After Toronto’s 105-92 win over the Detroit Pistons last night, Nick Nurse has officially clinched the honour of coaching Team Giannis in the All-Star game. Because coach Budenholzer of the Milwaukee Bucks coached the team last year, and the NBA disallows a coach from the same position twice in a row, the job will fall to the team with the second-best record in the Eastern Conference. As of last night, that team is officially the 35-14 Raptors.
Nurse has done an unbelievably impressive job this year with the Raptors. For a team to have lost Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, and double-digit games due to injury from Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell, Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam, and Marc Gasol, Toronto somehow has the third-best record in the league. They’ve accomplished that, in part, by playing a ferocious brand of defense that shapeshifts depending on who is available, but is always stingy.
The Raptors have on occasion plugged into larger roles defensive pieces like Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Chris Boucher, Pat McCaw, Terence Davis, and even unexpected players like Oshae Brissett. No matter who’s in the lineup, Toronto stifles opponents. When their best offensive weapons were unavailable, Toronto won with offensive rebounds and transition baskets. Now, the Raptors are stomping opponents with offensive outbursts. The team has changed from week to week, but the results remain the same.
Nurse has also turned to plenty of unique defenses over the course of the season. He is one of the biggest proprietors of zone defenses, including 3-2, 2-3, box-and-one, and triangle-and-two variations. He has employed full-court presses sometimes, and depending on who’s available, the Raptors have also trapped and double-teamed ball-handlers to mix things up. The team has a multitude of defensive weapons, and Nurse has been excellent at pulling the levers.
Finally, Toronto’s development this year has been among the best in the league. Siakam has stepped into a role as an offensive superstar, and his game has grown dramatically. VanVleet has become more of a natural point guard. OG Anunoby has become the team’s primary wing stopper. Powell has improved perhaps the most, becoming a consistent shooter and scorer in transition. Toronto has been so successful this year because the internal talent has grown in so many ways.
As a result of Toronto’s flexibility and development, the team remains among the best in the league. Nurse, like Siakam and Lowry, deserves his spot in the All-Star game.