The Toronto Raptors experienced a shift in the direction of their franchise this off-season.
Instead of pursuing replacements in free agency, they decided to give the opportunities to their younger players. With their extension of Norman Powell, the team has displayed even more faith in one of their most promising young players.
The Raptors signed Powell to a 4-year extension worth $42 million through 2022. The third year guard/forward will turn 25 this season, meaning he is locked up until he is 30 years old.
But with him being an older player, the time for him to prove himself is now.
Powell took a step back last season in the two aspects of his game that are most valuable to the Raptors. His three point shooting dropped 8 percent from his rookie season, down to 32.8 percent.
That number was much closer to the 31.4 percent averaged in his four seasons in college. That should raise some concern regarding whether or not he can become an average three point shooter, or if his shooting during his rookie season was just an aberration.
While the shooting may be inconsistent, the defensive drop-off was the most concerning. In his rookie season, Powell was 18th among shooting guards in DRPM, with a rating of 0.09.
However, in his sophomore season he dropped to 51st among shooting guards with a rating of -1.01.
The tracking data on his defensive drop-off also didn’t paint a pretty picture. In his rookie season, opponents shot 0.9 percent worse than expected when guarded by Powell.
Yet last season, they shot 3.1 percent better than expected. If Powell is going to become a consistent contributor for the Raptors, it’ll need to start on the defensive end.
The other area where Powell’s game dropped off was with his ability to space the floor. After shooting 40.4 percent from behind the arc as a rookie, he shot just 32.2 percent during his sophomore season.
Some regression was to be expected, as he shot 31.4 percent during his four seasons at UCLA. It would be unfair to expect Powell to suddenly become a dead-eye three point shooter. However he has shown an ability to get hot for stretches and space the floor.
While Powell declined in some aspects of his game, there were some meaningful areas of growth throughout his second season.
As a rookie, Powell shot only 41.3 percent on drives. However during his sophomore season, Powell finished 52 percent of his drives. He was far more confident and dynamic when putting the ball on the floor, giving the team something they were lacking in DeMarre Carroll.
Even with Powell’s three point shooting dropping off, his improved ability to finish drives help offset that. His true shooting percentage increased from 54.1 percent to 55.2 percent.
When you put the picture together, it’s not hard to see why the Raptors put their faith in Powell. He became more dynamic last season, even if it came at the expense of his defense and shooting range.
The team can live with streaky shooting as long as he brings energy defensively and is aggressive in attacking the basket. If he can at the very least return to form defensively, the contract will be a bargain.