Darko Rajakovic hire could signal a big change for the Raptors

Jan 14, 2022; Memphis, Tennessee, USA; Memphis Grizzles acting head coach Darko Rajakovic Mandatory Credit: Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 14, 2022; Memphis, Tennessee, USA; Memphis Grizzles acting head coach Darko Rajakovic Mandatory Credit: Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports /

In time for the upcoming NBA Draft, the Raptors have finally filled their head coaching position. The front office settled on Darko Rajakovic, a Serbian coach with experience in Memphis, Oklahoma City, Phoenix, and the NBA G League. Based on his experience on his former teams, this stunning head coaching hire could signal change for the Raptors.

The Toronto Raptors used to be known for their player development. The coaching staff developed the infamous “bench mob” of players who all became excellent NBA players.

However, since the championship season and the hiring of Nick Nurse, the development of Toronto talent has seemed to falter, which may be a key factor in the hiring of Rajakovic.

Darko Rajakovic’s could mean change for the Toronto Raptors

Rajakovic got his North American breakthrough in the NBA G-league. Coaching the Tulsa 66ers, Rajakovic showcased his player development skill, helping five players earn NBA call-ups. His ability to help players evolve earned him an assistant job for the Thunder, where he worked with Steven Adams, Victor Oladipo, and Dennis Schröder.

After four straight playoff appearances from 2016-19, Rajakovic moved from OKC to Phoenix and worked with Monty Williams on the development of young players like Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, and Deandre Ayton. It was no surprise when he was scooped up by Memphis, a team looking to develop young talent, and Rajakovic was given the opportunity to work with Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr.

Now in Toronto, the Raptors’ young players will have a coach focused on talent development rather than a starter-heavy rotation. Players like Dalano Banton, Malachi Flynn, and Christian Koloko are all players with solid upside, and time spent with Rajakovic could mean breakout seasons for the Raptors bench.

Another key development project for Rajakovic is former Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes. Rajakovic has one of the most versatile players in the NBA with an incredibly high ceiling, which will genuinely put his player development skills to the test.

Last season under Nick Nurse, the Raptors bench was ranked 30th in offensive rating. The players were unable to be properly utilized, and their output was minimal as a result. Under Rajakovic, the Grizzlies’ bench was 14th in offensive rating. Additionally, the Raptors’ bench was 30th in minutes played last season, while the Grizzlies’ bench was seventh. This a potential hint that Rajakovic may look to the Raptors bench more in the coming future.

The Raptors are looking to maintain their roster and start anew with a fresh mind at the helm. Rajakovic emerged as the best candidate to help them develop their underutilized bench players and their core starters.

Raptors fans should be excited for what is to come. His hiring is not insignificant.

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