After an embarrassing first-round sweep at the hands of the Washington Wizards, the Toronto Raptors’ front office seemed destined to make immediate changes to their personnel. They didn’t waste any time, as they shipped out the shimmying backup Point Guard Greivis Vasquez to the Milwaukee Bucks in exchange for the 2015 No. 46 pick and the Clippers’ 2017 first round pick. That mid second rounder eventually turned into 22-year old UCLA product, Norman Powell.
After taking 23-year old Delon Wright earlier that night at No. 20, Masai Ujiri and his scouting team opted to draft a second senior in Powell, presumably to bypass the normal development time of a 19 or 20-year old. In Powell, the Raptors add a scrappy Shooting Guard with a low center of gravity that is coming out of four years of college basketball with a big-time program. During his time as a Bruin, he steadily progressed from a freshman that averaged just 4.6 points, 2.2 rebounds and 1.2 assists to a senior that put up 16.4 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.1 assists in the 2014-2015 campaign. His efforts led UCLA to three straight NCAA tournaments in 2013, 2014 and 2015, while reaching the Sweet 16 in the latter two.
Graphic via sltrib
Praised for his relentless work ethic and defensive toughness, the -4 Guard brings intense athleticism to the table, as he finished near the top of run-jump measurements in this year’s NBA draft combine. At UCLA, his outstanding -11 reach was on full display as it adds to his already exceptional finishing ability around the rim and through contact. Coming in at , most scouts tend to agree that he already possesses an NBA-level frame, citing his strength as a strong point.
Powell doesn’t possess the necessary ball skills or play style to warrant giving him minutes as a floor general, so he’ll strictly be playing the 2-Guard, where at -4 he is slightly undersized by NBA standards. This could spell trouble as he adjusts as a rookie, especially on the defensive end. His 3PT shot is there, but it is nowhere close to consistent. Though he is prone to hot streaks, his shot comes and goes, which is a red flag in today’s game.
Shortly after this year’s draft, Powell was assigned to the Raptors’ Las Vegas Summer League team where he was eventually honored with a spot in the All-NBA Summer League First Team, joining Seth Curry, Doug McDermott, T.J. Warren and MVP Kyle Anderson. During five games in Las Vegas, Powell put up solid averages of 18.5 points and 4.2 rebounds in just 25.5 minutes per game. It was widely speculated that Powell would first spend some time with the Raptors’ new D-League team to gather some NBA experience beforehand, but Ujiri had to have liked what he saw at the Summer League and handed a rookie-scale contract to the second round pick after just the third game.
With the Raptors’ backcourt seemingly shaping up to start the season, Powell will have to earn his minutes, which will likely come sparingly at the start. Barring any trades, Canada’s squad is exceptionally deep at the shooting guard position, with All-Star Demar DeRozan eating up a chunk of minutes, and swingman Terrence Ross likely coming off the bench with the addition of Demarre Carroll. Furthermore, Dwane Casey loves to opt for a guard-heavy rotation, often playing multiple Point Guards at the same time. He will also have to compete with the likes of Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph and fellow rook, Delon Wright. Powell looks to be a hidden gem with the No. 46 selection and has all the right tools and the attitude to remain in the league for a long time.
Graphic via timesofsandiego