In this season of transition for the UCLA Bruins, things have not been going as expected, well, at least from a non-UCLA standpoint. After a loss of their point guard Larry Drew II, leading scorer Shabazz Muhammad and estranged coach Ben Howland, things were a bit weird. The off-season lead to an awkward hiring of Steve Alford and an uncertain brand of UCLA basketball was heading into the future. With that, was the question “how is the team going to play?”, especially junior guard Norman Powell.
One of the uncertainties of the UCLA coaching transition, was how many players were possibly going to leave due to these perceived transgressions in UCLA basketball. Whispers around Westwood, suggested Powell was one of those pondering an exit. Alford quickly had to re-recruit Powell back to Westwood.
Norman Powell said he was seriously considering a transfer to San Diego State, but with Steve Alford on board, he’s 100 percent #UCLA.
— Edward Lewis (@EdwardLewisBSR) April 2, 2013
Going into the season, it was uncertain how the Bruins would perform in this new era, especially Powell. He was seen as possibly the most athletic Bruin on the team, as he has been known for, but his offensive production was something he was not known for.
In his first two seasons as a Bruin, Powell had 137 field goals on 336 shots (40.8%) to go with 20.0 minutes per game. Another significant stat is that he only scored 5.4 points per game. For being the athletic one on the team, he was not utilized very much.
Things have changed this season under the new up-tempo Bruins as UCLA has implemented a style of play that uses the talent of their players to their advantage. UCLA is scoring 83.6 points per game this season (11th most in the nation) as opposed to 74 points per game last year. Baskets are more plentiful this season and everyone is getting a piece. Especially, Norman Powell.
This has been nothing short of break out season for Powell. If you just look at his style of play, you can see that the talent was there all along, he just needed to be “freed”, in a way. Let us quickly take a look at his improved statistics for the 2013-14 season:
2013-14 statistical averages: (differential from last season)
Points: 11.1 (+5.0)
Minutes: 24.4 (+2.3)
Rebounds: 3.0 (+1.1)
Assists: 1.9 (+0.8)
Steals: 1.4 (+0.7)
Shooting %: .553 (last seaosn: .434)
Powell is an improved man, hands down. He knows that he has the goods, he just needed someone to let him express himself. And this is not about bashing the old regime, this is about celebrating what Powell has been able to do for the Bruins, which is a lot considering he has just 2.3 more minutes of playing time. To add to these phenomenal statistics, this gem floated around the Twitterverse this week:
Norman Powell attempted a combined 55 FTs in his first two seasons at UCLA. So far this year he’s went to the line 64 times. Attacking. — Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) January 31, 2014
Seriously. He is attacking like no other. Just look at this:
Norman Powell races down the court for the posterizing dunk and one – http://t.co/BKP4JBlLXX
— UCLA Bruins 247 (@Bruin247) January 31, 2014
Who saw this coming? I didn’t. Personally, I thought he was going to use his athleticism to be more of a look-down defender. Instead, he is making slam dunk posters and getting on Sports Center’s Top 10. Occasionally, if the mood is right, you just might see a dunk contest break out at a UCLA game between him and freshmen superstar Zach LaVine. It is quite splendid.
UCLA basketball is flourishing and having the likes of Powell helps immensely. Coming back to play with a scorer like Jordan Adams and a distributer like Kyle Anderson is why this is a really good UCLA squad that will be dangerous heading into tournament play. Powell is a guy that just wanted to play basketball for a big-time program. This season, he is not only doing that, but has become an offensive threat on one of the most offensively proficient teams in college basketball. Sometimes you just have to let the kids play.