MISSISSAUGA, Ont. — When a player is averaging 26.3 points per game the way Norman Powell was for Raptors 905 coming into their Wednesday morning tilt against the Erie Bayhawks, there are certain things you expect to see from him.
Five points on 2-for-4 shooting in 34 minutes certainly isn’t one of them. Yet those were Powell scoring numbers after the 905’s 106-96 victory over the Bayhawks, who found other ways to contribute in the win.
Powell left the game late in the fourth quarter in apparent pain, another sight most would have preferred not to have seen. After the contest he said he was “alright” and that some incidental contact involving his knee forced him to exit the game.
Axel Toupane led all scorers with 29 points, while Brampton, Ont. native Sim Bhullar had one of his better games with the 905, scoring 10 points on 5-of-7 shooting.
Minnesota Timberwolves prospect Adreian Payne poured in a team-high 26, while Canadians Melvin Ejim and Myck Kabongo scored eight and two points, respectively, for Erie in a game that saw their team buried midway through the second quarter, down by as much as 25 and trailing 56-38 at the half.
The massive lead likely played a factor as the game went along, but from the opening tip it looked as if Powell was consciously making an effort to play distributor for his team.
In his six previous D-League games, the 22-year-old Powell averaged 20.2 field-goal attempts per contest, but on Wednesday he didn’t even take five. This certainly looked like a developmental move on the part of the Toronto Raptors to pull him more in line with what coach Dwane Casey wants to see from him when he’s up with the big club.
The drives that he was previously finishing before resulted in kickouts and opportunities to swing the ball, and he was much more active as a feeder in the pick-and-roll than he ever has been in his time spent in Mississauga. Powell finished with six assists.
"[The Raptors] want to see me be a playmaker and set other guys up," Powell said after the game. "Right now they got scorers on there with DeMar [DeRozan], K-Low [Kyle Lowry], T-Ross [Terrence Ross], [Luis] Scola. They're looking for me to come in here and provide energy, play defence and get guys the ball in their spots. So that's what I'm working on down here. Becoming a better playmaker, reading the floor, better IQ, things like that."
Having Powell work on his decision-making while on assignment makes sense from the Raptors perspective as he isn’t likely to be a scoring machine in the NBA, nor is that a role Toronto has him pegged for.
Powell represents a pretty big part of the Raptors’ future as he checks a lot of the boxes that Casey and the organization look for in a player: Tough, athletic and defensive-minded. He’s been compared by 905 coach Jesse Mermuys to Memphis Grizzlies stopper Tony Allen and, given the injury woes to DeMarre Carroll, could see his timeline to meaningfully contribute with the Raptors pushed up as a guy who comes in and locks a guy down for spurts.
"Norm has, obviously, scored the basketball for us," Mermuys said. ""He's an athletic, strong slashing guard and he's had success doing that. It's nice to see him buying into us trying to develop parts of his game and see what he can do from a playmaking standpoint. That's going to take time, but the great thing is he's bought in to do it. He's willing to develop and that he doesn't need to come out here and get 30 to make a statement to get better."
This is why it’s so important that he works on keeping the flow of the team’s offence going as opposed to just getting to the basket at-will and putting up big scoring figures as he’s already proved he’s capable of in the D-League.
Wednesday’s contest was a step in the right direction to accomplishing that. He wasn’t perfect adjusting, turning the ball over five times, but he also didn’t look uncomfortable either.
This is a good sign for both Powell and the Raptors.