The Washington State Cougars have hit the portal again, this time landing Tennessee transfer Justin Powell. Powell started his career at Auburn before transferring to Tennessee, and he now finds himself on the Palouse. Powell is the projected starting point guard, and his versatility offers the coaching staff a lot of options going forward.
Powell’s two-year statistical profile is funky, and it displays just how disparate his roles have been at each school. He committed to Auburn in 2020 ranked as an ESPN.com top 100 recruit, and at Auburn, he was tasked with being the secondary, and occasionally primary, initiator. At Tennessee, though, he was used almost exclusively as a spot-up shooter — and the splits from year-to-year show that.
In 10 games at Auburn, Powell averaged 11.7 points and 4.7 assists on 42.9% (2s)/44.2% (3s)/76.5 (FTs) shooting splits. He boasted an impressive 1.81 assist to turnover ratio on a solid 21.7% usage. At Tennessee, he played in 30 games but started only one and put up only 3.7 points and less than 1 assist. His efficiency dipped too, as he was clearly uncomfortable in the role he was being asked to play.
Now at WSU, he comes with an expectation to play a role similar to what he played at Auburn, having the ball in his hands a bit and being an all-around playmaker — a role, not coincidentally, in which WSU badly needs him to succeed.
The main sell with Powell is the jump-shot. He will be the 4th elite shooter on this roster next to Andrej Jakimovski, Jabe Mullins, and Dylan Darling. Powell is listed at 6-foot-6 (though he is likely a bit smaller than that) and can hit shots better than most his size in the country.
The form is clean, with great energy transfer and gorgeous arc. The release is a bit low and that occasionally leads to him leaving it short, but the jumper is elite and he should be expected to shoot at a high volume with good efficiency from day 1.
He is a super adept off-ball shooter, with picture perfect relocation and shot-prep. He moves into the corner here to make himself available off the drive and he catches ready to fire. The release is quick and he is completely unbothered by the late contest.
Powell uses that shooting as a weapon when moving off the ball. His general proprioception (the understanding of where he is in space) is excellent and his feel for off-ball movement is truly elite. He relocates around the perimeter and cuts impressively well.
The mechanics are not super conducive to pull-up shooting currently, but he will pull it with any daylight or space and he is always a threat to knock it down.
The upside with Powell comes with his potential for on-ball creation. He is not a traditional point guard and there are some flaws, but there are also some tantalizing flashes. He has solid shift in his hips and the touch on his floaters is elite.
Powell’s best creation comes when attacking a tilted floor. He is great at attacking the front foot of the closeout and he is a willing passer in these scenarios. He is decisive and rarely makes mistakes when attacking an unbalanced floor.
His vision and patience are just generally solid. Here, he gets the blowby and draws a second defender, but he waits for a full commitment before making this pass to the trailing shooter. He reads the floor well and makes decisions quickly.
Powell’s biggest issue as a creator is his inability to get downhill. He does not have great second and third steps and it kills the advantages he can create with his shift. He is forced to settle for a lot of floaters or make passes before he can get all the way to the rim.
This is a play that results in a turnover, but I love seeing this ambition from a budding playmaker. The read here is sound, but he is a step ahead of where he should be and the correct pass was likely back to the wing. However, if he would have connected on this pass to the cutter, it would have been an easy bucket.
Powell’s handle can be a bit loose. It could be due to small hands or the lack of bend in his lower-body, but either way, the handle is a bit high and out of control at times. It is not a killer, but it means he can struggle when pressured or when in tight spaces.
The lack of rim pressure and loose handle combine to make easy advantages hard to come by. His rarely going to blowby someone in an isolation or put someone in the mix to create space for a step-back.
There is some low hanging fruit with Powell’s ball-handling. He has some shift and he changes pace well, but getting him to explode harder out of moves to press advantages is the next step. He keeps defenders at bay with his ability to quickly flip his hips, but getting all the way by them to truly shift the defense requires more explosion and strength from his lower body.
Overall, I think Powell could be an above-average PG option if he’s playing in a more egalitarian role. His processing pops on tape and he’ll improve the overall feel for the team. Here, he gets the slight advantage and is reading where the floor is tilted. Memphis shifts down to cover the cutter, leaving the shooter above the break open. Powell reads and executes efficiently.
Defensively, Powell has his positives and negatives. The feel and understanding of scheme he shows on offense translates to the other end. He does well to stick with his man when needed and to run help when that is most optimal. He follows his man as the cutter, but as soon as recognizes a weakside ball-screen is coming, he sits in the paint to help stop an easy drive.
His on-ball D does leave something to be desired at times. He is usually locked in, but he is a bit upright and flat footed when guarding primaries. He can give up rim pressure a bit too much and he is rarely making plays when guarding the ball.
Even the on-ball D is far from a disaster despite the hiccups. This is a well-executed under and he beats Alex Lomax to the spot and contests the shot well. It is unlikely that he is ever tasked with guarding primary ball-handlers at WSU, but he should hold his own against most on-ball.
The defense, especially under Kyle Smith, can likely get to an above-average level thanks to his size and overall feel. Powell understands what he should be doing and that goes a long way when it comes to being playable for his offense.
Overall, Powell is an excellent grab and he adds to WSU’s solid overall offseason. He is sold as a shooter, but he is so much more. Powell is a likely pro soon, perhaps even a potential NBA player. He was viewed as a guy to watch before his freshman season at Auburn and he could regain that status here as a versatile playmaker.
The roster is shaping up with the addition of Powell and the return of star big-man Mouhamed Gueye. Despite the loss of guys such as Michael Flowers, Tyrell Roberts, and Efe Abogidi, I think Kyle Smith and staff have truly improved this roster this offseason and they are poised to make a real push in the conference this year.