Greg Popovich and Steve Kerr are the only coaches in the NBA that Toronto Raptor fans should want over Nick Nurse. That includes 2018 Coach of the Year Dwane Casey, who led the Raptors to a franchise record 59 wins last season. What a lot of people don’t know is the Raptors success last season was due in large part to Nick Nurse.
The rise of Nurse
Nurse never played basketball professionally, but he played college basketball at Northern Iowa, got a job as an assistant, while still a student, and worked his way up to where he is today.
Slow tempo, isolation, pick and roll. This was the style of offense under Dwane Casey. The Raptors were zigging while the rest of the league was zagging. And it worked brilliantly: the Raptors made it to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first team in franchise history in 2016.
The next year the Raptors were swept by the Cavs and it was clear a change was needed. Ujiri was considering firing Casey then. Instead, he suggested to Casey that he allow assistant coach Nick Nurse to have complete control over the offense.
After the 2015-16 season the Raptors finished with 56 wins. The next season that number fell to 51. The Raptors became predictable. Their style of offense was and still is great for a team short of 3-point shooters and athletes. However, when you do have the athletes and 3-point shooting, slowing the game down can can inhibit your offense. And thanks to Ujiri’s brilliance in the draft, the Raptors are full of athletes that can shoot the three.
The season before Nick Nurse took over the Raptors offense, they finished 22nd in the NBA in pace of play (91 possessions per game) and 22nd in 3pt shots attempted per game. Last season, with Nurse in charge of the offense, they finished 13th in pace of play (98 possessions a game) and 3rd in the NBA in 3pt shots attempted.
People around the NBA were outraged that Dwane Casey was fired after winning Coach of the Year. The reality is, Nick Nurse should feel outraged that Casey took credit for his work.
Think about it from this perspective, if Nurse got the head coaching job prior to the 2017 NBA season, there’s a good chance he would have won Coach of the Year. Instead, he makes his adjustments to the team while still an assistant, so the credit goes to the head coach. Instead, he’s the following act to a team that finished with the best record in the franchise’s history. Oh, and they added a top 5 player in the league to their roster.
You probably felt bad for Dwane Casey when he got fired. He is by far the most successful head coach the Toronto Raptors have ever had. The fact is the Raptors needed a new voice and quite frankly, if they continued to play the style of offense that Casey implemented, there’s a good chance they would’ve went from 51 wins in 2017, to 41 in 2018.
Higher stakes for Nurse
You should feel bad for Nick Nurse. He took over a team after they set a franchise record in wins; a record they don’t set without him. Then that team adds Kawhi Leonard and suddenly anything less than a Conference Finals appearance is considered a failed season. Not only that, if the Raptors don’t make the Conference Finals, there’s a good chance Kawhi leaves.
In fact, you should feel worse for Nick Nurse than you do for Dwane Casey. Casey won Coach of the Year in large part for a coaching adjustment he didn’t even make. Within weeks of being fired he got another head coaching job with the Detroit Pistons. Nurse inherited a team fresh off the best season in franchise history that’s expected to do even better this season. And if you don’t, you know your best player is likely to leave.
Nick Nurse is an excellent coach. Unfortunately, his influence on this team began as an assistant coach so he wasn’t credited with the evolution of the Raptors offense. However, if Kawhi Leonard does leave, he will have an opportunity to show the NBA world why Masi Ujiri fired the Coach of the Year in favor of Nick Nurse.
This article was originally published here at OTG Basketball.