This time last year Norman Powell was leading the 11-seed UCLA Bruins to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament. This spring he’s trying to achieve an even more unlikely feat: crack Dwane Casey’s playoff rotation as an NBA rookie.
A second-round draft pick for the Toronto Raptors last June, Powell is currently starting—and contributing—for the team with the fourth-best record in the NBA. On Tuesday in Milwaukee he posted single-game career bests in not only points (17), but also minutes (35), threes (three) and blocks (two).
Powell’s surplus floor time came in part because DeMar DeRozan‘s absence due to scheduled rest. But even when DeRozan is back in the lineup and DeMarre Carroll returns from injury, Powell is making a strong case for continued minutes.
I chatted with the 22-year-old guard, who is determined to fight through the rookie wall to provide some much-needed fight to the Raptors backcourt, now and into the post-season.
Donnovan Bennett: In the summer league in Las Vegas you told me you had an idea [of what you wanted to accomplish], but weren’t exactly sure what to expect this year. How has your rookie season met your expectations?
Norman Powell: It lived up to everything I thought it would be—the early struggles of just not knowing when you are going to play while trying to be a good teammate and just working during the long season.
DB: What has surprised you?
NP: Everything you do, no matter how much rest you get you still feel tired. That’s the biggest thing, but it’s been fun. I’ve been learning a lot. I’ve been making mistakes but it’s helped me develop my game and gain confidence in myself.
DB: What is the toughest part of staying ready?
NP: Not being able to play is tough. No matter if you play one minute or [don't play] at all in 15 straight games I just know I’m doing something bigger. I don’t just work for the next game. I’m trying to prove myself and have a long career. I’m just trying to embrace the grind so that when your name is called you are ready for that opportunity. That’s how I look at it. I keep that chip on my shoulder so that when I am in there I can show everybody I belong.
NP: It's fun! It's something I dreamed of as a kid. I wished I came in the league a little bit earlier so I could guard Kobe in his prime. That was my favourite player. Guarding guys like McCollum and Korver really helps me. It makes me go at them a lot harder because they are established in the league and I want to establish myself, too. It helps me increase my game and increase my energy because I want to shut those guys down and show that I’m better and I belong.
DB: Now that you are in the league are you still wearing Nike Kobes?
NP: I wear Kobes all the time. I keep Kobes on my feet.
DB: Did you get to guard him at all this year?
NP: When we played them I guarded him for a couple possessions. It was crazy! I tried not to be a fan... just going at him and making it difficult for him.
DB: Did you talk to him at all?
NP: No, I think I was too shy and nervous to talk while in the presence of Kobe.
DB: What will this pre-playoff audition mean for your development?
NP: I think it's going to be really big for me. I think I just need to continue to learn the offence, learn spacing and get myself open. Just making plays for the future. If they need me in there in crunch time I want the coaches to feel confident and comfortable to throw me out there. Just continuing to build up to get ready for summer league and off-season workouts.
DB: Do you think you have enough time to prove you should be in the playoff rotation?
NP: Yeah, definitely. That’s what I’m doing it for. I’m playing for that big scene. I’m ready for it. Hopefully the coaches see my continual effort on the court getting in extra work and putting up shots with [assistant coaches] Jama [Mahlalela] and [Jerry Stackhouse]. If they need to get Kyle or DeMar or T-Ross some rest they aren’t going to lose anything while I’m out there on the court.