The next is a part of Raptors Republic’s items reviewing the seasons for the Toronto Raptors. You can discover all of the items within the collection right here.
Teaching may be the final word black field within the NBA. It’s straightforward to see the enter — the coach’s identify is correct there within the introductions with the gamers! — and it’s straightforward to see the output, at the very least insofar as we see what number of video games a crew wins and the way far it goes within the playoffs. However every part that occurs within the center is principally invisible so far as the common fan (and even the credentialed reporter) can inform. Positive, we are able to (and appear to like to) criticize or reward rotations, which is principally the extent of the common fan’s perceive of a coach’s position. Maybe we are able to establish a crew’s offensive construction and even the performs run on inbounds play. Some groups, however not all, have distinctive philosophies designed to capitalize on market inefficiencies throughout the league. Even when one can perceive all that, it’s nonetheless solely the barest position of a coach within the NBA. It’s ridiculous to attempt to choose a training with out seeing practices, with out realizing who calls performs, with out realizing relationships and seeing all of the threads of the webs that bond NBA groups collectively. Coaches are essential but invisible.
Name out understanding the tip of the iceberg. And with all that stated, Nick Nurse was incredible in 2021-22. In all probability.
The Toronto Raptors had numerous huge, likely-to-break-the-back-of-almost-any-team flaws coming into the season. That they had a number of the worst taking pictures, from the highest to the underside of the roster, within the league. They have been inarguably the worst two or three driving groups within the league. And so they didn’t have a single conventional heart, able to enjoying drop protection and defending each the curler and the ball-handler, with out ceding a difficulty elsewhere on the court docket. Masai Ujiri and the Raptors’ mind belief didn’t tackle any of these issues all through the season, and arguably their drop protection difficulty worsened as Khem Birch’s knees refused to heal.
In consequence, Nick Nurse was pressured each evening to unravel the equal of Ocarina of Time’s Shadow Temple defended by a number of the greatest athletes on the earth. With the entire above caveats definitely making use of, he arguably did as deft a job as any coach presumably might have. Nurse recognized distinctive, sudden options that had little priority within the NBA, and he utilized them with relative flexibility, permitting the crew to construct alongside the strategy to beat the weaknesses.
The taking pictures by no means opened up the court docket for Toronto’s rangy wings, however Fred VanVleet fired up the twelfth most threes per recreation in NBA historical past, topped solely in per-game makes an attempt by James Harden, Steph Curry, Damian Lillard, and Buddy Hield. (Harden, by the way in which, by no means in his profession matched VanVleet’s mixture of frequency and accuracy in 2021-22.) Equally, OG Anunoby and Gary Trent jr. fired up a boatload of triples, and the three gamers mixed to common greater than half of Toronto’s complete triple makes an attempt. Different relative non-shooters, maybe greatest represented by Thad Younger, have been empowered to launch threes from the nook. Spacing didn’t grow to be a power, however the Raptors crawled their solution to the league’s model of “hey, it’s a dwelling.”
Toronto’s rim strain was disastrous all through the season, so Nick Nurse advanced his crew backwards to the mid-2010s, permitting gamers like Pascal Siakam and Trent the liberty to fireplace away from the lengthy midrange. It didn’t blow the doorways off precisely, but it surely allowed Toronto to seek out one thing past beating its head in opposition to a closed door time and again within the half court docket. For all of the photographs they missed by permitting their stars to fireplace pull-up midrangers and their non-shooters to toss up above-the-break triples, the Raptors loved the second-highest offensive rebounding charge within the league. They have been the teamwide embodiment of the Kobe help, turning misses into offensive benefits by enjoying lengthy, rangy, athletic wings at each place.
Actually, Toronto solely managed to win 48 video games as a result of VanVleet was otherworldly within the first half of the season and Siakam was even higher than that within the second. Judged on expertise and roster building alone, 48 wins was not an inexpensive expectation. Outdoors of merely giving them the ball, the Raptors did little or no to make the sport simpler for his or her stars, but these skills discovered outrageous success anyway. How a lot of that belongs on the shoulders of the coach? My quick reply is I do not know. My lengthy reply is that I’ve completely no fucking concept. I shouldn’t even being making an attempt to evaluate an impossibility — the vanity! — however the ceaseless maw of content material calls for contstant worship. So: Toronto did higher than it ought to have, and absolutely VanVleet and Siakam deserve reward (and All-Star and All-NBA berths in consequence), but it surely positively can’t damage our consideration of Nurse, on the very least.
On the defensive finish, Toronto managed to beat its lack of the only most necessary position on the court docket by enjoying a hyper-modern mixture of a switching, blitzing, rotating, snarling model of protection. Who wants a rim protector once they defended by committee, typically with guards swiping from beneath? And who wants an enormous to defend two gamers on the identical time when a crew pre-rotates, deliberately pulls in a defender from the nook, and needs its gamers to recuperate extraordinary distances? As a result of they performed such a wild model of protection, they pressured the very best charge of turnovers within the league.
One other outcome was that Toronto gave up much more at-rim makes an attempt than they need to have, the thirteenth most on a per-100-possesion foundation. And so they have been beneath common, solely twenty second within the league, at forcing misses there. Even worse, Toronto gave up the only highest proportion of nook threes within the NBA. And it is a crew with a number of elite particular person defenders in VanVleet, Siakam, Anunoby, and Treasured Achiuwa. Toronto completed with the Tenth-best protection within the league.. Is that higher than it ought to have been given the weaknesses across the rim and the corners — the 2 highest-efficiency spots on the court docket throughout stay play? Or is it worse than it ought to have been given Toronto’s outrageous solid of defensive expertise? Arduous to say, however the Raptors wanted transition factors like a mouse wants cheese: Each are necessary, and life-giving to make sure, however typically the hunt for fastbreak buckets (or cheese) ends in some ugly deaths that actually don’t have to occur. Toronto ended up barely beneath common offensive and barely above common defensively. Realistically, it ought to have been a lot better defensively and far worse offensively, however the crew made a aware option to sacrifice defensive solidity to jump-start a transition offense. And, hey, once more: you’ll be able to’t argue with 48 wins.
That’s the final word reward for Nurse, and it requires no parsing of opacity to know. The Raptors received extra video games than they need to have. They performed a singular and trail-blazing model, attacking the offensive glass and forcing turnovers defensively, and that led them to capitalize on the philosophical weaknesses leaguewide.
With the large image in place, there have been definitely some hiccups. The rotation was slimmer than Chris Boucher, and it arguably led to a number of the stars — specifically VanVleet — being much less wholesome than they need to have been come playoff time. It’s straightforward to level to him main the league in minutes per recreation (tied with Siakam) and by no means discovering his well being. That’s not essentially an correct description of causality — once more, it’s unimaginable for us to know with out entry to crew medical doctors and a hefty dosage of reality serum what really causes harm — however it could make sense if Nurse’s rotations led to VanVleet’s poor playoff efficiency. Malachi Flynn by no means bought an opportunity to enhance, largely as a result of he’s a pick-and-roll level guard on a crew that doesn’t appear to need a kind of coming off the bench. Yuta Watanabe by no means had a leash to stretch his legs and contribute via rising pains. OG Anunoby is presumably sad along with his position in Toronto’s read-and-react offense, resulting in all kinds of commerce hypothesis this offseason.
On the identical time, there have been extra frequent and extra impactful successes. Treasured Achiuwa went from nearly unplayable on the offensive finish to one of the crucial impactful and productive gamers on the crew. As in so many different areas, the reward there belongs virtually solely to Achiuwa himself, however Nurse caught with him and at the very least gave him enjoying time to work via the kinks. Achiuwa’s progress right into a potential future star is price greater than all of the failures mixed. Much more necessary than that, Siakam advanced into top-of-the-line gamers within the NBA. Scottie Barnes may need the brightest way forward for the bunch.
And but, we nonetheless do not know how a lot of that is because of Nurse. Presumably none of it. And, certain, we could not be capable of parse the opacity of the job of an NBA coach, however it could be a heck of a coincidence if Nurse has nothing to do with it. Definitely the gamers themselves are most answerable for the play of the crew and the evolutions of their video games. But the crew continues to take steps ahead with Nurse on the helm. That issues. The gamers are enhancing a couple of would count on, and the crew simply retains profitable extra video games than it’s alleged to (Tampa Bay season apart). That’s the output, and even if you happen to don’t perceive what occurred within the black field, you’ll be able to nonetheless say the airplane had a fairly seamless flight. In all probability, Nurse did an unbelievable job in 2021-22. And that interpretation of his efficiency, too, is simply the tip of the iceberg.