The restarted Raptors are still seeking to defend their 2019 NBA title. For our latest series, Things for the Rings, we’ll break down what each essential person on the team can do to answer the major question on every fan’s mind: What does each Raptor need to do to make a Toronto repeat reality?
Thing for the Ring: Keep being the most innovative coach in the NBA
Those who have read me before know I am generally a coaching apologist. I feel that usually we can’t see all the good things a head coach and staff do behind the scenes. This is especially true of the “soft skill” relationship work that keeps 15 or so highly competitive dudes pulling in the same direction, regardless of how close they are to accomplishing their own personal goals. These also happen to be the skills that feel doubly important in the bizarre NBA Bubble restart.
What’s more, I believe that critiques of player usage suffer from the “hindsight is 20/20” theory, and that coaches are smarter at basketball than you or I. So if they don’t do something that we think is screamingly obvious, like playing such-and-such player more than so-and-so, there is generally a reason for it.
Nurse is a little easier to judge though because he shows so much of his work. Whether it’s his application of “janky” defenses, cycling through lineups because of injury, or having a set of pet plays in his pocket that have made the Raptors one of the best crunch time scoring offenses in the league, you can see Nurse’s impact. (The GIF-able reaction shots are a nice bonus as well). He’s also shown, through the media, that he knows how to talk to each and every member of the Raptors to get the best out of them.
In these upcoming playoffs, Nurse is going to need to keep doing all of that and more (especially the GIFs), because in almost every series, the Raptors are arguably not going to have the best player on the floor. The “clear out for Kawhi” option isn’t there. Nurse will have to find ways to leverage all the Raptors on the floor as threats in order to help his team pry open the space they’ll need to put up enough points to let their elite defense go to work.
This means Nurse doesn’t have to be as good a coach as he was last year while outwitting the Bucks and Warriors, he’s going to have to be better. If it takes him two games too long, hell, if it takes him two quarters too long to make a change, the hole might be too big for the Raptors to dig themselves out. No pressure.
Can He Do It?
Yeah. No doubt. Nurse is always scheming, always changing, and always listening to the people around him in order to keep the Raptors unpredictable. For a team without a LeBron or Harden-like closer that’s key. I suspect we’ll see a lot of very specifically tailored defenses every series, as well as a deeper usage of the bench than expected. Guys like Chris Boucher, Matt Thomas, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson are all going to be useful in certain situations, and I don’t think Nurse will be afraid to use them.
Chances of It Happening: 10 out of 10
I’m not saying everything Nurse will try will work. Or that other coaches might not find out counters he struggles to ju-jitsu. Or that Patrick McCaw won’t inexplicably see more minutes than Terence Davis. What I am saying is that if the Raptors go down, they’ll go down throwing punches from unusual angles, and that Nurse is going to create some very interesting problems for his fellow coaches to try to solve. Now, let the games begin.