All too often you never hear the Toronto Raptors in the playoff conversation because they have no superstar. What if I told you, they do have a superstar.
With the NBA supposedly engaging in exploratory conversations with The Walt Disney Company about restarting the NBA season, the season might be closer than you think. The Toronto Raptors would be ready to square (get it?) off in the playoffs as the defending champions for the first time in their history.
They were the first team to bring a championship outside of the United States, and this season they can be the first team ever to hoist the Larry O'Brien trophy at a place other than a basketball arena, Disney World. Two oddly satisfying achievements, and two achievements that would never be accomplished without their superstar (not Kawhi Leonard) head coach, Nick Nurse. Afterall why can't head coaches be seen as superstars?
Nick Nurse has a superstar impact despite not being a player. How LeBron creates a winning team when he joins them, is the same way Nurse creates a winning team when he is at top of things at a team. He has won everywhere he has coached, whether that's in the G-League, British league, Belgian league...
Nick Nurse, the unlikely superstar
History has told us that teams without superstars can't win. But this year the Toronto Raptors can follow the path of the 2004 Detroit Pistons --- the only team to have won a championship without a superstar. They certainly have the coach and team to do it, and in a year where the championship is up for grabs, there is no better time to claim it if you are the Toronto Raptors.
No one expected them to be this good, and people are still forgetting to mention the Toronto Raptors whenever playoff conversations are mentioned. They hold the second-best defense in the league and are able to handle any type of offense given to them. Whether that's Anthony Davis and LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, or Joel Embiid. And we have to thank Nick Nurse for that, who always has his clipboard ready to prepare for any storm.
What the Toronto Raptors lack in a superstar, is what they make up for in their Coach, Nick Nurse. Nick Nurse should be the winner of the coach of the year award. They have gone through a number of injuries and all at separate times also. Yet, they still have the third-best record in the NBA with a record of 46-18.
It is fair to say that Nick Nurse has also re-invented the way defense in the NBA is played, because of his use of zone defense --- also called The Square if you're Nick Nurse. Ever since he first utilized it against the Milwaukee Bucks last season in the playoffs, this season saw a surge of teams using a zone defense.
Nick Nurse's system benefits everyone
Nick Nurse is also responsible for creating the perfect ecosystem on offense for Pascal Siakam. Nurse has maximized everyone on his starting five and bench. It can be Marc Gasol's playmaking in the post, Fred VanVleet as a ball-handler, Kyle Lowry as a floor general, and OG Anunoby being that guy that spaces the floor and is not afraid to cut in when there is an opportunity. All this facilitates what Siakam does on offense.
But this is only the beginning of what Nick Nurse is as a coach. Nick Nurse is more than just a system coach (looking at Budenholzer). Nurse shines most when he is challenged to adapt in in-game situations.
One prime example was his full-court press he was running against the Dallas Mavericks, where the Mavericks had a thirty point lead. Nick Nurse decided to run a full-court press, and that left the whole Dallas Mavericks squad in complete disarray. They eventually came back from the deficit and won the game in historical fashion.
There is a lot more to be said here, but I can write all day on why Nick Nurse is a superstar, but you guys have a life and this article would be never-ending. I'll just mention a few reasons why instead: development of players (VanVleet, Siakam, Anunoby), creating an offense that maximizes every player's skill (Gasol's passing for example), create one of the best defenses in the league, he is a players coach and an X and O's coach, the square... the list goes on and on.
So when or if the season does resume at Disney, we'll see just how ready the Toronto Raptors and Nick Nurse is after two months of rest. Afterall every superstar benefits from rest, even if you are the great Nick Nurse.