Norman Powell’s stats as a starter have become a hot topic for the Toronto Raptors in the early part of this season. It seems as though every time he starts he plays better. Whenever he’s asked about it, he confirms that he’d prefer to be a starter because the flow and rhythm of the game suit him better as a starter.
“When you’re starting the game you can kind of feel how the game is going, the flow of the game early on, where your spots are coming, how the defence is guarding you, the pace of the game,” Powell said back on January 8. “When you’re starting, you’re able to dictate and get into a rhythm. Coming off the bench you’re trying to catch the game. You’re trying to watch and study how the defence is guarding us, what they’re doing and how the offence is going, where the shots are going, and you’re coming in trying to pick that up and enhance the energy and things like that. So there’s just a flow and feel thing.”
This year Powell is averaging 17.8 points in his four starts while shooting 53% from the floor compared to just 10.5 points on 35.4% shooting in his 11 games off the bench.
But as Raptors coach Nick Nurse points out, the difference for Powell might not just be a spot in the starting lineup.
Three of Powell’s four starts this season have come with either Kyle Lowry or Pascal Siakam out of the lineup. In those three games, Powell is averaging 20.7 points on 59% shooting. Then there’s his one other start which came against Golden State when Nurse opted to go with his small-ball lineup and start Powell instead of a centre. In that game, Powell had nine points and was 3-for-8 from the field. It’s tough to read too much into a one-game sample or just four starts, but, as Nurse explained, it might not just be about starting Powell per se.
“Twice Kyle’s out, he starts, once Pascal’s out, he starts and he has really, really good games. All three of those and gets off to a fast start,” Nurse said. “Again, it becomes opportunity, it’s a different opportunity. All the balls that are flowing through Kyle are flowing through Norm, he gets to get his confidence, and gets touches, and gets to feeling the ball really early in the game when that’s the lineup.”
Moving Powell into the starting lineup with Lowry, Siakam, and Fred VanVleet, wouldn’t really change Powell’s offensive usage. He’d still only be the fourth offensive option. It’s when you take out one of those higher usage offensive players and put Powell in that he seems to succeed.
The problem, as Nurse said, is trying to find a combination that gets the most out of everyone. You can’t take Lowry out of the starting lineup, nor Siakam, and while VanVleet is the only one you could make an argument for swapping Powell for, VanVleet is leading the Raptors in scoring this season and has done nothing to warrant a bench spot.
“It’s tricky man,” Nurse said. “That’s how intricate it is.”
Having too much talent is rarely a bad thing, but the Raptors might just be in a situation where they can’t truly maximize all their guys.