This afternoon, Norman Powell became just the 10th player in Toronto Raptors franchise history to win the Eastern Conference Player of the Week award, joining Pascal Siakam, Kyle Lowry, Kawhi Leonard, DeMar DeRozan, Lou Williams, Chris Bosh, Jalen Rose, Vince Carter, and Mike James. Powell also became the first second-round pick in Raptors history to earn these honours.
The award serves as recognition for not only Powell’s stellar play since returning from injury last week, but for the breakout season which he’s been enjoying all year. After struggling season after season to break into the rotation in a comfortable and consistent role, Powell is averaging 29.5 minutes through 43 games that he’s appeared in this time around, ranking him fifth on the team in minutes per game.
Powell’s journey has been well-chronicled. He was a breakout player as a sophomore in the 2016-2017 season, and when it seemed like everyone from the top to the bottom of the Raptors roster flamed out in The 2017 Playoffs, Powell was the one bright spot who’s light brightened. As a 23-year-old, he only elevated his game, as one would expect a seasoned star to do.
The following season, he was pegged as a favourite league-wide to win Most Improved Player honours, getting a chance to finally step into a larger role and play starters minutes, with two perennial All-Stars to learn from in Lowry and DeRozan right next to him. He started the season off cold, albeit hopeful that he might pick up his game eventually, before an untimely hip injury in the twelfth game of the season against the Boston Celtics. That allowed the rookie sensation OG Anunoby a chance to step in as a starter, and he would never give his spot back to Powell after that point. Norm even struggled to find a role off the bench, after the phenomenon of the Raptors bench mob grew, and Dwane Casey was reluctant to break up that core. Even though Norm was probably a more suitable piece in that unit than C.J. Miles was, he only saw 15.2 minutes per game, and his numbers across the board were down from the season prior.
Last season obviously, he was playing in a largely diminished role again, taking a backseat to the newly acquired Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, who combined to fill 69.0 of 96 available minutes on the wing. Norm also had to share some time off the bench with OG Anunoby, and was playing with a tighter leash, given that Nick Nurse could substitute him with one of the best players in the world at any time he wanted. Though not the season that Powell or his fans had longed for, he proved that he’s capable of being a solid bench piece for a contender, and demonstrated flashes of elite shooting, gunning down 40.0% of his looks from deep. Despite the lack of individual production, he was more than happy with the summer that followed – winning a championship, and seeing the departures of Green and Leonard, which meant that he would once again earn his opportunity to impress.
That, he did.
This season, Norm’s minutes are up nearly 57%, which has led to career highs in three-point percentage, field goal percentage, points per game, assists per game, and rebounds per game.
Per 36 minutes, his figures are star-esque, at 20.5 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 2.2 assists – comparable to Khris Middleton’s season averages as an All-Star, of 21.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 4.1 assists per game. Not to mention, Norman Powell doesn’t have the luxury of playing with Giannis Antetokounmpo, who ranks 8th in the league in creating offense within his team, based on EPCPM.
A couple of shoulder and finger injuries have held Norm out for 20 of the Raptors 63 games this season, but even with the basketball gods acting out of his favour, he keeps on coming back stronger. Since returning from his fractured finger which held him out for nine contests, Norm has been on a tear, scoring over 30 points twice, setting a career-high 37 against Golden State on Thursday, and averaging 28.0 points, 2.8 rebounds, 2.8 assists, and 1.4 steals in the past five games.
There are no signs of Norm slowing down, even with Fred VanVleet’s return looming. As long as he continues to play this well, there should be no reason for Nick Nurse to sit him down. Powell might finally be that third elite scorer in addition to Lowry and Siakam that the Raptors have been worried about all season long.
Masai Ujiri’s and Bobby Webster’s decision to sit tight at the trade deadline might be proving to be the right one. A healthy Raptors squad firing on all cylinders is arguably the best defensive team in the league, and if Norm, Lowry, and Siakam are all playing at their peak offensively with secondary guys making their open looks, Toronto could become the first team of the new era to make a finals appearance with no true superstars. The first step in that direction is for Norm to keep this up.