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NBA Daily: Norman Powell Finding Footing with Trail Blazers

The Portland Trail Blazers parted with Gary Trent Jr. to acquire Norman Powell in hopes of being more competitive in this year’s postseason. Bobby Krivitsky dives into how the Trail Blazers have integrated Powell thus far.

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The Portland Trail Blazers shook up their roster at the trade deadline, acquiring veteran sharpshooter Norman Powell from the Toronto Raptors in exchange for Gary Trent Jr. and Rodney hood. 

In many ways, Trent Jr. is a facsimile of Powell’s, but at 27, the latter is in his prime and he’s elevated his performance since transitioning from sixth-man to full-time starter, a role in which he’s averaging 21.8 points per game this season. 

The Trail Blazers have won seven of their last 10 games, including four of their last five since Powell started suiting up for them. Those wins have helped place Portland sixth in the highly competitive Western Conference, 1.5 games behind the third-seeded Los Angeles Clippers.

Since joining his new team, Powell’s averaging 15.2 points per game while shooting 45.6 percent from the field and 45.8 percent from beyond the arc. And while at 6-foot-3, he’s two inches shorter than Trent Jr., his 6-foot-10 wingspan stretches two inches longer. That length makes it easier for Powell to be disruptive defensively – he’s generating 2.4 steals per game for Portland.

Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts is also capitalizing on Powell’s length by dialing up actions that get him touches at the rim – something that, understandably, was rarely done for Trent Jr.

 

 

New wrinkles like that are a welcome addition, but Powell’s new team is most grateful for what he does best.

 

In Powell’s debut with Portland, a win against the Orlando Magic, he made five threes en route to a 22-point performance. Here’s what Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts said after the game.

“This is what I expected (from Powell) because he knows how to play the game, he plays the way we play, he moves well without the ball, shoots 3s, he’s in shape and he defends,” Stotts said. “I wouldn’t have said he was going to score 22, but I really had a feeling that he was going to play well for us.”

To make this trade happen, the Trail Blazers had to part with a home-grown talent in Trent Jr., a former second-round pick who clawed his way into their rotation and became an important player for them. They deemed that sacrifice worth it to acquire a three-point shooter of Powell’s caliber. Out of every player who’s attempted 200 or more threes this season, the former UCLA standout has the fifth-highest three-point percentage, making 44 percent of his shots from beyond the arc, per NBA.com. Powell’s particularly effective off the catch, launching 4.3 shots of that nature per game and converting them at a 45.5 percent clip, according to NBA.com’s tracking data. And he’s lethal from the corners, knocking down 53 percent of his attempts from there. Powell has made a league-high 30 threes from the left corner.

Powell has a player option worth $11.6 million left on his deal, but it’s a safe bet he won’t exercise it. With that said, the Trail Blazers did not part with a valuable contributor who’s 22-years-old with the intention Powell’s merely a rental. Meanwhile, Trent Jr., who scored a career-high 31 points in a recent Raptors loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, is scheduled for restricted free agency this offseason. It will be a surprise if Trent Jr. is playing for someone other than Toronto to start next season.

Despite the Trail Blazers’ willingness to trade Trent Jr., the hurdle that prevented them from acquiring a player even more impactful than Powell was they’re without their first-round pick in this year’s draft, which they sacrificed to help bring Robert Covington to Portland. So while according to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports, the Trail Blazers made an effort to acquire Aaron Gordon, they couldn’t put together an enticing enough offer to persuade the Orlando Magic to trade Gordon to Portland instead of to the Denver Nuggets without overpaying. 

Gordon’s a significantly better defender than Powell and he would have given the Trail Blazers a lob threat that, despite Derrick Jones Jr.’s ability to jump out of the gym, is a dynamic their offense has lacked. Perhaps Portland’s president of basketball operations, Neil Olshey, should’ve paid the exorbitant price necessary to facilitate such a deal, but he shouldn’t get blamed for deciding not to do so.

Either way, Powell’s now in Portland, where he’s quickly finding his footing and making life easier for Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, which is why Olshey made the trade for him. 

“We think he is an outstanding fit with Dame and CJ because of his defensive versatility,” Olshey said while discussing the trade for Powell with the Portland media following the trade deadline. “He has got the length to defend twos and threes, but he also has the foot speed and quickness to guard a lot of the point guards and take some of that pressure off Dame off the point of attack defensively.”

Olshey went on to say: “I think if we can have a league-average defense and with our elite offense, we’ll be a dangerous team in the postseason.”

Those are high hopes. Time will tell how significant Powell’s impact proves to be, but the early returns are promising.

Bobby Krivitsky is an NBA analyst for Basketball Insiders.

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