Nick Nurse has some adjustments to make next season


If you’re thinking this is a “The Toronto Raptors should fire Nick Nurse” article, let me stop you right here. It’s not. Anyone claiming that Nurse’s seat should be anywhere close to hot after a season in Tampa that anyone would struggle in needs a head examination.

We all know why Nurse is one of the best coaches the league has to offer, the accolades speak for themselves. He’s already won an NBA championship and a Coach of the Year award in his first three years at the helm. Nurse isn’t going anywhere for a long time.

Having said that though, this is a business based on immediate results, not past ones, and to just absolve him of any blame for the Raptors’ disappointing 2021 season is an oversimplification of what went wrong.

While he wasn’t handed the Shaq-Kobe Lakers with regards to how the roster was constructed, but there were some slight changes, both on the court and in the locker room, that Nurse could have made in order to chalk up a few more victories in the win column for Toronto over the course of the season.

Nick Nurse needs to fix the Toronto Raptors’ defense.

What made the Raptors’ defense special over the previous two seasons was their ability to play up and aggressively on the perimeter. They were able to play that way because when someone got beat, the inside presence of Marc Gasol and/or Serge Ibaka was there to meet opponents at the rim.

From there, their ferocious rotations flew around the court preventing kick-outs for open 3-pointers.

The Raptors began the 2020-21 season proudly deploying the same scheme that had given them so much past success. The problem was that it took Nurse way too long to realize Aron Baynes and Alex Len couldn’t come close to being the anchors that Ibaka and Gasol were.

As a result, the Raptors struggled mightily defensively because they continued to put pressure on the perimeter, only they had no one to protect the rim when they got beat, and then their patented quick rotations were rendered useless.

They finished the year 15th in the league in defensive rating, a far cry from ranking 2nd the previous year.

To be fair, a lot of the Raptors’ defensive struggles stemmed from injuries, especially the stretch in March when Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, and OG Anunoby were all lost to COVID-19.

That dip in team production has to at least partially fall on Nurse though. He took too long to adjust the schemes to the new personnel. After the first 15 or so games of the season, they decided to go small and shored up some of their defensive issues by using various matchup zones.

At that point though, the season was already an uphill climb after the infamous 2-8 start.  Nurse has to come into camp next season with a better plan that’s suited to his current roster.

Nick Nurse also has to get on the same page as his young star.

The friction between Nurse and Siakam was certainly noticeable on multiple occasions this year.  It got so bad that the two reportedly had to be separated by other team personnel after an altercation in March.

There was also the strange ‘walking off the court’ incident after a loss in Philadelphia early in the year, leading to a disciplinary suspension passed down to Siakam from the organization.

These kinds of things happen over the course of an NBA season to most teams, and reading too much into confrontations when you have no idea what was said is counterproductive. After all, losing breeds frustration.

All that being said, it just isn’t a good look when your head coach and max player appear to be fighting. Bad optics. Nurse is by no means in danger of losing the locker room, but he should try to smooth things over with Siakam before the season starts.

Maybe the two need to sit down privately to clear the air, maybe they already have at this point. Whatever the solution may be, they have to find it.

With Kyle Lowry potentially moving on next season, Siakam will have to be even more of a leader, meaning Nurse has to do his part to make sure they’re both on the same page and trust each other.