By Ben Browne
Norman Powell has quietly — or, should I say, not so quietly––emerged as one of the Raptors’ best players during the 2017 postseason.
Is he in the conversation with Lowry and DeRozan as the Raptors’ best overall player? No––not yet, anyway. What he is, though, is becoming one of the key pieces of the Raptors core.
That is a pretty strong statement, considering said “core” includes the likes of Lowry, DeRozan, Jonas Valanciunas, and––if resigned––Serge Ibaka. But it is a very accurate representation of Powell’s level of performance since being instated into the starting lineup after the Raps were blown out in Game 3 vs. Milwaukee. Powell has, literally, gone from not seeing the floor for one second in Game 2 against the Bucks to becoming, arguably, the Raptors’ best player this postseason.
He becomes an even stronger piece of the core when you consider the possibility of Kyle Lowry departing––either by choice or by necessity––after the 2017–18 season as a free agent. While the Raptors may be able to resign him, that’s not a guarantee. And that could––unless the Raptors go out and sign a free agent PG or trade for one (names like Chris Paul, Rajon Rondo and Isaiah Thomas are out there as possible free agent options)––press Cory Joseph into the starting role. With all due respect to Pickering’s finest, despite his strong play in Lowry’s absence this season, he may be better served providing excellent play off the bench. With him in the starting five, Powell becomes all the more important as a difference-maker in the lineup.
But where Powell’s presence carries merit most right now is in the present. The Raptors, even more so than against the Bucks, will need consistent performances from every single member of the starting lineup, and bench players like JV, Patrick Patterson and P.J. Tucker, if they want any shot at getting past Cleveland. The Cavs have lost Matthew Dellavedova from last year’s roster, but they still have Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, Raptor-killer Channing Frye, J.R. Smith, and Canadian Tristan Thompson. They also made a major splash at the Trade Deadline by acquiring 3-point specialist Kyle Korver.
Oh, and in case you forgot, they also have that guy called LeBron James. I don’t know much about him, but rumour has it he’s pretty good too.
All kidding aside, the number of consistent impact players Cleveland has far outweighs that of the Raptors. Guys like DaMarre Carroll, Patrick Patterson and P.J. Tucker have the ability to be impact players. The problem is: they aren’t consistent enough. This means that Powell, who, but for only scoring 8 points in the Raptors 92–89 series-clinching win over Milwaukee on Thursday, has been remarkably consistent thus far, will have to maintain that level of consistency––and maybe even rise above his level of play up to this point––for the Raptors to have a legitimate shot at advancing to their 2nd-straight Eastern Conference Final.
Powell has averaged 15 points a game since being put back into the starting lineup. Perhaps more impressive than that, though, is his 3 point shooting percentage. He is shooting 91% from behind the arc this postseason including the two games he came off the bench. And it gets better: he has not missed a 3-pointer since entering the starting lineup, going 9–9.
His confidence in all areas of the game––including the defensive side of the ball––is at an all-time high. He will be in tough facing matchups against the likes of James, Frye, and possibly even Korver, but he has shown an ability to rise to the occasion in the playoffs. After struggling last in last year’s playoffs where he shot just 38.6% from the field and scored just 3.8 points/game in 18 contests––including 3 starts, Norman Powell has risen from the ashes––or…the bench––and become a key contributor to a team desperately looking to take that proverbial ‘next step.’
Ben Browne also writes for Canada Football Chat. You can find him on Twitter here.