffered a sprained ankle in Toronto's final game before the season was suspended that could've kept him out for at least a couple more games.
What's impressive about Powell is that he hit the ground running when he came back from the first two injuries. His first game back from his shoulder injury sparked the first streak of five 20-point games while his first game back from fracturing his finger sparked the second. Even when he had a legitimate excuse, he didn't revert back to the player he used to be.
As is the case with Pascal Siakam, the playoffs will be another big test for Powell. He had moments in last season's championship run, but he wasn't much of a factor outside of the Eastern Conference Finals. (And even then, he was only a factor in two of the games the Raptors won). If he can help the Raptors make a deep playoff run, it will be the icing on the cake in what has been a breakout season for Powell.
His breakout has probably come later than the Raptors were expecting, but late is better than never.
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