So far 2017 has not been kind to the Toronto Raptors. The team struggled mightily in the month of January and Coach Dwane Casey might have to make some changes to his lineup to shake up the team chemistry. The first thing Casey has done is to bring Patrick Patterson into the starting lineup since he has returned from injury at the beginning of January. The return of Jared Sullinger from foot surgery means that former starter Pascal Siakam has been routed to the bench. This has improved the team slightly, yet the Raptors are still struggling despite having an easy schedule. The solution to these problems is staring the Toronto Raptors in the face, start Norman Powell.
Since Demar DeRozan went down with a sprained ankle, Norman Powell has stepped in and performed better than expected. In the five games without DeRozan, Powell has played over 30 minutes in every game and had a net positive in each start. He has taken a portion of DeRozan’s scoring role averaging 17.6 points per game, a full ten points better than his season average. During this great stretch, Powell has shot 57% from the field, getting to the rim with elite quickness and exploding over secondary defenders to finish with a variety of moves. His explosiveness on offense is something that would give Toronto an extra weapon when DeRozan eventually returns.
As it stands now, the starting small forward is Demarre Carroll. To say Carroll has not lived up to expectations in Toronto would be an understatement. He was supposed to be the floor-spacer that gave Kyle Lowry, Demar DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas room to operate around the rim. He is only shooting 34% from three from around five attempts a game. That is simply not good enough when most of his shots are wide open kick-outs. Unfortunately, Norman Powell also shoots 34% from three this season. What makes him the better option is his ability to attack close-outs. DeRozan and Lowry will invariably penetrate and create a scramble situation for defenses. Carroll has been the outlet for all he does is catch and shoot. Powell can shoot the same percentage as Carroll, but also has the ability to put the ball on the floor and get easy layups.
The Raptors are a very good fast-break team despite not playing at a particularly high pace. When they do run, they average 13.8 fast-break points per game. Norman Powell is a one-man wrecking ball in the fast-break. He can bring their offense to another level by getting easy scores in transition. Carroll is often resigned to running to the corner, it is extremely rare that he leads the break. This added ball-handler can allow better shooters such as Lowry and Patterson to run to the wings for wide open shots.
The big issue for most fans will be on the defensive end on the floor. Carroll is billed as an “elite” defender with size to guard the big, strong small forwards of the NBA. Despite only being 6’4 there is a misconception that players can simply shoot over him. Powell has an insane 6”11 wingspan and a 40-inch max vertical according to DraftExpress.com. Meaning he can play much bigger than his height, this much was proven by the way he guarded the 6’9 Paul George in the first round of the playoffs last season. Powell is much more active than Carroll as a help defender and his on-ball defense would be at the very least on-par with that of Carroll.
The massive upside that Powell offers Toronto on offense over Carroll should be enough to convince Casey to move Powell up to the starting position. He might not have the traditional height to guard small forwards. Powell does have the wingspan, defensive instincts and athleticism to guard them just as well as Carroll. This could be the answer to the problematic losing streak that the Raptors have had since the beginning of 2017.