Toronto Raptors: Nate Bjorkgren’s struggles as coach are bad for Nick Nurse

Nick Nurse and Toronto Raptors have had to say goodbye to some of the assistant coaches that helped this club become one of the most consistent winners over the last decade. Nate Bjorkgren left before the season started to get his first NBA gig with the Indiana Pacers, while Chris Finch was hired in the middle of the season to coach the Minnesota Timberwolves.

While Finch has done a solid job of turning around the downtrodden Timberwolves, Bjorkgren’s Pacers are 30-34 and in possession of the No. 9 seed. Considering what a massive downgrade this is from Nate McMillan, who has the Atlanta Hawks at the No. 5 seed in the postseason.

Despite one of the best 1-2 punches inside in Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis, not to mention the combination of Malcolm Brogdon and the newly acquired Caris LeVert on the perimeter, Bjorkgren has underwhelmed. He might not get a second chance to make a name for himself in Indiana.

Adrian Wojnarowski is reporting that Bjorkgren’s future is in doubt, citing the poor record and inability to get along well with Indiana’s top players. Nurse has earned a bit of a reputation as a Svengali who gets the best out of assistants, but Bjorkgren crashing and burning could make teams hesitant to swipe assistants from Toronto.

Toronto Raptors: Nate Bjorkgren isn’t a ringing endorsement for Nick Nurse

Bjorkgren has brought Nurse’s high-octane offense to Indiana. The team is ranked fifth in pace and eighth in points per game as a result. However, in one of the most damning indictments of his coaching acumen, Bjorkgren’s Pacers are ranked 25th in the league in points allowed despite a Defensive Player of the Year candidate in Turner at center. How is that possible?

Bjorkgrem might be good with a whiteboard, but elite coaches like Phil Jackson, Doc Rivers, and even Nick Nurse himself are even more skilled in interpersonal communication and ego management. If star players turn their guns on you as a coach, you’re finished, and Bjorkgren jas shown that he struggles in this key area.

Nurse has several quality coaches on the bench right now, including Adrian Griffin, Jama Mahalela, and G League coach Patrick Mutumbo. Teams might look at Bjorkgren immolating Indiana and have some concerns about how much if their coaching acumen is just parroting Nurse’s scheme.

It can be fair to question Indiana in all of this. They fired a coach in McMillan that was routinely missing the playoffs, and they might have a bit of a short fuse here given the injuries they have had this season. However, if Bjorkgren has lost the locker room, it’s tough to come back from that.

Bjorkgren might have some skill with Xs and Os, but the bottom line is that despite one of the best young offensive trios in the game, the Pacers would’ve likely missed the postseason in a non-pandemic season. While Finch has done very well in Minnesota, Bjorkgren’s struggles might make it tougher for Raptors assistants to get hired as head coaches.