— NBA (@NBA) August 22, 2020
Toronto’s Nick Nurse beats out Milwaukee’s Mike Budenholzer and Oklahoma City’s Billy Donovan in media voting for NBA Coach of the Year … pic.twitter.com/nTvm9Amw8l
— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) August 22, 2020
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) August 22, 2020
Despite falling one vote shy of tying co-winners Mike Budenholzer and Billy Donovan of the National Basketball Coaches Association award for the season, Nurse ran away with the vote. He picked up 90 of 100 first-place votes. Despite what happened with the NBCA honour, it was not a surprise.
The league managed to surprise him, with his coach from Kuemper Catholic High School in Iowa, Wayne Chandlee, recording the message informing Nurse that he won the award, and Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet giving him the award on “Inside the NBA.”
“I kept kinda wrestling with (Raptors director of communications Jennifer Quinn) about what do they wanna talk to me about, what are they gonna ask me?” Nurse said of his appearance on “Inside the NBA” before the Bucks-Magic game Saturday. “And she kinda just said would you just do the show, and I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’m happy to do it.’ And then they showed my high school team photo, and I thought again, they were just kinda — they joke around a lot and kid a lot, and I thought that’s where we were still going. But when Coach Chandlee had a message for me, I guess that kinda hit home that that’s what was gonna happen.”
It was fitting that Lowry was one of the players to hand him the Red Auerbach Trophy. Like Nurse, Lowry was stubborn in the notion that he was destined for a certain type of career, despite what his early resume said. Lowry gained a reputation for being difficult to work with from a coaching perspective, deservedly, for his insistence that he should be a key cog on a team, not somebody who evenly split minutes at the point guard. Coaches bristled as Lowry told them what he thought was best for the team, openly questioning them.
Lowry and Nurse had the absolute courage of their convictions to go after their dream careers. It took plenty of luck — or opportunity, if you prefer that word — for them to get what they wanted. Those dreams die on the vine if they are not attacked and fought for.
“I’m not so sure (from) where we’re sitting now (that) I knew what the heck I was doing,” Nurse said. “I didn’t know what path I was on. I wanted to coach. I got probably a little antsy as a young coach because I thought I had a lot of ideas and I thought that I had to try them and I had to go get a team somewhere. And I did.”
He kept on doing that, over and over and over again. Eventually, a team came to him.
It’s easy to look at Nurse’s life and conclude, in retrospect, that everything prepared him for this. But who would say that as it happened, looking from outside? Who would look at small-college assistant jobs, a smaller-college head coaching gig, a player-coach job in England, a stop in Belgium, and predict this? Even after his wildly successful but largely obscure time as a head coach in the British League, or similar success in the developmental D League, who could have known?
Hell, Nick Nurse didn’t know. And he was doing it.
“I’m not so sure where we’re sitting now I knew what the heck I was doing,” said Nurse. “I didn’t know what path I was on.
“I wanted to coach. I got a small college job, and then I went from being an assistant for a couple years but, again, the tug of trying new ideas was pulling me back to England so I could get another team to coach. So I was just more trying to figure out if my ideas were right; I was trying to figure out how can I get better each and every year.
“And … I knew I was getting better. I could feel it. And (in the D-League, now called the G League), people used to ask me, ‘Well, how come you’re not in the NBA? You’re having so much success.’ And I never really got over-anxious about that, because I felt that every year I was getting a lot better.
“So it was about loving each and every one of those jobs, and just trying to get a lot better every year.”
That’s it. That’s everything. Nurse told a story about starting 8-8 in his first real coaching job in England, in Birmingham, and he said, “I went back to my hotel thinking maybe I should pack up and go home. I wrote down four other things I thought I might like doing, and they all looked like absolute s— to me, so I figured I better get working on coaching and figure it out.”
A lot of us have those moments when we’re chasing dreams, and success only really looks inevitable in retrospect. Nurse’s list, as he remembered it, was to be a recreation centre director, to work in real estate, to have an accounting degree, and something lost to history. Eventually Nurse was a hot name in the NBA’s development league and the Raptors were looking for an offensive mind, and Ujiri, by now running the Raptors, remembered him: Nurse had kept in touch. And Nurse had ideas.
When Nurse was asked to appear on TNT on Saturday, he said he had no idea that he would be getting the award — to the point that he joked that he got into a bit of an argument with Jennifer Quinn, Toronto’s director of communications, about what he would be talking to the “Inside The NBA” panel about.
But Nurse visibly became emotional when his high school coach, Wayne Chandlee, came on the broadcast to tell him he’d won this year’s award, before Lowry and VanVleet then presented him with the award.
“It kind of all starts with Coach Chandlee,” Nurse said. “I’m a young ninth-grader as a player, and he’s the coach that’s coaching me on my first real kind of basketball team in high school. He has a tremendous knowledge of the game, a tremendous love of the game, knows how to break it all the way down to the finer points. You start learning these things from him. And I think the love that he has gets transferred to you, too.
“It’s pretty special to have three of my favorite people, Coach Chandlee, Kyle and Fred, involved in that moment, that’s for sure.”
In winning the award, Nurse not only becomes the third Raptors coach to win the honor — following Dwane Casey (2018) and Sam Mitchell (2007) — but also becomes the first coach to win both the NBA’s Coach of the Year award as well as its equivalent in the G League.
Nurse, who coached several years in the G League, has often talked about how instrumental his success both there and overseas was in him becoming the coach he is today. He said the time he spent as a head coach in the NBA’s minor league was “invaluable” to his development.
“I think it’s irreplaceable for me,” he said. “I think that anytime you can get up in front of a team and be the head coach, is invaluable experience. And it was tough, that league is tough to coach in. There’s really great players, there’s really great coaches, there’s NBA organizations backing those teams, and people are competing to win.
“It’s high-level competition and you’ve gotta fight and claw and figure it out. So that’s part of it, too, the competing factor. But, you know, calling the timeouts, making the subs, developing chemistry, developing a system of play, all that stuff happens in that league. And I always say, any coach that asks me, I always say get in front of a team, get head-coaching, any head-coaching experience you can get; it’s invaluable.”
The Raptors have passed judgement and have the championship rings to prove it. Nurse got that job done. But it’s how he’s helped turn this version of the Raptors – a team without a player taken in the draft lottery and without a player who has ever finished in the top-five of the league MVP voting into a legitimate threat to repeat is why Nurse has earned league-wide recognition. Last season was impressive, but this year Nurse backed it up by implementing what is perhaps the NBA’s most versatile and intelligent defensive approach, the bookend to the offensive flair he became known for in the first place.
What’s so cool is that Nurse honed his craft for decades in places where people didn’t watch and now that everyone’s watching, he doesn’t care.
He’ll roll out a box-and-1 in the NBA Finals and regularly plays triangle-and-two – another zone/man hybrid most common in high school basketball when a team is trying to stop one-star player but thought to be impossible in the NBA, where every player is a star. He’ll full-court press like a frantic grade school team and drop back to a stodgy, basic 2-3 zone like he’s coaching men’s league.
He’ll wear his personalized Nike hat with his ‘NN’ initials on it and get up on stage with the Arkells to flash his fairly basic guitar skills and he’ll do Zoom calls with a hoodie with a ‘Box-and-1’ logo.
Nurse is going to do him.
Those who work with him have come to appreciate it. VanVleet has put in more time with Nurse than almost anyone – all those extra practice hours fine-tuning the bench mob — and is one of the NBA’s smartest, wisest players, even in his fourth season In the other life, before the pandemic, the Raptors needed to beat the Detroit Pistons and Dwane Casey in order to guaranteed Nurse would be the head coach at the All-Star game. They did it and they did it for Nurse and his staff.
“Coaches don’t really get a lot of credit in this league,” said VanVleet afterwards. “They definitely do a good job putting us in good positions. They’re flexible, they listen to us, and with as little amount of practice time that we have, it’s very important that we have good communication, trust and I think that’s something that’s been building for the last year and a half. Even when we lose and we play bad, we pretty much know exactly what it is; we’re never searching for answers and that’s something you like to hang your hat on.”
Fresh off a remarkable campaign in which his team overcame the loss of two championship starters – including the Finals MVP – and a barrage of injuries to key players, there was little doubt that Nurse would be named Coach of the Year. Still, he was not expecting the announcement to come when it did, and on live national television.
He had been asked to appear on TNT’s studio show ahead of the afternoon game between Milwaukee and Orlando. He wondered what the popular and award-winning panel of Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Shaquille O’Neal were going to ask him, but didn’t give it too much thought. He’s got other things on his mind – the Raptors can sweep Brooklyn and advance to the second round with a win on Sunday.
Once they started playing a recorded message from his high school basketball coach, Wayne Chandlee, he figured something was up. When Chandlee, who coached him as a ninth grader at Kuemper Catholic School in Iowa, congratulated him on winning Coach of the Year, it nearly brought him to tears.
Fittingly, Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet – the first two players that Nurse spoke to after Leonard made his decision last summer – delivered him the trophy. A landslide winner of the award, Nurse received 90 of 100 first-place votes from a global panel of sportswriters and broadcasters.
“It’s been an interesting journey, that’s for sure,” said the Raptors’ second-year head coach. “It’s a humbling award, it really is.”
Nurse had coached all over the world before Dwane Casey and the Raptors hired him as an assistant in 2013. From the British League to Division I basketball, from Belgium to the NBA Development League – he’s won championships and coaching awards at almost every stop.
This is the first NBA Coach of the Year Award for Nurse, who is in his second season as an NBA head coach. Nurse, the 2010-11 NBA G League Dennis Johnson Coach of the Year with the Iowa Energy (now the Iowa Wolves), becomes the first coach to be selected as Coach of the Year in both the NBA and the NBA G League.
Nurse received 90 first-place votes from a global panel of 100 sportswriters and broadcasters and earned 470 total points. Two-time NBA Coach of the Year Mike Budenholzer of the Milwaukee Bucks (147 points; five first-place votes) and Billy Donovan of the Oklahoma City Thunder (134 points; four first-place votes) finished in second and third place, respectively.
Coaches were awarded five points for each first-place vote, three points for each second-place vote and one point for each third-place vote. The voting was conducted based on regular-season games played through March 11. The seeding games, which were played July 30- Aug. 14 as part of the season restart, did not count toward voting for the NBA Coach of the Year Award or the league’s other traditional end-of-season awards.
The Toronto Raptors announced Saturday that Nick Nurse has been named the NBA’s Coach of the Year for the 2019-20 season. Nurse guided the Raptors to a 53-19 record during the regular season (second best in the NBA) and set a franchise-record with a .736 winning percentage.
“When you see Nick on the sidelines, that’s who he is as a person. Relaxed, but so hard-working. Creative and dynamic. Always setting the tone for our team – attacking our next championship, rather than defending our last,” Raptors President Masai Ujiri said. “That is who Nick is, that is why we believe in him. His journey to this tremendous honour has been a long one – we are so happy to see him recognized this way.”
Highlighting Toronto’s season was a franchise-record 15 straight victories (Jan. 15 – Feb. 10). During this stretch, the Raptors averaged 121.2 points and shot .504 (672-1333) from the field. The winning streak was the longest in Canadian sports history (NBA, NHL, MLB, MLS and CFL).
Nurse earned Eastern Conference Coach of the Month honours twice during the 2019-20 campaign – January and games played in October/November – and coached Team Giannis at the NBA All-Star Game in Chicago.
The Raptors finished the regular season leading the NBA in points allowed (106.5 ppg) and opponent three-point field goal percentage (.337) and ranked second in opponent field goal percentage (.428). Toronto also held its opponent to fewer than 100 points in 22 games – most in the NBA.
Nurse received 6 second place votes and 2 third place votes, giving him 470 total points and a landslide win. (My math tells me that two people did not have Nurse on their ballots, and I question both the sanity and the basketball knowledge of those two voters.)
It was a landslide victory for Nick Nurse to take home the NBA coach of the year award. Jack Armstrong joins Josh Lewenberg to explain why he was the clear favourite after the Raptors didn’t miss a beat even after losing Kawhi Leonard and some other key pieces.
Nurse’s coaching journey has taken him all over the world, and he’s spent time coaching both in Belgium and England, where he was named British Basketball League Coach of the Year two times, and worked with the British national team. Upon returning to the United States, Nurse worked in the G League for a number of years, being named G League Coach of the Year in 2011.
Eventually he got his shot in the NBA, joining the Raptors as an assistant coach under Dwane Casey. When the Raptors fired Casey in 2018, they promoted Nurse to the head coaching position, and he’s been an instant success. In his first two years in charge he led the team to their first title in franchise history and now has an NBA Coach of the Year award to go with the other trophies in his case.
Nurse is the only head coach to win a title in both the G League and NBA, and is now also the only one to win Coach of the Year in both the G League and NBA. Following his success with the Raptors, Nurse was also hired as head coach of the Canadian national team.
The basis of his coaching philosophy is putting a team together that plays hard night in and night out. We can say with some certainty that he has had that both last year and this.
The long and winding road to the NBA, though, wasn’t always easy and Nurse admitted there was at least one moment where he almost left the profession for good.
“Yeah, I think I was 26 or 27 years old when I went to England and my team was about 8-8,” Nurse said. “I went over there to see if I was any good or could get better. It was my second time over there but my first was as a player coach. But I went back to my hotel thinking maybe I should pack up and go home.
“I wrote down four other things I thought I might like doing and they all looked like absolute s*** to me so I figured I better get working on coaching and figure it out.”
Safe to say Nurse figured it out rather definitively. He’s got one Larry O’Brien Trophy under his belt, is fighting tooth and nail for a second and Saturday afternoon he was carrying the Red Auerbach Trophy back to his hotel room on the NBA Campus in Orlando.
The Raptors have never swept a playoff series in their franchise history, but that could all change on Sunday against the Nets. Jack Armstrong joins Kate Beirness to discuss what’s been working for Toronto so far and also looks ahead to a possible second round matchup with the Celtics.
Game 3 was very similar to Game 1, except without the big let-up in the middle of the game. Just like Game 1, the starters got out ahead quickly in the early going. Just like Game 1, Serge Ibaka had a very nice scoring game off the bench (in spite of some early struggles in this one) and powered the bench to big wins in their minutes.
It may actually be worse than Game 1 though. The Game 1 in which partway through it was clear the series was going to be a sweep.
For example: the lowest plus-minus of any non-garbage time Raptors player in Game 1 was Norman Powell, who was +3, while Kyle Lowry led the way with a +26.
In Game 3, the lowest plus-minus for any non-garbage time player was again Norman Powell, but this time at +12. Lowry again led the way at +27. Eerily similar. But better.
But as a second-round pick, even an early one, VanVleet would have been undervalued. It’s not like he was an unknown commodity having played on a strong Wichita State team for four years that went to the Sweet 16 in 2015 and had a perfect 35-0 season the year before, before losing to Kentucky n the third round of the tournament.
He was a two-time Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year among his college awards as well as a Naismith Award semifinalist in his sophomore season.
But for whatever reason he was overlooked. Hindsight makes geniuses of us all but it’s not like his work ethic and drive were hidden. More likely, it was that they weren’t valued as much as his numbers were.
VanVleet — and this had to have come up in the countless draft interviews he did— summed himself up pretty nicely following the Raptors’ Game 3 win.
“I pride myself on being a hard worker,” he said. “I pride myself on coming back better each year. I think I worked my butt off during the suspension, and I think I’m better now than I was during the season. I’ve got to keep continuing to grow each day. I would hope that I’m better at a lot of things. I think, for me, just continuing to be aggressive for our team and help us win as much as possible. So going forward you’ll keep seeing that. Whether the ball is going in or not, it’ll be the same me. It is what it is.”
That line about working hard could have been spoken by Kyle Lowry or Pascal Siakam or Norm Powell, or OG Anunoby or any number of Raptors present or even past, such as DeMar DeRozan, because that quality in a player is what this organization values and it explains at least a little why they have been so competitive over the past seven years.
Nurse was speaking in the aftermath of Ibaka’s best statistical game of the playoffs, a 20-point, 13-rebound gem in Game 3 against Brooklyn on Friday.
Ibaka entered the game as he usually does, late in the first quarter to spell starting centre Marc Gasol. Things didn’t start well — Ibaka missed his first four shots — but then he rattled off eight makes in a row.
It’s patience. Like it always is with Ibaka.
“You always try to do better, you always try to get better in this game,” he said. “After the game you always watch tape and you always try to figure out (ways to improve).
“Even when we get a (win) we always try to figure out a way to get better because we know the further we keep going in the playoffs, the more difficult the game is gonna be.”
One thing that helps Ibaka get going offensively each game is playing alongside Fred VanVleet. The two have developed a sense of timing in pick-and-roll action that gets one of them an open shot more often that not.
Again, it comes from patience.
“The best thing about me and Serge is we continue to communicate with each other, possession to possession, game to game, practice to practice,” VanVleet said. “We keep talking. He’s telling me what he’s seeing. I’m telling him what I’m seeing. We both like to shoot open shots. We keep trying to find each other and find that chemistry. I think it took some time for Serge to trust me and vice versa. We keep continuing to work on that relationship. Hopefully we can keep it going in the future.”
Ibaka said he always finds willing listeners in those conversations, which is hardly surprising given the number of open shots it gets teammates like VanVleet.
“The great thing about this is, my point guards, they really like to listen, they like to listen,” Ibaka said. ”Every time I go talk to them, I say, ‘Listen, next time I’m going to set a screen on the other side, then I’m going to roll, and so that’s the good thing about them.”
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