Terrence Ross has been traded along with the worse of the Toronto Raptors’ two first-round picks for Serge Ibaka, AKA Air Congo, AKA The Serge Protector, and this is the best thing that has ever happened in Norman Powell‘s young career.
In any workplace people occupy designated roles. The custodian keeps the office clean, the supervisors supervise and the assistants assist. When everyone plays their role correctly everything runs smoothly and efficiently. NBA teams work the same way; coaches coach, shooters shoot and playmakers, well, make plays. When there are redundancies in the typical office someone either changes roles or is let go, but in the NBA you become the Toronto Raptors Norman Powell.
Good players in the NBA aren’t simply let go, they play, even if there is some sort of redundancy the coach tries to make an adjustment to utilize their talents. Powell’s redundancy on the roster ran so deep, even though he’s very good at what he does, he was kept off the floor.
Powell is the three and D wing teams pang for. He shoots 34 percent from range this year (40 percent last year) taking them four times a game, which is a decent clip for a player that doesn’t use the three-point shot as his main weapon. Powell is a die-hard driver even if the lane and angle isn’t necessarily there, taking it to the tin is his forte within the half or full court. He isn’t a stopper defensively but knows how and when to leverage his athleticism to create turnovers. Righteous in a vacuum, but Powell is a shooting guard, an undersized shooting guard at that.
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Powell doesn’t start for obvious reasons, DeMar DeRozan happens to be very good at basketball and happens to play on the Raptors. Then there’s the enigmatic Terrence Ross.
Powell is a patient, loyal soldier. Every interview taken was an opportunity for him to proselytize readiness for his moment and it’s finally here. Ross has been traded along with the worse of the Raptors’ two first-round picks for Serge Ibaka, AKA Air Congo, AKA The Serge Protector, and this is the best thing that has ever happened in Powell’s young Career.
Nobody denies how good Powell is, he dropped 18+ eight times this season, his issue was equity. Ross is a magnet for fan ire and battled the issue of confidence and consistency up until this season. Ross, for all of his turbulence with the Toronto Raptors still gained the benefit of the doubt went it came to the rotation.
Ross was the spark plug for the Raptors. Coming off the bench he experimented with just how hot or cold you could be as a basketball player. With a new gunslinger mentality Ross hoisted shots with reckless abandon leading coach Dwane Casey to stick with Ross when the fits and starts happened. Coaches preach aggressiveness and attack mode, so when Ross finally displayed these qualities Casey rode him. Shooters are always better when Gung ho than gun-shy.
That left Powell as the third guard off the bench and second shooting guard leaving him mired in the rotation. Powell’s minutes off the bench were inconsistent at best and it impaired his effectiveness. In November and December Powell averaged 16 minutes a game and posted scoring totals just under seven points per competition. In January his minute totals scaled up due to injury and he responded when given the minutes, 19 minutes a game meant nine points a game, and when Feburary rolled around, Powell’s 22 minutes per game yielded 10 points per game.
Powell’s play scales up with minutes and that due to his complimentary skillset. When you’re at your best when you’re shooting threes and playing defense, a modern playstyle is designed to bolster those abilities.
Powell didn’t always come off the bench though. He got some starts here and there. When the Raptors rested DeMarre Carroll on back-to-backs, Powell, not Ross, drew the start. Dwane Casey seemingly never does anything by the book and instead of slotting in his beloved gunslinger wing in Ross, Powell was the stop-gap, seeing the floor for seriously extended minutes.
In those 15 starts this year Mr. Serious averaged 14.9 points a game, while shooting 40 percent from deep, snagging a handful of rebounds, a steal and two assists. All this within 31 minutes of play. Powell seemed like the only player in the league that could go from 0 to 100 and remain unaffected. The night before Powell played 35 minutes and dropped 20 points on the Celtics, he played seven minutes, with zero points scored against the Timberwolves. Powell never has consistent minutes on the team so his contribution wildly varies but there just wasn’t enough of them.
Casey’s rotation was unorthodox and could have squeezed out a few more minutes for Powell but it’s hard to see how Powell superseded anyone in front of him in a pre-Ibaka world. With Ross gone, Norm gets to sop up all those glorious bench minutes and finally gets a defined role within the organization. It’s a rare scenario for players but in Mr. Serious’ case, minutes = production, always, and with Ross gone the Raptors are about to reap some serious benefits.