The Toronto Raptors and Philadelphia 76ers, coached by Darko Rajakovic and Nick Nurse, respectively, are two teams going in completely different directions. Nurse and the 76ers are competing for a title yet again, while Rajakovic is trying to give his team a performance-based pizza party.
Rajakovic's Raptors are in the worst spot possible, as they are outside of the playoff hunt, yet not bad enough to end up in the top six picks of the 2024 NBA Draft to retain their draft pick. Nurse, meanwhile, is in charge of a 19-8 76ers team that has Joel Embiid looking as good as ever.
Under Nurse's watch, the mercurial Embiid is averaging an insane 35.1 points per game despite rarely playing in the fourth quarter of blowouts. Rajakovic, meanwhile, is in charge of the 23rd-ranked offense despite the tremendous play of Scottie Barnes and the continued excellence of Pascal Siakam.
While Masai Ujiri believed that swapping Nurse out for Rajakovic would simultaneously give this team a better short-term offense and a more concrete long-term vision, the results early in this season reaffirmed Nurse's solid gold reputation and led to some questions about Rajakovic's viability.
Nick Nurse thriving as Darko Rajakovic, Toronto Raptors struggle.
Turning Embiid into even more of a buzzsaw is one thing, but the development of Tyrese Maxey has Nurse in charge of one of the most complete teams in the league. Outside of Barnes thriving, has anyone on this team taken a noticeably gigantic step in the right direction?
Nurse's offense looked pathetic at points last season, but the recent results have made it clear that he was trying a unique way of playing to get the most out of a very limited roster. Rajakovic is trying to operate a somewhat traditional rotation despite lacking the players needed to execute that vision.
This has led to some unusual stubbornness from a coach who used to tinker with the rotation every game earlier in the season. He refuses to change the starting lineup or utilize some of the more successful lineups. In fact, most of his success comes when he leans on Nurse-like tendencies like crashing the offensive glass and shortening the rotation.
While it might be unfair to rip a rookie head coach playing with a clearly flawed roster, the fact his in-game decisions and philosophical tenants have the Raptors losing more often with a very similar roster is not the best example of cutting-edge coaching ability. Nurse, meanwhile, is positioned to compete for a second championship.