Toronto Raptors: Norman Powell is playing himself into the playoff rotations

Toronto Raptors - Norman Powell (Photo by Mark Blinch/NBAE via Getty Images)
Toronto Raptors - Norman Powell (Photo by Mark Blinch/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Norman Powell is a sparkplug off the bench for the Toronto Raptors. As recently as a couple of months ago, that wasn’t the case. What’s been the difference? Simplicity.

Norman Powell is one of my favorite players but not for the reasons you might expect. Outside of his natural athletic abilities and a few memorable flashes over the years (who can forget the 2017 Playoffs), he’s hardly been the most consistent member of the Toronto Raptors.

What makes Powell special is his smoothness. When you watch him dribble, there’s this supernatural quality, almost like he’s gliding; it’s a small, pleasurable thing and in any other context, an odd thing to be fixating on (ever try complimenting someone on their gait?).

Infuriatingly, this smoothness doesn’t always coincide with sound basketball decisions. At his best, Powell can be a difference maker, hitting key shots and playing great defense. At his worst, he’s a watered down version of Tony Allen with a bloated contract.

What’s the source of Powell’s current resurgence off the bench? A renewed commitment to simplicity.

Playing within himself

When Powell is playing poorly, it’s usually because he’s trying to do way too much. The symptoms are clear: ill-advised shots, errant passes to covered teammates and driving into heavy traffic in the lane and turning the ball over. It’s frustrating for any Raptors fan, especially when you know what Powell is capable of doing.

That’s why his recent string of performances are encouraging. He’s playing great defense and for the most part, making smart, varied decisions on offense. A testament to his hard work and perseverance, Powell has even developed a sweet spinning jump stop into a floater around the basket for easy scores.

While his point totals from game to game fluctuate (he scored an efficient 20 points against the Lakers last Thursday, following an anemic performance against the Cavaliers), his season statistics are solid. He’s providing 8.4 points per game, shooting 46.7-percent from the field and nearly 36-percent from three.

Defined role

Powell is the lynchpin for a bench that’s been besought with injuries, slumps and woeful play. Due to these inconsistencies and Powell’s solid play, he’s earned himself meaningful minutes and making good use of it.

As you may remember, last year when OG Anunoby blew up as a rookie sensation, Powell’s minutes were cut. With his role in jeopardy, Powell reverted to his bad tendencies and tried to do way too much, in an effort to show his worth.

That hasn’t been the case this year. Even with Fred VanVleet back in the rotation, Powell has played well enough over the last couple of months to keep his minutes. Hopefully, this will help him maintain his confidence and avoid any relapses; the Raptors’ bench cannot afford it.

Is this for real?

Despite the occasional mind fart every other couple of games, Norman Powell has shown that he is capable of sustaining this positive momentum.

Is there any guarantee that we won’t see his bad side again? No, but it doesn’t matter. Even if he never irons these glitches out of his game, we’ll just have to get used to it. For a second-round pick, Norman Powell offers great value.

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He’s provided enough legendary moments too so far to maintain his goodwill with us (not that the fans have any say ultimately if he stays or goes). And there’s more than a few players picked in the first round who’ve never carved out a niche as defined as Powell’s. Let’s just enjoy his smoothness and cheesy off-the-court passion in music while it lasts.