Is it Make or Break Time for Isaiah Powell in Year Three?
Making our way through the roster, we’ve come to big man Isaiah Powelll. The Albany, New York native has been an enigma thus far during his career in the green and gold, but the Vermont faithful will be hoping the soon-to-be upperclassman is able to put it all together for year three in Burlington. Officially listed at 6’6, 220 lbs, Powell is a tad undersized for the power forward role, but the upcoming junior has more than enough athleticism and strength to hold his own whether he’s squaring up in the post or even sliding over to the wing. Can the young forward secure his spot as first big man off the bench?
When Powell first arrived in Burlington he was instantly deemed the new Anthony Lamb. An outstanding undersized forward who could own the paint, yet step out and stroke it from mid-range or deep at a moments notice. Unfortunately, becoming the next Anthony Lamb doesn’t just magically happen overnight. Powell is highly talented and has even briefly flashed star potential over these past two years, but it seems that the only thing greater than his potential has been his lack of consistency. The young forward can hammer 20+ at the drop of a hat, but then follow up with a fat goose egg over the course of the next three games.
So which Powell will the Cats be getting on a nightly basis? Hard to give a concrete answer, though the majority of signs are pointing up for Powell. After slowly but surely regaining the trust of coach Becker, Powell became a solid contributor off the bench last season. Now, he has a chance to truly add his mark on this team by locking down a significant spot with the second unit. With Lamb moving on, the Cats will have plenty of minutes available for their young forwards. If Powell can play at a more consistent level he should be able to take control over a significant portion of those minutes.
Powell will be competing with the likes Duncan Demuth, Georges Lefebvre and even Nick Fiorillo for that plethora of playing time. Out of all those aforementioned players Powell has been in John Becker’s system the longest and will likely be given the first opportunity to carve out a significant role off the bench for the upcoming year. It might not quite be a true make-or-break year for Powell, but based on the previous two seasons, Powell does appear to be the biggest boom-or-bust candidate on the roster. If I truly knew how the 2020-21 season would unfold I’d be posted up at the MGM in Vegas, but my money is that this is the year we’ll see the Albany native finally break through that glass ceiling.
How Powell can Make an Impact
Powell’s career at Vermont thus far has been unpredictable to say the least. After making 33 appearances and two starts during his freshman year, Powell looked poised to take the next step forward and earn a larger role for the 2019-20 season. Well, if you don’t know the story by now here’s a short recap – the coaching staff at Vermont would ultimately try to redshirt Powell, but due to a rash of injuries across the Catamounts frontcourt, Powell was thrust into action mid-season and only managed 16 game appearances throughout the year. The redshirt decision was one of the strangest and frankly worst moves, as it cost Powell half the year and potentially could’ve helped the Cats pick up a few more wins along the way. Rumors were floated around about the decision process, but that’s neither here nor there.
It’s a shame that Powell was put in that situation, but by all accounts the young forward handled it incredibly well and appears to have the full support and trust of the coaching staff. Although Powell might have been practicing with the team throughout the year, being forced into game action mid-year would be tough for anyone. Therefore, his statistical production from a year should be taken with a grain of salt. In fact, it seems more likely that his freshman year output of 17.5 minutes per game will be more in line of what to expect than his sophomore numbers.
In terms where Powell will add the most impact to the team next year, the big man has a chance to really shine. With Ryan Davis and incoming transfer Tomas Murphy entrenched in the starting frontcourt, Powell should be the de facto first big off the bench. Now this could change depending on various matchups, but even after a rocky sophomore year, Powell deserves the first shot at securing this spot. Powell might arguably be the strongest on the team and even though his length might not be prototypical, he utilizes his strength and athleticism to counteract any liabilities.
Becoming more consistent is definitely key, but Powell has that J.R. Smith microwave scorer ability. If he gets hot, Powell can take over for stretches and really put the pressure on teams. Expect coach Becker to lean on Powell at times when the offense starts getting stagnant and use the big man as an offensive spark plug off the bench. Likewise, the departure of Anthony Lamb leaves some pretty big shoes to fill. Powell might not necessarily be the guy for the job, but he does possess a very similar stature and to an extent game as Lamb. This team knows how to feed Lamb the ball, so if Powell can hit his marks, he’ll be getting plenty of looks.
Room for Improvement?
Obviously developing into a more consistent player on a nightly basis has to be considered the top choice, but let’s not continue to beat a dead horse here. Despite the inconsistencies, Powell remains an excellent player for the Cats off the bench, who if healthy should be able to carve out a solid role within the rotation this year. But what facets of his game in particular need that extra fine tuning?
One such area would be cutting down on turnovers. Powell is an offensive minded forward, meaning he’s going to attack when he has the ball in his hands. Unfortunately, there’s been times when he’ll rush or force a play and lose control of the ball. Through two years he has a 57-45 turnover to assist ratio. Ideally an emphasis on composure when attacking will help even out those numbers. However, Powell deserves at least a partial benefit of the doubt, as we’ve only seen him during his freshman and abbreviated sophomore seasons.
Attacking the basket with more conviction is another facet of Powell’s game that could use some improvement. Too often than not it seems that Powell settles for jump shots rather than use his strength underneath the rim to set the tone. His jump shot is fine, but with his strength and athleticism he should be looking to drive far more than settling for an outside shot. Occasionally when Powell does look to drive and attack, he gets that bull mentality and drops his head. This overlaps with the turnover issue, so if Powell can keep himself steady and in control he should see a huge difference in both categories.
There could also be an argument to be made for his three-point shooting and while that would be great to see improvement in, it’s not the most pressing of needs. Ideally Powell can clean up these other parts of his game, while becoming a more overall consistent player. He might never become the next Anthony Lamb and that’s ok. Right now, just focusing on being the best Isaiah Powell he can be will be enough.
Barring any unforeseen injuries in the frontcourt, it’s hard to envision Powell receiving enough playing time to warrant much attention from the individual award department. While the individual recognition is always welcome, it’s nothing compared to being a solid contributor on an NCAA Tournament level team. In fact, going 3/3 on America East regular and tournament titles would be a huge accomplishment and far outweigh those individual accolades.
From a statistical standpoint, Powell has a career shooting percentage of just under 39%. Having never broken the 40% shooting mark in either year, Powell should aim to not only reach that point, but take it one step further by breaking the 45% plateau. Again, this comes back to consistency. If he can find his groove on a nightly basis then hitting these marks should come natural. Vermont has notoriously been known to produce strong, deep teams these past few years, but this upcoming year might be the deepest team they’ve had during Powell’s tenure. The extra support should allow Powell to play more free and loose, which will hopefully lead to more open looks.
The competition in the frontcourt will be fierce, but the depth across the roster goes much deeper. Luckily Powell is athletic enough to play in small-ball line-ups when coach Becker decides to take that route. Nonetheless, Powell will have to earn every minute. Averaging over 20 minutes a game might be too much, but 18 or 19 could realistically happen – especially if there’s an injury or Powell balls out. A lot can change in a year, but the entire frontcourt, depth and all, should all be back once more for the 2021-22 season. If Powell can’t make a good impression this year, he could have a hard time fending off future competition.
Powell’s role – at least at the start of the season, will be occupying that first big off the bench role. Injuries and roster competition could alter that, but for the time being let’s assume Powell is able to maintain his spot. Last year, Ryan Davis was able to take full advantage of that spot and even found himself being named the America East Sixth Man of the Year. While the likelihood of Powell winning the coveted sixth man of the year award is slim at best, he should be given every opportunity to compete and succeed with the second unit.
The bench production will play a huge role in the Catamounts success next season. After losing two highly efficient and productive scores in Lamb and Everett Duncan, the Cats will likely try a committee approach to help fill their voids. Aaron Deloney, Robin Duncan and Bailey Patella will all be part of that second unit with Powell who should be able to carry the team for stretches at a time. We’ve seen Powell get hot before and with a more defined and prominent role, he could become an outstanding mismatch in John Becker’s second unit. Vermont’s ultimate boom-or-bust prospect looks ready for year three.
2021 Statistical Predictions
- 15.9 minutes per game
- 5.2 points per game
- 1.0 assists per game
- 3.1 rebounds per game