Raptor of the Week: Nick Nurse, master tinkerer and innovator

In what has been a very challenging week for the Toronto Raptors, head coach Nick Nurse needs to be given his roses for what was an exemplary job of coaching. Maybe because he’s been making stellar adjustments or maybe because he got ejected, willing the team into action vs. the Grizzlies, but the Raptors have put together some solid performances.

The Raptors have been hitting their shots yes, but more than just a hot streak the team has been more true to themselves. What changed? It’s been because of the personnel, but also how Nurse has used them. He’s changed his pecking order.

This willingness to change things up on the fly is textbook Nurse at his best. He’s not a Coach of the Year because of his schemes or his plays or his innovation. He’s a Coach of the Year because he is the most adaptable.

In Sunday night’s game against the Timberwolves alone he changed from a man defence to a 2-3 zone, then to a box-and-one, back to the 2-3, and back to man.

What are some of the big game adjustments Raptors coach Nick Nurse has been making?

Highlighting OG Anunoby on offense

He may be sidelined right now, but don’t forget that before he went down, OG Anunoby was playing the best basketball of his life.  Who gave the Indiana alum the green light to create his own offence? Who encouraged him to lead the fast break? Who reminded Anunoby that he’s the best athlete on the team?

It will be interesting to see how Nurse choses to empower Anunoby once he returns. Sharing the ball with another creating forward in Pascal Siakam to go along with the usage of VanVleet and Kyle Lowry might limit OG’s responsibilities.

Relying on Fred VanVleet

In their early-season 2-8 starts, Lowry was aging, Siakam was a square peg in a round hole, OG wasn’t ready, and Norman Powell wasn’t good enough. The answer to the Raptors’ lack of an offensive identity might’ve been staring them in the face all along, but nobody expected VanVleet to be the All-Star caliber player he’s been thus far.

Nurse has a great sense of timing when it comes to empowering his players.  anVleet may be the smallest guy on the roster, but he’s second on the team in points, shot attempts, and USG%, all the while setting a franchise record for points in a game.

With Lowry fading away into the sunset, Nurse put the ball is in VanVleet’s hands, and now more than ever, the man has been producing like a star.

Putting Norman Powell in the starting lineup

Since OG went down, Nurse has moved Norman Powell into the starting lineup and the man has been thriving scoring the ball.

It’s basically been the same stuff Powell has always done, but he’s playing more minutes and averaging more shot attempts than he did as a reserve. Being over 42% from 3-point land doesn’t hurt his scoring either.

Nurse has been running him off pin-downs and has drawn up schemes for him to roam the baseline in search of corner threes. He seems to be less bothered by contention lately, shooting at the apex of his jump rather than on the way down. Over the last 10 games, Powell has averaged 22.9 points a game and leads the team in 3-point percentage.

Reviving Pascal Siakam

Since the Raptors lost to the Bucks on January 27th, Nick Nurse has adjusted how the team was going to use Siakam. Not so much relieving him of his duties as the team’s star, but more allowing him to be best version of himself. His USG% is in a perfect sweet spot (25.0), hovering between his 2019 season (20.8) and his 2020 season (28.1).

By placing the ball in the hands of VanVleet, Nurse has given Toronto back the Siakam they fell in love with in 2019; off ball cutting, interior scoring, energy on the defensive end, crashing the offensive glass, and spotting up rather than pulling up from from three.

The key here has been the pivot on offence. Taking things back inside the 3-point line this season, Siakam has been taking 6 deep ones a game as opposed to last year’s 8.  Nurse has designed pin downs and floppy actions to get Pascal deep post position on smaller defenders.His FG% is higher and so are his assists. He’s been playing harder and smarter.

The best part about it is this doesn’t spell a decrease in Siakam’s raw stats.  Siakam’s scoring rate and efficiency has gone up since his return to his old style. Since Nurse made his adjustment, Siakam has been averaging 23.8 PPG shooting 50% from the field and 40% from three.

Less usage does not make Siakam less of a star.  On the contrary, it’s allowing him to be his own kind of star.  And the whole thing has resulted in team success. hat’s off to Nick Nurse, he may have turned this season around.