Toronto Raptors: How does Norman Powell fit into the Raptors Future?

Drafted in the second round of the 2015 NBA Draft by Milwaukee before being traded to the Toronto Raptors, Norman Powell has had a bit of an up and down career so far. However, if this season is a benchmark for what to expect from him going forward, Norman Powell fits into the Raptors' future plans.

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Norman Powell has been a bit of an enigma since he started playing for the Toronto Raptors as a rookie in the 2015 NBA season. He has been a role player who was always ready when his number was called. Powell has been a standout playoff performer at times perhaps the best Raptors' playoff performer until last season when Kawhi Leonard and Pascal Siakam led the team to the championship. He was even a starter when the 2017/18 season began, a role he lost to then-rookie teammate OG Anunoby.

Powell signed a four year 42 million dollar deal in October of 2017 with a player option for the 2021-22 season. At age 26, even though his first five seasons in the NBA have been defined by inconsistent play with several standout moments, Powell is young enough and talented enough to remain a key member of the Raptors core group of players.

This season has been a revelation for the Raptors shooting guard before it was suspended due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Powell is trusted by head coach Nick Nurse, illustrated by the fact Powell is a key member of the Raptors rotation when healthy averaging 28.8 minutes and 16.4 points per game.  These numbers are the highest of his career to date.

It was never a question of work ethic — Powell lives in the gym and is constantly trying to improve

In the world of team sports, it's always a question of what have you done for me lately. Before the season was suspended and his last injury, Powell's play was outstanding, consistent,  and he was confident in his game.

The Toronto Raptors have tough decisions to make going forward concerning player personnel and here is why Norman Powell's 2019/20 performance has made those choices tougher.

Financial Considerations

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Toronto Raptors - Norman Powell (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

Norman Powell is under contract to the Toronto Raptors for two more seasons thanks to his 2017 four years 42 million dollar contract (Powell has an option for 2021/22). His play this season has muddled the seemingly obvious decision that Fred Vanvleet would be the heir apparent to Kyle Lowry at point guard.

This almost guaranteed decision seems less certain today. It started when the Raptors extended Lowry for one more season at 31 million dollars, in October of 2019, before this season began and he has not finished writing his legend in Toronto. Then, head coach Nick Nurse, perhaps to keep Fred Vanvleet happy, decided to start a small backcourt naming Vanvleet the starting shooting guard instead of going to the bigger/taller Norman Powell.

Vanvleet is one of several key Raptors whose contract must be dealt with this coming off-season and he is expected to have options of where to play meaning the Raptors may be in a bidding war that could more than double the sharp shooter's salary currently nine million dollar s per season.

If speculation is true that the Raptors want to pursue the services of Giannis Antetokounmpo in 2021 as a free agent, Fred VanVleet may become a very expensive and costly option on the team roster.

The Raptors could next season go with Lowry at the point and a secured fixed 10.8 million invested in Powell at the shooting guard. The Raptors would still have a developing Terence Davis coming off of a promising rookie season and sharpshooter Matt Thomas. They could fill the backup point guard spot with a cheaper option walking away from Vanvleet's potentially pricey situation.

This is a great situation to be in for the Toronto Raptors' front office as the choice to walk away from a talent like Vanvleet is only possible because a talent like Powell may have finally developed into more than a role player and his contract is already secure at a defined cost.

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The Stats

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Norman Powell #24 of the Toronto Raptors goes up (Photo by Brian Sevald/NBAE via Getty Images)

The stats also indicate that Norman Powell either as a sixth man or a starting shooting guard fits into the future of the Toronto Raptors. It starts with the obvious numbers. He has improved his scoring stats from last season to 16.4 from 8.6 points per game. He is averaging 28.8 minutes per game and his 3-point shooting percentage is 39.8.

Powell, before he got hurt on March 9th, 2020, scored 140 points in his previous five games for an average of 28 points. He is an invaluable option off of the Raptors bench and may be ready to reclaim the starting shooting guard spot on this team.

During victories in March 2020 against the Phoenix Suns, Golden State Warriors, and Sacramento Kings, Powell was the Raptors' leading scorer in two of those games scoring 37 against Golden State, on March 5th. for his career-high single-game points output.

A deeper look at the stats bears out this belief. At its most basic level, the objective of playing basketball is to score more than your opponent. Powell by this definition rates highly on the Raptors depth chart as a guard.

When the +/- differential between offense and defensive ratings per 100 possessions is considered, Powell tops the Raptors depth chart this season at +11. Kyle Lowry is second at +10.  This means Powell is a positive asset when he is on the floor.

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Style of Play

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Norman Powell (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

Under head coach Nick Nurse the Toronto Raptors play a very aggressive switching/rotating perimeter defensive scheme. Offensively, the Raptors rely on the threat of credible three-point shooters who space the floor in their half-court sets, which then allows ballhandlers to explode to the basket when the defense gets tight trying to deny shots.

Powell has made himself valuable to the Raptors schemes at both ends of the floor. As mentioned, Powell out scores his opponents when on the floor. He is also averaging 1.3 steals per game this season.  Powell is like many of his teammates hard working and he runs the floor.

With the Raptors' aggressive defensive style, a confident productive player will thrive as bodies are needed to survive the energy levels that get used up. Powell is one of eight Raptors who play more than 20 minutes a game and one of 11 players who play more than 10 minutes per game.

At the offensive end, above and beyond the scoring this season, Powell provides exactly what the Raptors need from their second unit. With Serge Ibaka, Chris Boucher, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson at the center and forward spots, Powell and Terence Davis are the two guys that can both create offense off of the dribble and score.

In the Raptors' 121-113 victory over the Golden State Warriors on March 5th, 2020, not only did Powell score 37 points but he was 50 percent from three-point range and an efficient 13/21 overall or 61.9 percent.  He is becoming a player that opposing defenses cannot leave open but he is quick and fast enough to expose his primary defender off of the dribble if they mark him too closely.

His consistency and by extension improved scoring is a key factor in why, after both Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green left the Raptors in the off-season for teams in Los Angeles, the Raptors are as potent a team in the NBA's Eastern Conference as they were last season when they were crowned NBA Champions. His 39.8 three-point percentage more than adequately replaces Danny Green's long-range production.

Related Story:Four Toronto Raptor success stories

What is comforting about Norman Powell is that he is a gym rat. So even with his previous struggles, he has always been in the Raptors' system and rotation developing and contributing from day one. Now, after five years in the Raptors system, it might be his time to shine. The Raptors believe Powell fits into their plans and he is proving that decision correct.