It’s called the Coach of the Month award, but since NBA games in October only took place in the last two weeks of the month, it’s more like a Coach of the Past Six Weeks award. In any case, we’re splitting hairs. The point here is that Raptors head coach Nick Nurse has been named the Eastern Conference’s Coach of the Month — and deservedly so. (The Lakers’ Frank Vogel, meanwhile, is the Western Conference Coach of the Month.)
How did Nurse win this award? For one, the Raptors are 15-4 on the season, bested in the East only by Milwaukee’s 17-3. For two, they had a considerably tough schedule with just over half of their contests on the road — including one five-game stretch out west. And for three, not to bury the lede, Toronto earned many of their wins — ten in fact, including seven in this ongoing win streak — down its most important player in Kyle Lowry. Toronto also lacked core rotation piece Serge Ibaka, along with Patrick McCaw, and even weathered an injury to OG Anunoby for a couple of games. (In all, eight players missed time since the start of the season for Toronto.) All of this is to say, the Raptors have taking a licking, but, as the expression goes, have kept right on ticking.
This run is, at least in part, attributable to Nurse, who’s had to mix-and-match his rotations on the fly, bring new players up to speed, and maintain the offensive and defensive culture the Raptors had so clearly established as part of last year’s championship run. That he’s done this despite massive changes in team personnel — that he has in fact exceeded expectations — is a remarkable feat given the Raptors’ injuries in the early going.
To wit, Toronto has the league’s second best defense — including holding opponents to a league-best 40.8 percent shooting from the field — along with its fifth best offense. They’re also the best three-point shooting team in the league right now. And if that’s not enough, players like undrafted rookie Terence Davis and implausible prospect Chris Boucher have succeeded in bigger minutes since the start of the season despite arriving as still-unknown quantities. Yes, the players are the ones actually playing the games, but some credit can go to Nurse for putting them in the right place to succeed.
And succeed they have! The Raptors spent the past month collecting all sorts of signature wins. They beat the cursed Kings, took down LeBron James and Anthony Davis (and even slowed Kawhi Leonard for awhile too) in Los Angeles, shutdown Damian Lillard and the Blazers, and weathered a triple-double onslaught from Trae Young. Oh yeah, and then there was that zero-point outing from Joel Embiid while the Raptors took it to their rivals the Sixers just last week. What stood out in each win, beyond the astounding play of the Raptors themselves, was the varying game plan Toronto executed to beat their specific competition. Many expected the Raptors to be a solid team, but few would have had an easy time predicting Nurse would have the squad pushing for the number one seed.
Well, that’s the situation. Now Ibaka is back on the floor, Lowry is soon to follow, and the Raptors could get even better. Not a bad start to 2019-20, or for a bench boss who just recently head coached the 100th NBA game of his professional career. Here’s to many 100s more to come for Nick Nurse.