Toronto Raptors: Is Norman Powell best used as a starter?

Toronto Raptors - Norman Powell (Photo by Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images)
Toronto Raptors - Norman Powell (Photo by Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The Toronto Raptors will use this season to see what they have in Norman Powell. He will have his chance to start and prove that he can be a valuable asset to the team.

Norman Powell has the opportunity to prove to Masai Ujiri and Toronto Raptors’ fans that he can be an effective starting-caliber guard. He can finally play his natural position and doesn’t have Danny Green or DeMar DeRozan to contend with at the shooting guard position. With the Raptors season focused on developing its youth and trying to remain competitive at the same time, its Powell’s time to prove that he truly belongs.

The Raptors don’t have much competition for Powell to be too concerned with. Other than Fred VanVleet who may get occasional starts. With that being said the lack of quality depth at the wing position will hurt the Raptors unless he can step up. Using Powell as the starting guard allows VanVleet to stabilize the bench while Powell can complement Kyle Lowry on the defensive end by guarding taller and quicker players.

Another reason as to why he best suited to start is to find out how valuable Powell can be. Can he be an integral part of the Raptors’ plans moving forward? He’s showed the potential of becoming an impact player but hasn’t been able to capitalize on his opportunities to prove that. Perhaps by starting Powell, the Raptors can gauge what exactly is the type of player he can become.

What Powell can bring to the starting unit

Last season was perhaps Powell’s best in terms of regular-season numbers and production. He regained his shooting stroke and shot 40-percent on his three-point shots and shot 48-percent from the field (a career-high). In almost 19 minutes a game he averaged 8.6 points, 1.5 assists, and  2.3 rebounds.

These aren’t numbers that pop off the board but considering how he readjusted and stopped trying to force his offensive game it shows progress. Also taking into consideration that he primarily came off the bench last season his numbers fair well for the role he had. Powell played much better when he returned from his injury back in November and his overall efficiency improved.

Powell can space the floor and his three-point shooting will be vital to a team that is almost devoid of good shooters if he maintains his form from last season. With Lowry, VanVleet, Matt Thomas, and Marc Gasol as the only for sure quality three-point shooters on the team. Powell has shot lights out in the preseason through 3 games. He hit 69-percent of his three-point shots on just over four attempts. These numbers will drop but if he is a consistent threat throughout the season he will surely help with the Raptors spacing.

Powell brings more than just his three-point shooting but it will be his efficiency from there that will help maintain his position in the starting lineup. He has proven to be a solid on-ball defender, although his off-ball defense leaves a lot to be desired. He has a tendency of watching the ball too much rather than seeing both ball and man. This has led to opponents getting easy back door cuts on him or open three-pointers because he wasn’t paying attention.

Powell’s ball-handling ability and physical attributes help him get to the rim. He has a quick first step and is able to beat opponents off the dribble. This has translated well into his transition game. The Raptors will have to play more in transition this season due to Kawhi Leonard’s absence. The roster doesn’t feature many players who can create their own shot effectively so finding easy points will become a focal point.

Why Powell is best suited in the Raptors in the starting lineup

The Raptor’s depth has taken a hit the season and Nick Nurse is so far unhappy with his end of the bench options. Terence Davis showed throughout the preseason that he is an NBA ready player that can do a lot of different things well on the court. Outside of Davis, Fred VanVleet, and Serge Ibaka, there hasn’t been someone who has proved that they can produce well for Nurse.

In the last preseason game Nurse kept a tight rotation for the most part through 3 quarters of play. The only person to get some minutes with the core Raptors players was Davis. Even then he looks to be better suited as a shooting-guard or off-ball player. If the Raptors were to keep VanVleet as the sixth man, the Raptors bench won’t be devoid of a solid playmaker.

Keeping VanVleet as the sixth man doesn’t mean that he won’t close games out. Nurse started VanVleet instead of Powell in the preseason finale and that lineup played well together. But when VanVleet played with Davis in the second quarter the Raptors were able to put some distance between them and Brooklyn Nets.

Starting Powell ensures that the Raptors bench can remain relatively stable when VanVleet gets subbed in. Powell’s role in the starting lineup may change from night to night since he hasn’t been a main focal point in the preseason. He’s been used more as a spot-up shooter and someone who has to find his opportunities through the team offense.

If the Raptors use him as more of a third to fifth option it may complement that lineup much better. Powell can either be used as a spot-up shooter that doesn’t force his offense or be more of a prominent option when the team needs him to score. Powell in the starting lineup makes sense for both that lineup and the bench since his role can vary in the starting lineup and while VanVleet can keep the bench unit afloat.

On the defensive end, Powell will complement Lowry better than VanVleet. His size and quickness help him contain bigger and quicker opponents. VanVleet is best suited to guard shooters, while Powell can help OG Anunoby guard opponents who can create their own shot and have a size advantage.

The Raptors could run a lineup that’s bigger which would feature Anunoby at shooting-guard and Ibaka at power forward. The problem with this lineup is that it would be relatively slow but it could help with rebounding. With Powell, the Raptors will have a quicker guard and be able to run more in transition. Especially with how Lowry likes the push the pace and is adept at finding players on runs to the basket.

A chance for him to flash his potential

Possibly the main reason to start Powell is to finally see what his true potential is. He signed a four-year 42 million dollar extension back in 2017. That extension came after his solid performance in the playoffs where he helped the Raptors get past the Milwaukee Bucks. Powell has remained somewhat stagnate in his development since then.

With Green and DeRozan gone, the shooting-guard position is finally open to Powell. The Raptors should use this season to find out what they truly have in him. He has shown on different occasions of being an impact player but has also shown to be very inconsistent. It’s time to find out what his full potential can be because at 26 years of age time is starting to run out.

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Can Powell be an integral part of the Raptors’ core? This season can help finally answer that question. He will have the opportunity to showcase what exactly he can bring to this version of the Toronto Raptors. He has the talent and skill to become an impact player in the NBA and now its time for him to piece everything together.