Toronto Raptors: Nick Nurse and his system keeps Toronto competitive and helps the NBA

Nick Nurse, Toronto Raptors (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Nick Nurse, Toronto Raptors (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images) /

The Toronto Raptors have now lost six straight games. Despite this, they are just three games back of the 6th place Atlanta Hawks. The Raptors have remained at least somewhat consistent this season, despite the numerous changes and challenges they’ve dealt with. A big reason why is head coach Nick Nurse and his balanced, and for better or worse, ever-adaptable system.

The biggest challenge they’ve dealt with this season began on February 26, when Nurse and five of his assistants, along with Pascal Siakam were sidelined due to the NBA’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols.

The situation worsened when Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Patrick McCaw and Malachi Flynn were added to that list and missed the last two games before the All-Star break.

The Raptors went 0-5 after losing VanVleet and the others, although most of the losses were by a close margin thanks to Nick Nurse (even when he’s not on the bench) and his balanced system.

Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse preaches efficiency on both ends

Even though the Raptors currently sit 11th in the Eastern Conference standings, they rank 7th in the East in defensive efficiency and 16th overall in the NBA. Offensively the Raptors have arguably been even better. Before the players’ absences, the Raptors’ offense was in the top 10 in the league and since has dropped to a still decent 14th, good for 6th in the East.

We’ve known this about the Raptors since shortly after Nurse became head coach. He makes his players run and defend relentlessly, often employing different defensive schemes in the same game depending on who the opposing players are on the floor.

Nurse and his players often say, do the work on the defensive end and the offense will eventually come and it has burst out this season.

Fred VanVleet is a great example of being a disciple of Nick Nurse’s both ends approach. Although he can struggle at times with his offensive efficiency, he still leads the team with 19.9 points per game this season and he has his streak of scoring at least one three-pointer per game at a staggering 41 games (even after his return from contracting the virus) and counting.

Defensively, VanVleet is having a career year, averaging a career-high 3.7 defensive rebounds per game and 0.8 blocks per game, while also putting up 1.7 steals per game, just shy of his career best 1.9 from last season. His performances have many around the league noticing and acknowledging that maybe Fred VanVleet should be a candidate for NBA defensive player of the year.

While his defensive emergence is not all down to his head coach, it is very much the wholistic philosophy that Nurse, his coaching staff, and the Raptors themselves apply that has players like Fred performing well this season and most importantly they are staying alive in the hunt for a playoff berth.

Raptors coach Nick Nurse’s style has helped other coaches get jobs

Ironically, the team just ahead of the Raptors in the standings is the Indiana Pacers who are coached by Nurse’s ex-Raptors assistant Nate Bjorkgen. Bjorkgren is definitely a student of Nurse, especially on the defensive end where the Pacers rank four places higher than the Raptors, 12th overall in the league.

Also just last month, another of Nurse’s assistants took a head coaching job. Chris Finch was hired to be the new head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves, and although they’re still struggling because well, they’re the Timberwolves, Nurse’s style and adaptable system is producing flexible coaches who are readymade for NBA head coaching jobs.

Regardless of what happens this season, Nurse’s job is seemingly untouchable with the Raptors, as it should be.

Where else are they going to find a crazy and creative mastermind willing to try anything to get a defensive stop? If the Raptors do make the playoffs, it’ll be down to Nurse and his players that he’s instilled his scheme on both ends of the floor.

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