After the Toronto Raptors made it 10-straight wins, with a victory over the struggling Detroit Pistons last Friday, the club was unfortunately dealt a big injury blow with the announcement that Norman Powell would be out indefinitely with a fractured left hand. This is nothing new for the Raptors – who have dealt with 163 games missed by players due to injury.
But with all the shuffling line-ups this season, no player on the team has been forced to adapt more and still produce consistently at a high level as much as Powell. And in the midst of a career year for the former UCLA Bruin, Toronto will certainly miss what he’s offered all season.
Ever since Powell signed that $42 million contract to keep him with the Raptors until 2021-22, there have been critics that have balked at the deal, and before last season’s championship run he didn’t do much to silence them. However, Powell averaged career-highs across the board last year and played a significant role in helping Toronto hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy for the first time in franchise history.
The addition of previous champions, Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green surely motivated Powell and the rest of the team throughout the year, but with those players gone, Powell has taken his game to another level this season and it started with his offseason training.
For two days in August of 2019, an exclusive group of around 20 NBA players, that included Leonard, were selected by invite only to attend a minicamp hosted by the late future first ballot hall of famer, Kobe Bryant. Thanks to former Raptors assistant coach, and current Lakers assistant coach, Phil Handy, Powell was able to score an invitation.
With Powell growing up just south of Los Angeles, Bryant became his favourite player. So having the chance to be among such a select group that would be learning from the 18-time all-star became the opportunity of a lifetime.
“To be able to sit, talk and see him break down the game – like, that’s my favourite player. I always try to take his mentality and approach to the game and implement that into the way I played – the competitive fire, passion and daily grind of getting better and working on the little things,” Powell explained to TSN’s Josh Lewenberg after one of the practice sessions in August.
And Bryant’s advice has helped to propel Powell into the discussion for the sixth man of the year award. The 26-year old is averaging a career-high 15.3 points a game – nearly seven points more than his previous best. And it doesn’t end there; Powell is averaging career-highs in assists, rebounds, blocks and steals.
Powell has also come alive late in games, embodying the ‘mamba mentality’ in times when the Raptors needed clutch baskets. Whether he starts or comes off the bench, it’s rare to not find the resurgent second round pick on the floor with games still in the balance.
Sadly, the world was rocked on January 26th when news broke of the tragic passing of Bryant, his daughter Gianna and the seven others who were aboard the helicopter that went down in Calabasas. Powell, among many others, mourn this great loss to this day.
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Powell pledged to be one of those that would honour Bryant’s legacy going forward, and he certainly has done that on the floor. He was part of a January run that saw Toronto go 10-1, including a stretch where the former Bruin scored 20-plus points in a career-high five straight games; that streak starting in his first game back from a shoulder injury that saw him miss 11 contests.
The Raptors hold a 36-14 record, good for third best in the NBA, and while Powell would love to be out there continuing to contribute to the success of the club, the team knows it can count on him to return with the same ‘mamba mentality’ that has transformed his game, and his career to this point.