It's rare these days to have a four- year significant rotation player/starter at a high major school, but Norman Powell is back for his senior year with the Bruins, and NBCSports is calling him their number five breakout star for 2014-15.
If he's not a first-team all-Pac 12 performer, it will be a disappointment.
That's a lofty goal for Norman, but the Bruins need it after Kyle, Zach and Jordan left for the NBA and Jon Octeus was denied admission to the graduate program (Purdue picked him up with immediate eligibility). I'll get back to whether or not that's a key to the season, but first, can Norman live up to these expectations?
Norman certainly had a good summer; NBCSports and NBADraft.net noticed. According to his bio and stats, his contribution has increased every year while, arguably, his minutes were less than deserved for the last two seasons. I don't think minutes will be an issue this year. Like Alford says, "everyone has to do more do more now."
We know these positives about Norman:
- Teams' top defender. His defensive intensity has ratcheted up steadily.
- Best move to the hole - better than Zach's because Zach couldn't finish.
- Excellent on the wing during a fast break
If you clicked on the link to his stats, you will quickly notice the main downside that I hope Norman turned into an upside over the summer: his three-point shooting - last season he was only 29%. Unless there is some other scoring machine on the team, a college 2 can't be a poor shooter beyond the arc these days, and replacing last year's scoring is the number one issue with this year's edition of the Bruins.
The PAC-12 names ten first team all-conference players each year and seven are gone from last year's team, so I think this it's a reasonable expectation for Norman. He has more upside than the two guards left, Randle and Wright, but he's likely a big notch below Stanley Johnson, incoming freshman for Arizona.
There's an intangible element as well. Norman is a senior, and in his fourth year, this will finally be his team, and I do believe he will accept the leadership mantle. I met Norman at the open practice last year, and I was impressed. It's a small thing, but I noticed that he and Kyle were the only two players to come in from behind the ropes to talk to their fans and sign autographs (by contrast, Jordan Adams stayed behind the ropes and seemed awkward and reticent).
Will it make a difference to the Bruins in terms of wins and losses? Frankly, I have to say no until I see how the new guys play. In a way, given what's happened with the roster, I have to agree with Alford: everyone just has to do more - it's part of the job definition for Bruin players this year.
Norman will face obstacles this year:
- Just like Jordan Adams, to the extent that there are good defensive guards left in the PAC-12, Norman will draw a better defender every game.
- The team might adopt more of a back-to-the-basket look and run less.
- Without Octeus, Norman won't get that much help with perimeter defense.
- Whether its Isaac Hamilton or Bryce Alford, he probably won't get set up as well as last year.
- He's going to find himself in the 3 position and closer to the basket more often this year.
I've had themes and keys in my earlier previews of the season: first it was challenging Arizona with Jordan Adams and the new bigs, and then I shifted to the defensive and rebounding orientation with Octeus, Powell and Looney. My keys were scoring from Isaac Hamilton and the ability to put a dominating, big lineup on the floor. And now? Well... I guess everyone has to do more, and be better, and then the Bruins will challenge for second place in the PAC-12.
In recruiting news, Jaylen Brown changed the date for his official visit from November 15 to October 31 - the same day as other top target Carlton Bragg. Bragg told Zagsblog that he, Brown and Brandon Ingram (who visits UCLA the week before with Stephen Zimmerman) were considering a package deal. The three schools they have in common are Kentucky, Kansas and UCLA. Leaving aside the complications of swinging a two-person deal, let alone a three-person package, Ingram plays the same position as Brown. This is college, so it may be enough just to have those three on the court at the same time, but if I'm fantasizing, then I wonder what happens defensively if Arizona gets Ivan Rabb and Stephen Zimmerman? Brown is that good -- he can probably cover anybody.
Speaking of Brown, despite the mass recruiting event at Kansas (see Carlton Bragg link above for Late Night at the Phog) and the upcoming Big Blue Madness at Kentucky, the experts at 247Sports actually pushed UCLA into the lead for Brown. That date switch (it's Brown's last official, and it is just before the beginning of the early NLI period) must have changed the direction of the tea leaves (as best as I can tell, for your amusement, one Baylor, one Duke, and one Kansas guy changed their minds).
UPDATE: Check out the Alford interview here. There are new MSM stories and videos out based on that interview; two are from the Jack Wang and Ryan Kartje. I've got you covered in my transcription. I've got a few more observations based on the articles and watching the videos: Alford still plans to be an uptempo team -- whoever gets the ball first will bring it up including Looney (interestingly, no mention of back-to-basket sets), Jonah Bolden will be back next year, they think they will be better defensively this year (wow...this all depends on Bryce' defense), Tony Parker has not improved much IMO from a quick look at him in the background of the videos -- he's just going through the motions.
In other news:
- The Bruins got a little more love in the latest previews. NBCSports has them at #24 and Yahoo's Jeff Eisenberg has them at #25.
- Rick Pitino has an issue with the shoe company influence on recruits. It is thought that he lost verbally-committed recruit Antonio Blakeney, #14 in the nation, simply because Blakeney belonged to a Nike-sponsored AAU program. Guess what? Louisville is an Adidas school just like us.
- 90 NBA Scouts showed up for Kentucky's televised (ESPNU) basketball practice. As the article points out, that's a helluva commercial directed at Calipari's recruiting targets in October -- the peak recruiting month.