Clippers’ Norman Powell is struggling, but he knows ‘sooner or later’ that will change
Norman Powell is not unused to slow starts, but four weeks after he’d begun his eighth NBA season by publicly declaring his expectations of making his first All-Star team, the Clippers guard entered the Paycom Center’s visiting locker room at halftime Tuesday having made only eight of his 32 shots, and one of his 10 three-point attempts, through his season’s first 14 quarters.
Clippers coach Tyronn Lue entered the locker room intent on getting through to him. But instead of taking him aside at his locker, Lue delivered what was intended as a vote of confidence in Powell in front of the entire team.
“He came in at halftime and told me, next time I put my head down on a missed shot, he’s taking me out the game,” Powell said. “So he’s pretty confident in my abilities and weathering the storm and waiting for that one game where everything starts dropping.”
When that game comes, “it’s gonna be an avalanche,” Powell added. “Just be ready for it.”
Powell did not drop his head in the second half of what became a 108-94 Thunder victory that dropped the Clippers to 2-2. And Lue has not dropped his belief in Powell, the 6-foot-3 guard from San Diego the Clippers added at last year’s trade deadline in a move billed as adding a third foundational piece around stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.
Kawhi Leonard and Paul George say they’re ready to pursue an NBA title this season, but the Clippers’ 112-95 loss to the Phoenix Suns is concerning.
When a foot injury cost Powell all but seven games with the team last season, this season became his first, extended opportunity to display the skill set the Clippers raved about at the time of his acquisition from Portland — the three-level scoring, the ability to guard his position well.
Though Lue doesn’t believe that Powell’s All-Star standard for his play has led him to press, Powell acknowledged that he is “nowhere where I need to be” after four games in which he has made 27% of his shots, including 8% of his three-point tries. Typically a master at one of the NBA’s dark arts, drawing shooting fouls, Powell’s free-throw rate is less than half of last season’s, per 100 possessions.
“I think I’ve just got to relax a little bit and kind of let the game come to me and make the plays that are in front of me, not just for myself but for the team,” Powell said. “I’ll go back, continue to watch film, continue to find ways where I can be better not just scoring the ball but offensively, defensively, moving the ball, playing for others and continue just to grind.
“It’s what I’m about, it’s an obstacle and I’m going to figure it out, sooner or later.”
The Clippers are hoping for sooner, with Leonard missing both games of this two-game set with the Thunder because of stiffness in his surgically repaired right knee, and George missing Tuesday’s defeat with an illness. Powell has placed his trust in his body of work that suggests his slow starts do eventually end.
During the 2019-20 season, Powell shot 40% overall and 26% on three-pointers through the first 11 games. Then, over the season’s finale 41 games, he shot 51% overall and 42% on threes.
In 2020-21’s first 14 games, Powell shot 39% — though 40% on threes. Over his final 55 games, he shot 49% and 41% from three.
“One thing about me,” Powell said, “I always figure it out.”
Powell isn’t the only Clippers guard hoping for their production to turn around quickly. Starting point guard Reggie Jackson is hurting more because of a groin injury than he is perhaps letting on, Lue said, but Jackson said the injury was “no excuse” for his play, which includes 30% shooting and defense that was allowing opposing guards into the paint too easily.+
Though the Clippers certainly want Powell’s shooting to pick up, Lue more so wants Powell to remain aggressive regardless, and has been pleased with Powell‘s intent. His 30 drives lead the Clippers — though they have resulted in six turnovers and only six points for Powell.
“I am not mad about his shot attempts,” Lue said. “I don’t really go off missed shots. I go off the way you play and tonight I thought he did a better job.”
With Kawhi Leonard and John Wall not playing, Paul George finishes with 40 points as the Clippers hold off a late surge to defeat the Sacramento Kings.
Powell “played the right way” against the Thunder by getting into the paint, Lue added.
“He is not going to make every shot, we understand that,” the coach said. “He has to understand that and not get down on himself. It’s part of the game. Because he works too hard, he puts too much work in to not be able to come out of his shooting slump.”
Powell feels his coaches and teammates continue to support him. He smiled when forward Robert Covington spoke up Tuesday, while Powell was answering reporters, to say that over the course of a long season, “the percentages is going to always change.”
Lue also tried to add some levity into the particularly intense guard’s outlook when he told him during a previous game that neither Lue nor Michael Jordan made every shot they took, either.
“I gave a little chuckle,” Powell said. “It’s always good to have a coach that’s pushing for you, rooting for you, and knows what makes you tick and definitely relaxed me a little bit.
“Didn’t go out there and all of a sudden turn around and hit every shot but definitely a different perspective and letting me just relax and ‘No, I got this,’ and I think that’s what he was trying to tell me. Like, you got this, relax and let it come to you and it’s going to happen.”
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