Norman Powell (NP4) was UCLA's MVP last year and it wasn't even close. Before the season I felt confident that Norman would be UCLA's best offensive and defensive player. I never dreamed he would be the team leader as well. As we wrote here he earned Bruinsnation's highest honor, the initials, for his four years and for doing EVERYTHING last season.
He is projected as a second round pick in this Thursday's draft. I think whichever NBA team gets him will be very pleased.
I really can't add much to what I wrote before about Norman but will turn to some of the categories that will be standard features in these pieces.
The Oregon games. First the second Oregon game:
Norman Powell bounced back from a four-point game with a double-digit effort and monster jam that moved UCLA into a second-place tie in the Pac-12.
. . . Powell ended the first half with a monster dunk that he rated among the top five of his four-year career.
"I've never seen the pick and roll split like that," Bruins coach Steve Alford said. "That was impressive."
Powell credited his read of Oregon's defense in helping him get to the rim.
"They hedge hard on screens and I saw a little space where he hedged hard too fast when I was coming off the screen," said Powell, who had his worst Pac-12 scoring effort of the season in a win over Oregon State on Wednesday. "The rest of it was instinctive."
And the dunk
That game was a thing of beauty but it was NP4 in an ugly game against Oregon that saved the season for UCLA. NP4 gave the speech that single-handedly turned around UCLA basketball defense.
Norman Powell was fed up.
It was last week in Eugene, Ore., and the usually mild-mannered senior guard had just watched UCLA's defense fall to pieces, victimized by an onslaught of barely contested Oregon jumpers. After fighting through two dislocated fingers and a bruised hip within the past month, Powell was livid at his team's effort - or lack thereof - and he made no effort to hide it.
"(Oregon was) shooting 75 percent at halftime and that's unheard of," Powell fumed. "That's basically them getting ‘H-O-R-S-E' shots. Nobody in their face, nobody putting pressure on them."
Powell's frustration boiled over into the locker room, where he challenged his teammates. On Thursday, in UCLA's most complete defensive effort of the year, they responded.
That response was a win against a ranked Utah team. Again, NP4 was MVP and it wasn't close.
ALFORD'S USE OF NP4
While I am generally a critic of Steve Alford, I will not criticize him for his use of NP4. I think it was near perfect with the only caveat it seemed to take a while for him to realize that Powell should be the first choice in the offense. At no point in the season should Bryce Alford had more shot attempts than Powell.
However, that aside Steve Alford's use of Norman Powell was brilliant. On offense he undid the damage of all the years of Ben Howland trying to make NP4 into a set up three point shooter. He recognized Powell for what he was and set him free. At points during the PAC 12 regular season, he simply turned the team over to Powell to make something happen. Many people don't realize that NP4 is also very strong for his size. NP4 set free is hard to stop in the PAC 12.
But Alford did more than being the "unBen Howland" in his use of NP4. His most brilliant use of Powell was on defense. Powell has two flaws as a player. One is his questionable outside shot. The other is his tendency to foul.
This is why our best defender was "wasted" in the bottom of the zone. We had to have Powell on the floor. Playing him as a three protected him. (Again, Powell is also very strong for his size so it really didn't hurt too much have a small at 3.)
It is also why Isaac Hamilton, not NP4, started on the other team's best player 1-3. But at the end of the game it was NP4 on that player. The best example of this was against WSU. DaVonte Lacy is a very good PAC 12 player and by far WSU's best player who was torching Hamilton and had WSU prime to beat UCLA at home. However, in the last three minutes, NP4 was switched onto Lacy. Lacy not only missed both his shots but had frustration turnover and a foul on NP4. NP4 had 28 points in the game but won the game with his defense.
Here is the thing though. NP4 also had two fouls during the time covering Lacy (although one was on offense.) If NP4 was covering Lacy the whole game, he likely would not have finished the game.
For all this, I would grade Steve Alford an A for his use of NP4.
Norman is a team player who will do what is asked of him. He is not only a great leaper, he is strong and a very good athlete. He will be able to cover both an NBA point and an NBA 2 guard despite giving up a few inches at times to the latter.
Yes, he is a questionable shooter from outside. That will hurt his NBA stock. However, he is the perfect NBA seventh or eighth man for the right NBA team. He will work hard and never complain. He will be the equal to most starters on defense and athletically.
NP4 is forecast to be drafted in the second round. I think he is a steal. He can help most team's benches right away. If he gets to be a good three shooter, he could even be an NBA starter.
Regardless of what happens in the NBA, thank you again NP4 for your time at UCLA.