Article Written by Rodrigo Albizurez (@rodzyalbizurez)
As a Raptors fanatic, it’s really hard to swallow getting swept by the Cavaliers for the 2nd straight year in the postseason, and it’s even harder to think about what’s next for this team that’s stuck in limbo. As a fan, you're supposed to be excited about the future and what it holds, but for this team, it just seems that they have hit their ceiling and are failing to accept that. This past regular season was something special and one that I will cherish for years to come due to the fact that they played so well and had so much fun playing as a cohesive unit. It had suddenly looked like they're headed to the NBA Finals for the first time, and even ESPN had their passports ready just in case they had to make the trip to Canada for the occasion. Sadly, that was just a dream built with false playoff bricks and it all came crashing down once LeBronto became a realization and was built just as fast a God created the earth. Enter the off-season and the Doctor of the team, Dwane Casey, was fired and his assistant Nick Nurse was promoted to take the reins. Was this the right move for the Raptors to continue on their journey to reach the NBA Finals or was this a move that had arterial motives?
If you take a look at Nick Nurses resume, it speaks for itself. He’s been on 13 different ball clubs throughout his careers, and he’s been a head coach for most of those teams. He even has a Coach of the Year Award under his belt for a team in Europe and his big break was clearly when he signed on with the Toronto Raptors as an assistant coach, leading to now the head coach for the team. He has an offensive mindset and that's exactly what the Toronto Raptors need. Word spread quick that he tried to implement his offensive culture a few years ago but it was predominantly shut down due to Case’s old school defensive “pound the rock” coaching methods. Clearly, that style never paid off in the playoffs and Masai took that into consideration when he dismissed Coach Casey.
Don’t get me wrong, Casey was a good coach but his biggest flaw is Nurses biggest asset and strength. Nurse is known for being able to adjust on the fly and run new sets that are innovative, while Coach Casey kept it simple on the offensive side for the most part. Now that coach Nurse has the reigns, expect him to implement his offensive prowess and innovation onto the court with some unexpected offensive sets and lineups. The preseason is over and you can already tell that the makeup of this team is completely different from previous years.
The team looks a lot looser and comfortable than previous years and that has to do with how their training camp was run and the continued continuity that they have been able to keep for the most part. While most of that you can credit to the players, but Coach Nurse and his staff had a big part in that as well. They were able to mellow out the mood but keep the competitive nature high by hosting 1 -on-1 tournaments in which a WWE belt was handed out to the outright winner. That may seem like a minuscule fact but in reality, it drove the players to stay competitive but also have fun with it. Training camp is all about getting the team together in such a short span and trying to create much-needed chemistry for the upcoming season, and it looks like the Raptors players bought into Coach Nurse’s laid-back but competitive nature. With all this being said, Nick Nurse faces a lot of pressure to win this year because he has a championship built roster on the playing board and he needs to figure out a way to play chess while other teams are playing checkers.
If you take a look at this year’s Raptors roster, it’s absolutely stacked and poised to make a big run in the playoffs and that's what every Raptors fan firmly believes as well. Now, as an expert you have the right to criticize the Raptors organization because every year they seem to fail to live up to expectations. This is completely fair because you can't prove someone wrong until you actually take the outside noise and shove it down the rabbit hole. This year is no different and Coach Nurse has a tall task in front of him, yet he doesn't feel worried about that. That is the approach he has chosen to take going into this season. He feels confident, and the Raptors players can sense that. How could he not feel confident? He now has Kawhi Leonard on the roster who is an absolute upgrade from DeMar DeRozan, and the Raptors also brought in the sharpshooting guard from the Spurs, Danny Green. Both of those players are offensive weapons in their own way, but more importantly, they are defensive menaces which are exactly what Nick Nurse needed to solidify this roster as a contender. Now with great power, comes great responsibility and experts have asked whether or not Nurse is up for the task at hand? If he wasn’t, he wouldn’t have been given the job or perhaps even be an NBA coach. Masai could have brought in a more experienced coach, but he decided to go with a rookie head coach for a reason, and that’s because Nurse knows his shit. Nurse already knew most of the players that he’s coaching, their tendencies, their spots, and their personality, which proves that he has already acclimated with most of the roster and that pays dividends when it comes to team chemistry.
One of the biggest tasks he had going into preseason was to acclimate himself with the new Raptors on the roster, Leonard and Green, and they are already raving about his coaching style and brilliant mind. You can’t believe everything you read, but if you were following the Raptors during the preseason you could watch the games and interviews and tell that the Raptors have fully bought into the Nick Nurse program. He has already established his offensive mindset into this roster, but he has also bought into the notion that their offense comes from their defense and the players have also bought into that mindset as well. Players like Leonard, Green, and VanVleet have already stated that they know what everyone brings on the offensive side of the game, but this seasons success is going to come down to whether each player buys in defensively and brings the wood every possession. If Nurse can get his players to play lock-down defense all year, the Raptors are poised to do big things during the 2018-2019 season, and possibly collect them some big rings.
Now, if he can't get his players to buy in defensively then he wasn’t the man for the job and he and Ujiri will be heavily criticized throughout the off-season, and rightfully so. They have the right makeup to contend for a title, but whether the Raptors do that or not lies on the shoulders of Coach Nurse and his coaching staff. Yes, the Raptors players are on the court putting in all the physical work but that's only ¾ of the battle. The other part of the battle is being played out in practice, film sessions, or even during in-game timeout huddles. At the end of the day, it's Nurse's job to keep these guys mentally ready for the war and keep them engaged throughout the year for the trials and tribulations that are ahead. The Raptors will only go as far as Coach Nurse can take them, so it’s time to see if Nick and his staff are ready for the grind of the NBA season.
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