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Toronto Raptors

Is Nick Nurse of the Toronto Raptors the front-runner for Coach of the Year?

Micah Adams (@MicahAdams13): Throughout the week here on NBA.com, we've been checking in on each of the end-of-season awards.

Last but not least? The coaches!

OK guys. Let's jump right into it. We all agree that there's a runaway favourite. The catch? We don't actually agree with each other.

Scott Rafferty (@crabdribbles): Well, only one of us doesn't agree. Carlan and I are both on Team Nick Nurse for Coach of the Year. You, Micah, say otherwise.

Adams: There's only one right choice here, and it's not Nurse.

It's Billy Donovan of the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Carlan Gay (@TheCarlanGay): Well, this will be a short chat...

Adams: Haha someone's awfully snippy!

Gay: Look, I respect Donovan and what he's done this year with the Thunder, but the case for him won't be nearly as strong as the case for Nurse.

Adams: So lay out the case for Nurse. What makes you guys so sure that he's the guy?

Rafferty: The Raptors lost not one, but two starters in the offseason in Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, and have basically been playing at the same level this season as they were last season. Not only that, the Raptors have missed the fifth-most games to injury and still have the second-best record in the Eastern Conference.

Nurse also continues to get the best out of every player on the roster in a way I don't think any other coach in the league has this season. He's not afraid to call anyone out and it seems as though they always respond.

That's the bare bones of it.

Gay: Donovan has had to deal with losing his two best players, but he was able to replace them with a future Hall of Fame point guard and the closest thing to a coach that still plays in games in Chris Paul. Nurse lost two starters - including the pound-for-pound best player in the league - and replaced them with ... wait for it ... Stanley Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.

And what's he done? He's only on pace to have the same record at the time of our season being halted, according to FiveThirtyEight.

You can tap out now if you like...

Adams: I get it. Losing Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green is tough. And I wholeheartedly agree with getting the most out of his guys.

But.

You are OUT OF YOUR MIND if you think anyone expected this version of Chris Paul to walk through that door in replacing Russell Westbrook. If this was the version of CP3 that anyone thought would show up, he wouldn't be wearing a Thunder jersey because he'd still be in Houston. He's a Hall of Famer and one of the greatest point guards of all-time but he'd been a shell of himself the last two seasons, someone clearly on his last legs who couldn't stay healthy.

You two want to talk about exceeding win totals? Let's talk about it then!

Rafferty: After Paul was traded to the Thunder, didn't you write an article about how he could be the Chris Paul of old again?

Gay: 🙄

Rafferty: You did!

Gay: You can tap whenever you like...

No one expected this ... expect for the guy making the argument!

Adams: I made an argument. I made a prediction. I took a stand. Sorry for not sitting on the fence and choosing to ride it out before picking a side.

Rafferty: I mean, you were right. I'm just saying it wasn't CRAZY to think he could return to being an All-Star.

Unlikely? Yes. Impossible? No.

Adams: "The reasons for feeling bearish begin with well-founded concerns about his ability to stay healthy. He's missed over 20 games in each of the last three seasons while appearing in just over 70% of his team's total games. That doesn't bode well for a small-statured, now 34-year-old point guard who even in his prime had problems staying on the court as evidenced by the fact that he's reached the 80-game threshold just three times in his career. To expect Paul to stay reasonably healthy and finish somewhere in the neighbourhood of 70 games feels risky."

Gay: Even if we didn't expect an All-Star return, he's still a future HOFer and far better than Johnson and RHJ.

Adams: OK fine. Again ... let's talk about those expectations.

OKC entered the season with an over/under of 31.5 wins. That's it.

They hit the over before the All-Star break.

According to FiveThirtyEight's projections, they were on pace to win 50 games, which would be an absurd over-achievement of 18.5 wins! That's by far the most of any team.

Here are Donovan's best players:

  • A 34-year-old point guard who couldn't stay healthy for two years.
  • A second-year guard who averaged 11 points per game as a rookie and finished 6th in ROY voting.
  • A nice floor-stretching forward that's never averaged 20 a game for a season and his own history of injury issues.
  • A back-up point guard coming off a year in which he shot 41% and played at a below replacement level.
  • A centre who couldn't stay on the floor in a playoff series against Portland.

Rafferty: Right, but if I had told you following the Finals that the Raptors would lose Leonard and Green in free agency, replace them with Johnson and RHJ, miss the fifth-most games in the league to injury - to key players, too! - and they'd still have the second-best record in the East, you'd say I'm out of my mind.

Adams: They also play in a conference with the Atlanta Hawks, Cleveland Cavaliers, Chicago Bulls, Washington Wizards, Detroit Pistons and New York Knicks ... that's a quarter of the season spent playing glorified scrimmages.

The Thunder have probably the worst wings in the league to the point where an undrafted rookie who can't shoot was suddenly starting and playing major minutes. On a team suddenly flirting with home court in a ridiculously loaded Western Conference.

Gay: One thing Donovan has had this season is the luxury of showing up to work and knowing who was going to be available. Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Dennis Schroder and Steven Adams have missed a combined nine games this year. The Raptors, on the other hand, have had only three players play in at least 85% of their games: a rookie named Terence Davis, who didn't make the Rising Star Game, Chris Boucher and OG Anunoby ... that's it, that's the list.

And Nurse still has the Raps with the third-best record in the league after LOSING the best player in the league for a rotation player and a draft bust who can't find minutes on a team that's lost 219 man-games to injury. (I know he's contributed to that but even when he's healthy Johnson doesn't play)

The Raptors may play against scrubs in the East but they also play in the only division that features four out of five playoff teams and hold a 16-8 record against the tougher West. 16-8, by the way, is eight games over .500 and a better winning percentage against the West than OKC holds currently.

The Thunder have been just as fortunate to play the East, too.

Adams: LOL.

"Just as fortunate to play the East, too."

That's rich.

Rafferty: There's also something to be said for what Nurse does tactically, by the way. He does things on a nightly basis that we don't see other coaches and teams do regularly, whether it's box-and-ones, zones or full-court presses.

Donovan has the three-guard lineup, but you can't sit here and tell me that he makes the same adjustments Nurse does, can you?

Adams: No. I can't. Nurse is objectively a better coach than Donovan. But it's not called the "NBA's best coach" award. Because if it was then Gregg Popovich would be sitting on a whole hell of a lot more than three Coach of the Year awards.

I also think it's worth pointing out how OKC has responded through the season as well. This is a team that started slowly, just 5-10 one month in.

Since that point in time, only the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers have a better record.

There's playing above your talent. And then there's THAT.

Gay: Such pressure to respond ... a team that was picked to win 32 games starts off slowly ... ouuuu.

Adams: Don't bring pressure into this. Nurse is literally playing with house money off a championship and losing his best player.

The Raptors could have gone 0-82 and nobody would have cared. Don't do that.

Gay: The fact that you say that with a straight face is laughable. "The Raptors could have gone 0-82." HA! The pressure was on Nurse to prove to folks like you who think that the team could've gone 0-82 and been fine that last year wasn't a fluke, that last year's championship season wasn't because of one man.

That's the pressure, and you saying and believe that the team could've bottomed out shows that.

If ANYONE is playing with house money, it's Donovan, who was legit playing with house money as the team was entering a rebuild. The message was clear and had he had his way, Sam Presti would've traded CP3. He didn't. He was "stuck" with him, and they made the best of the situation and it turned into a great season, but there was no pressure for this.

NONE!

Adams: Look, I don't want this to turn into hating on one to prop up the other. Nurse has been great. He's a legit first-rate coach that's done an amazing job with navigating a season ripped apart by a steady run of injuries. It's impressive! It's the type of season that deserves a golf clap and runner-up finish to Coach of the Year.

Rafferty: "I don't want this to turn into hating on one to prop up the other, but Nurse is the wrong choice" is what I just read.

One thing we can agree on is that they are the leading candidates, right?

Adams: The only guys I could even pretend to make a case for are Taylor Jenkins, Frank Vogel and Erik Spoelstra.

And really, probably just Jenkins.

Gay: Spoelstra is the only other one whether talking about ... what he's done in Miami with a bunch of young guys is to be applauded. Also, I think I have a soft spot for him. This is like a lifetime achievement vote because he's been so good for so long.

Adams: Spo has been great. Co-sign on everything Carlan said about that. I'd have him fourth behind Jenkins in Memphis because the Grizzlies shouldn't be sniffing anywhere near the playoffs.

Rafferty: It's crazy to think Spoelstra has never won it.

Adams: Had the Bucks actually hit 70 wins, I think Mike Budenholzer would have been in there by default. But with the Bucks falling off a little bit, it's safe to say that ship has sailed. And even with the Lakers having a great year, Vogel probably isn't getting the accolades for that either.

Gay: If only a coach could survive a couple games without their best player ... 🤔

Rafferty: Oh no, here comes the Bucks hate. That's probably a good place to stop.

Gay: Haha! We'll see how things turn out in the playoffs.

Adams: But yeah, Scott ... to answer your question, it's Nurse and Donovan in some order and then everyone else.

That much we can all agree on.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA or its clubs.

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