The coaching search for the Raptors has ended. According to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, Toronto plans to promote assistant coach Nick Nurse to replace Dwane Casey as the team's head coach.
Nurse's promotion comes at an interesting time for the Raptors. They won a franchise-record 59 games in the 2017-18 season and exorcised some of their demons with a first-round victory over the Wizards in the playoffs. They then lost to LeBron James and the Cavaliers in four games, paving the way for Coach of the Year finalist Casey to be fired.
Can Nurse turn the Raptors into title contenders next season, or are they destined to be the same team they were this season? Let's take a look at three questions that Toronto's new head coach needs to answer...
To what extremes will Nurse push his system?
Before he joined the Raptors as an assistant coach in 2013, Nurse spent several years in the D-League (now the G League) as the head coach of the Iowa Energy and Rio Grande Valley Vipers. He was named Coach of the Year in 2010-11 with the Energy and then helped the Vipers win one of his two championships as a head coach in the NBA's minor league by installing a "Moreyball" offense built around getting as many layups and 3-pointers as possible.
Nurse put his stamp on the Raptors as an assistant coach this season, as they went from attempting 24.3 3-pointers per game in 2016-17 to 33.0 in 2017-18. Doing so made them less reliant on midrange scoring, the least efficient shot in basketball.
The question now is to what extreme Nurse will push those boundaries. Will Jonas Valanciunas, for example, be given the green light to take more than one 3-pointer per game? What about DeMar DeRozan? The four-time All-Star had a career year from the 3-point line this season, but he still made the third-most midrange shots in the league. Will Nurse try to make DeRozan more dependent on 3-pointers even though he made only 31.0 percent of those opportunities this season?
"I'm happy that he's taking more 3s," Nurse told James Hebert of CBS Sports about DeRozan in December. "Just because he's open and it's an easy shot for him to take. He doesn't have to work so hard. He doesn't have to take so much punishment. He doesn't have to weave through so many people and stuff. They just kick it out and he takes it and he's starting to look comfortable out there."
Will Nurse be able to make the in-game adjustments Casey didn't?
According to Michael Grange of Sportsnet, one of the areas Casey was seen to be "lacking" over the years was his in-game adjustments. James' buzzer-beater in Game 3 of this season's playoffs, when he dribbled the ball the full length of the court against little resistance, only added "another log on the fire."
Assuming the Raptors run a similar system with Nurse at the helm, will his in-game adjustments give them the edge they were missing in the Casey era?
As one-sided as their series with the Cavaliers looked on paper, the Raptors had an opportunity to win two of the four games. Win those because of a few small adjustments from the sideline - possibly playing a different lineup down the stretch of Game 1 or doubling LeBron in Game 3 to keep the ball out of his hands - and the Raptors would've been able to make it a series.
Can Nurse get the veterans to buy-in?
This will be Nurse's first head coaching gig in the NBA, and he's taking over a veteran team featuring DeRozan, Valanciunas, Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka. Being an assistant coach with the Raptors since 2013 will make his transition easier, but will he be able to get them all to buy-in to whatever changes he makes?
Lowry might be the most important player for Nurse to win over. He is the engine that drives the Raptors, but Lowry initially struggled to adjust to the changes Casey made last season.
"Last couple years, coach would give me the game for the first five, six, seven minutes," Lowry told reporters in November. "I could feel out the game and get passes off and get everyone involved and now it's like everyone has to be involved from the jump. For me, it's getting off the ball, moving and cutting, and it just hasn't been there for me yet."
Lowry went on to have another standout season in which he was named an All-Star for the fourth time in his career, but it'll be interesting to see if he - and everyone else on the Raptors - is patient with Nurse if similar obstacles arise, especially after how this season ended.
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