Raptors may have battle for starter’s job at small forward

TORONTO, ON - MAY 07: Norman Powell
TORONTO, ON - MAY 07: Norman Powell /

Is this going to be the season in which Norman Powell emerges as a starter? He’ll need to beat out C.J. Miles – how likely is that?

A hat tip goes out to loyal member of Rapture Nation Richard Leavitt. In his comment on my post about the front court, he offered Norman Powell as his choice of starter at the small forward position. My pick is C.J. Miles, but Richard’s point is well taken. Let’s give it some consideration.

Norman Powell might win the Most Jerked-Around Player award if there were such a thing. Over the last two seasons, he’s been in the D-League, promoted to the big team but glued to the bench, played garbage time minutes, benched again, started playoff games in lieu of DeMarre Carroll…too much.

Coach Dwane Casey has tried everything except the simplest approach of all: “Norman, you’ve got 10 games as a starter at the 3-spot. Work hard, clean up after your mistakes, and let’s see what happens.” Norman himself, Richard L., and I’m sure many other Raptors fans would deeply enjoy hearing those words.

Powell – plus & minus

Norman has a lot of positives. He’s probably the best pure athlete on the team now that Terrence Ross is a Magic-man. Norman jumps higher and more quickly than most anyone on this planet. He’s also very speedy down the floor with the rock, and is only occasionally out of control. Norman is a strong on-the-ball defender.

So why hasn’t Powell broken through? For one thing, he’s undersized in today’s NBA, particularly at his position (for the record, I’m not in the camp which advocates trying him at point guard). Norman needs to be hitting his long balls, but his percentage fell from 40.4 in his first season to 32.4 last year, on more attempts.

He has always ready to attack the basket, often to excess. I mentioned he’s sometimes out of control; those moments occur when he tries low-percentage basket attacks. His assists per 36 minutes slipped marginally last year. Norman sometimes plays with blinkers on.

Contrast him to Miles, and you’ve definitely got yin and yang. C.J. hit 169 3-balls last season, a 41.3% clip. (DeMar DeRozan made 33 long shots, in far more minutes played.) For a non-starter, that’s tremendous production. I question whether it’s repeatable, but he doesn’t have to reach 40+% to help our team.

A critical factor for coach Dwane Casey will be which of these fellows he trusts on defense. Miles survives as a defender, whereas Norm is a positive, despite giving away size to almost everyone he’s matched against.

Miles is also going to have to show he can get his shot off against starter-grade defenders. He’s had lots of success against rotation players. I think Norman, the younger man by 6 years, is a better bet to be releasing quality attempts on catch-&-shoot plays. Whether those shots go splash or not is another matter.

While it’s a close decision, I’d still start the season with Miles. Should Norman make his presence felt, there’s no harm in making a switch later on. I’d give him his chance at the start of a long road trip.

This is going to be interesting.

[all stats courtesy of www.basketball-reference.com]

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