Photo credit: Chris O’Meara/AP Photo
The first two seasons of Nick Nurse’s NBA head coaching career couldn’t have gone any better.
However, after winning the championship in 2019 and being named Coach of the Year in 2020, Nurse and the Raptors were brought back down to Earth during this unpredictable 2020-2021 season.
There are many excuses for the Raptors’ struggles this season, and while several of them have been out of their control, many of them have been puzzling on the court performance issues as well.
As the team’s head coach, Nurse has received some unwarranted blame for how this season has gone. But he also hasn’t had the type of season we have come to expect from him over the past few years.
Struggling to keep his cool
Not only did COVID-19 force the Raptors out of Toronto, but it also forced many members of the team’s players and coaching staff to miss several games this season.
The COVID outbreak on the Raptors started with the coaching staff and it wasn’t too long before some players started to test positive as well. A report from The Athletic’s Shams Charania suggested that the Raptors’ coaching staff had been wearing their masks inconsistently. Nurse swiftly refuted that report calling it “unfair” and “speculative.”
Without a doubt, it’s definitely unfair to put the blame on Nurse or any of the Raptors’ coaching staff for the team’s outbreak. But it’s worth mentioning that Nurse has often struggled to keep his cool this season and even thrown his mask away in frustration. More often than not Nurse keeps himself in check, but there have been times this season he has gone overboard.
Trying to adjust the rotation
The countless amount of injuries the Raptors have faced this season have thrown a wrench in Nick Nurse’s rotation. Toronto’s usual core starters of Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby and Fred VanVleet have all missed a troubling amount of games this season and it’s caused several issues.
The biggest areas of concern that have come as a result of these injuries have been their lack of bench production and their recent fourth-quarter struggles.
Nurse doesn’t have a lot of reliable options to choose from when he looks down the bench. Malachi Flynn has been productive as of late but he has also been forced into the starting lineup in place of either VanVleet or Lowry when they have been injured. And now especially with the recent loss of Chris Boucher to injury, it’s easy to see why the Raptors’ bench is struggling to produce.
But the timing of Nurse’s decision to use lineups that consist entirely of second unit players has been questionable.
No coach is perfect by any means, but the way Nurse’s first two seasons as head coach in the NBA went were nearly flawless.
Nurse may have set people’s expectations very high, but it’s still unfair to pin the blame on him for how this season has played out. Sure, some situations could have been handled better, but lots of the issues the Raptors faced were out of their control, and Nurse should be given a pass for how he has navigated this unpredictable season.