Toronto Raptors: What do Nick Nurse’s harsh comments tell us?

Toronto Raptors - Nick Nurse (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Toronto Raptors - Nick Nurse (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /

Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse ripped offseason additions Stanley Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson on Tuesday, calling out both players for a lack of effort and focus.

Everyone is an All-Star during the preseason. Every player improved their jump shot, has lost or gained 15 pounds of weight, and enters the season feeling better than ever before. Coaches typically love to hype their players up by talking of improvements they expect to see this season. Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse decided to go another route.

When asked about the play of Stanley Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Nurse didn’t sugar coat anything, calling out both players for a lack of effort and focus on the defensive end of the floor:

"“Those guys have not understood A) how hard we play [and], B) our schemes [and] that defence is a priority for them, etc. We’ve got some work to do with that crew.”"

Sometimes quotes can feel harsh on paper, but sound far less critical when you actually hear the audio. This is not one of those times. Nurse is clearly not happy with either player at the moment:

What do these quotes mean? Well, they actually can tell us quite a bit.

Nick Nurse is feeling himself a bit

Nurse has never been afraid to speak his mind. Last year, he even made some veiled comments about Kawhi Leonard‘s regular season coasting.

But we’ve never seen him talk this freely and be this open on a sensitive issue. In fact, I doubt year-one Nick Nurse would say anything like this to the media. But with a season of experience under his belt and a championship ring on his finger, Nurse is puffing his chest out and swinging his…. well we’ll say weight.

Nurse is no longer the newcomer on the block, and he’s apparently ready to let everyone know.

Neither Stanley Johnson or Rondae Hollis-Jefferson are guaranteed playing time

Obviously, one quote doesn’t mean Rondae Hollis-Jefferson or Stanley Johnson are going to be cut or anything like that. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll be pulled from the rotation. However, it is a bright neon sign flashing: “You aren’t guaranteed anything!”

Both Johnson and RHJ are below-average offensive players. And now, according to Nurse, they’re not competing defensively. If they’re bad on offense and not playing hard on defense, then what is the point of having them on the floor?

Johnson and RHJ were expected to be the team’s backup small and power forwards. However, they’re far from the only options Nurse has to lean on. Toronto doesn’t need either player to make the rotation, and if they don’t pull it together soon, both players could be riding serious pine to start the season.

Could Chris Boucher or Malcolm Miller crack the rotation?

If Johnson and Hollis-Jefferson are no longer in the rotation, that opens the opportunity for other players on the Raptors roster. Serge has a chance to earn some minutes at power forward; Terence Davis could insert himself as the team plays smaller on the wings. However, the easiest transition would be for either Malcolm Miller or Chris Boucher to find their way into Nurse’s rotation.

Boucher would serve as the team’s backup to Pascal Siakam. While he played center during the majority of his time last season, long-term he projects better as a power forward. He’s quick enough to hang on the perimeter, a willing shooter (putting it lightly), and more aptly prepared as a rebounder when playing the 4-spot.

Miller, meanwhile, can replace RHJ/Johnson at either small forward or power forward. At 6-foot-7, he’s tall enough to play alongside both OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam. As a knock-down three-point shooter, he provides enough spacing to play alongside both as well. Miller doesn’t have quite the upside of Boucher, Johnson, or Hollis-Jefferson as a defender, but he guards well enough to not be a liability. With his ability to space the floor, that might be enough.

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I’m sure Nurse’s hope is that his comments will inspire Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Stanley Johnson to pick up their intensity level. I’m sure he hopes they play well enough that neither will have to be supplanted from the rotation. We’ll see if that works. If not, Toronto has other options.