In a season highlighted by the rise of players such as Terence Davis and Chris Boucher, Pascal Siakam continuing growth as a star, OG Anunoby and Marc Gasol looking like all-defence players, Kyle Lowry failing to let father time catch up, and Fred VanVleet surprising some, it is easy for those not belonging to the Toronto Raptors fanbase to overlook what Norman Powell has done. Though I would not call him the best, as this is clearly Pascal, I find it reasonable to view Powell as the most reliable scorer the team has had throughout the 2019-2020 campaign.
Fun little stat for you all: in games where Norm received 14 or more field goal attempts (there were 17 instances of this throughout the season), he had rough averages of 24.8 PPG on .701% true shooting. I’m sure everyone can recognize how impressive that point average is, but to put the true shooting into perspective, the average shooting guard this season owns .519%. The differential between those two numbers is clearly immense, and it remains that way even if you look at Powell’s averages for the entire season (being 16.4 PPG on .629%).
Of course, none of this is to say that the 27-year-old would put these superstar numbers up consistently if given the increase in shots. That would be unfair to expect from anyone. What it is meant to imply is that Powell’s scoring has been exceptional (to say the least) this season. So what is it that makes him so great? I’ve narrowed it down to four different traits in his offence: off-ball movement, acceleration, shooting technique, and his finishing savvy. His whole scoring game has become very aesthetically appealing, and to show that off let’s start looking into the way he shoots the ball.
Though I am not an expert in shooting form, there are a few characteristics about Powell’s I have noticed (and they tend to peak when his shot is actually successful). The biggest one has to do with elevation and release. Already known to have quite the vertical, Norm uses this to his advantage to avoid being too contested by defenders. He also tends to get the ball off right before he starts to descend. Just take a look at the clip below do see for yourself:
He also happens to keep his body fairly straight and his arms lined up nicely. His follow-through looks pretty clean. Everything manages to look simultaneously mechanical yet fluid, and it has been working excellently for him seeing that he is knocking three-pointers down at a .398% clip at 5.4 attempts per game. Crazy, isn’t it?
Though he does rank in the 83.7th percentile of spot-up shooting (on 3.7 such possessions), the UCLA product is more than that. He also ranks in the 74.5th percentile shooting off the screen, doing this 1.6 times per game. This is where the aforementioned off-ball movement comes into play.
Plays like the one below showcase Norm’s ability to shake off his defender and create space for himself. Specifically, in this instance above against the Atlanta Hawks, Powell gets a step ahead of DeAndre Bembry. He then uses a pair of screens from Siakam and Gasol to completely eliminate the Hawk from being a factor. Having known that the paint would be empty given (a) the clear spacing, and (b) having seen where the defence was positioned, this sets him up for an easy ‘oop.
He is not very reliant on screens either. He is pretty good at finding and exploiting lapses in the defence that many players would not be able to execute themselves. This particular clip shows Norm using his speed to get past a distracted Bryn Forbes to make the reverse layup to ensure help defence from LaMarcus Aldridge would not be much of a problem.
There is also a good amount of craftiness and creativity. My favourite case of this would be this play where he passes the ball off to Pascal, fakes communication with Patrick McCaw, then darts to the basket while receiving the ball back from Siakam. Though he does not get the basket, the defence was forced into a position where they had to foul him (note, he is getting to the line at a .067% higher rate compared to last season; an admirable increase).
This speed, or to be more specific, acceleration, is something that Powell greatly benefits from. Given his lack of ability to shake off defenders with his handle, his primary method to create separation with the ball in his hands comes from his legs.
A case of this had been shown against the Denver Nuggets. Receiving a handoff and screen, this gives him a little bit of space from Canada’s own, Jamal Murray. While this helps, what it ultimately did was open up the door for Norm to pick up the pace. He leaves Murray in the dust and is then faced with Nikola Jokic in the paint. Instead of going directly at the giant, Powell swings to the side so he can get a step ahead of him for an easy layup.
This acceleration is especially useful in transition scoring (Norm clocks in at the77.8th percentile of transition scoring on 4.4 attempts). Just look below, no breakdown is needed.
As can be seen, there is a little more craftiness to his touch. Instead of going straight up, he managed to switch hands for the reverse layup to avoid getting blocked/fouled. This is not rare for Powell, as he has shown to have quite the bag of tricks when it comes to his finishing at the basket.
Oh boy, this is a beauty. With Serge Ibaka trapped inside by three Houston Rockets, Norm comes to the top of the free-throw line to bail him out. He immediately recognizes he has a straight path to the rim, and instead of going straight up or trying to draw a foul, he guarantees two-points by working a slight fake with his right hand but ultimately scooping it in with his left. Clint Capela could only do so much here, and it’s magic like this that has helped Powell successfully make .683% of his shots within 3 feet of the hole.
At the end of the day, it’s hard to not be impressed with the scorer that the former second-round pick has become. Now, don’t expect him to return to the game continuing his uber-efficient 28 PPG streak he ended the season on (excluding the Utah Jazz game, of course, seeing as he had an early exit), as he (just like any other player) may need some time to get back in the groove. Fortunately, Stormin Norman is a known gym-rat and his scoring game is so calculated that it’s hard to imagine that he struggles too much.