Toronto Raptors: Top six moments from the successful 2010s

Championship Banner - Toronto Raptors(Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images)
Championship Banner - Toronto Raptors(Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images) /
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Toronto Raptors
Toronto Raptors – Nick Nurse (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) /

3) Appointing Nick Nurse as head coach

A big part of that success comes down to good decision-making and taking risks. Firing Dwane Casey in 2018 and hiring his assistant, Nick Nurse falls into that category.

Not an easy choice but in hindsight, very much the right choice. That becomes clearer with every passing game.

Casey was a solid coach with a long basketball pedigree. He loved Toronto. For seven years, he nurtured and guided a steadily-improving team. He coaxed tremendous production from a young second unit (famously dubbed the Bench Mob), implemented new approaches on defense and offense, and won the 2018 NBA Coach of the Year.

However, he had obvious weaknesses that reared up time and again in the playoffs, when the pressure mounts and the margin for error is slim. Casey repeatedly failed to make in-game adjustments to match-up challenges and situational plays, outwitted by players such as Lebron James. He stuck with the tried and true, rather than seeking out new and different approaches, and rarely held Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan accountable for their mistakes.

Things had to change. You can’t keep doing the same thing and expect things to be different. That’s just madness.

Enter Nick Nurse.

Nurse came in with no head coaching experience. However, he was the antithesis of his predecessor, valuing innovation and experimentation. As an assistant under Casey, he engineered a successful overhaul of Toronto’s offense, putting increased emphasis on ball movement and 3-point shooting.

That’s all well and good, but he took over an assembled squad, loaded with talent, especially after the Raptors acquired Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green via trade. Cynics might argue that he didn’t have to do much and that Casey could have succeeded with this kind of superstar talent at his disposal.

Maybe. Maybe not.

With the departure of Leonard, we are seeing the true value of Nick Nurse. As Ben Taylor highlights in his woefully underrated YouTube channel Thinking Basketball, Nurse isn’t afraid to get creative and his players buy into his schemes. He recently implemented a 1-2-2 full-court press against the Dallas Mavericks, with his team down 23 points heading into the 4th quarter. Trapping relentlessly, the Raptors rattled the opposition and forced turnovers, improbably winning the game.

How does he get this sort of buy-in from his players? He isn’t afraid to raise his voice against officials. The other day Raptors’ commentators noted that Nurse leads the NBA in technical fouls with 7, more than notoriously feisty players such as Draymond Green.

In between this competitive fire, running great sets, varying his defenses and getting the most out of developing and/or undervalued players, Taylor lauds Nurse as the best coach in basketball today.

None of this would have been possible had the Raptors stuck with the status quo. Thankfully, the man behind the controls is no ordinary NBA executive.