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Toronto Raptors

The NBA's Coach of the Year award is Toronto Raptors' Nick Nurse's to lose

With all due respect to Mike Budenholzer, Erik Spoelstra, Frank Vogel and Billy Donovan, they're all playing for second place when it comes to this season's Coach of the Year.

The reason why? Nick Nurse of the Toronto Raptors should be the Coach of the Year in 2019-20, and it's not even close.

What Nurse has done with this Raptors team is otherworldly. And while he and his coaching staff just celebrated their success so far this season by coaching Team Giannis at the 2020 NBA All-Star Game in Chicago, he should also start preparing his acceptance speech for the Red Auerbach Trophy later this year.

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Each of the coaches in the field that Nurse is up against can certainly make cases to win it. Budenholzer, who won it last season, has the Milwaukee Bucks playing at an even higher level than a season ago. Spoelstra, who surprisingly has never won the award, has surprised many with his young Miami Heat squad. Vogel has the Los Angeles Lakers at the top of the toughest conference while Donovan is the guiding the Oklahoma City Thunder, who have been the biggest surprise in the NBA this season, to a likely playoff berth.

And yet, none of them have had to endure what Nurse has had to in just his second season as the Raptors' bench boss.

Let's start with the most overstated topic when it comes to the Raptors: Kawhi Leonard is no longer with the team.

When Leonard left, many believed that he took Toronto's championship chances along with him. According to Odds Shark, the Raptors had the eighth-best odds to win the NBA title entering the season at +2500, the same odds as the Dallas Mavericks, who missed the playoffs last season.

How have Nurse and the Raptors responded? Only by having a better win percentage at this year's All-Star break, as NBA.com's recently Gilbert McGregor pointed out.

Given the fact that very few saw this type of season coming from the Raptors is one thing, but the way they've done is what separates Nurse from the field.

Toronto has lost 185 man-games to injury this season, good for fifth in the league. The four teams in front of them (Detroit Pistons, Washington Wizards, Portland Trail Blazers, Golden State Warriors) are all under .500. The four teams after them (New Orleans Pelicans, Atlanta Hawks, Minnesota Timberwolves, Chicago Bulls) are all also under .500.

Winning games in the NBA isn't easy. When you have to do it consistently without your full roster, more times than not you will fail - except if you're Nurse and the Raptors.

NBA Man-games lost to injury 2019-20
Team Players Games Record
Detroit Pistons 15 238 19-37
Washington Wizards 11 206 19-33
Portland Trail Blazers 14 206 25-30
Golden State Warriors 8 192 12-42
Toronto Raptors 13 185 40-14
New Orleans Pelicans 12 175 23-31
Atlanta Hawks 15 166 15-40
Minnesota Timberwolves 11 155 16-36
Chicago Bulls 11 153 19-36
Indiana Pacers 12 150 31-23

The Raptors have brought new meaning to "next man up." 12 different Raptors have scored 15 or more points in a game this season. Due to injury, Toronto has been forced to use 13 different starting lineups. They've been able to remain comfortable while circumstances may have been uncomfortable.

A lot of that credit has to go to Nurse. He showed a glimpse of it last season in dealing with Leonard's load management and navigating through the regular season without that becoming an issue. This season, despite multiple key players being in contract years and all the injuries, the team looks closer and stronger than ever.

Pushing the right buttons

We know about Nurse's coaching acumen and his fearlessness when it comes to trying new things. He's not afraid to throw "junk defences" out when he needs to, but he's also put a system in place to help the Raptors thrive. Toronto boasts a top-10 offence and top-three defence - he knows what he's doing Xs and Os wise.

But he's also shown the ability to motivate and push the right buttons when needed, a valuable but often underrated quality in a head coach.

Early this season, Nurse called out Rondae Hollis-Jefferson for his lack of effort and knowledge of the defensive schemes. Hollis-Jefferson had built his career on hard work and effort, but Nurse set the tone early to what is expected of him now that he was a part of the Raptors.

Hollis-Jefferson, who played a total of three minutes in the team's first eight games of the season, is now a regular part of the rotation. His energy, effort and defence have shifted games in the Raptors' direction at times this season. Nurse called him out and he's answered the call.

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Terrence Davis is the only Raptor to play in every single one of the team's games entering the All-Star break. He's been a pleasant surprise to the team's rotation this season and has played well enough that he should've been selected to the league's Rising Stars showcase.

However, like any other rookie, he's had some forgettable games, the worst of them coming in early January in a loss against the Blazers. Davis played eight minutes and finished with no points and two rebounds. After the game, his coach called out his effort.

"He's not playing very well," Nurse said following Toronto's 101-99 loss to the Blazers. He added that "it was probably five too many" when a reporter mentioned to him Davis had only been on the floor for eight minutes in the game.

Instead of putting Davis in the dog house, Nurse followed up the tough love by giving the rookie his first career start. Davis responded with 23 points - a career-high at the time - 11 rebounds and five assists, helping the Raptors steal an overtime win in Charlotte while on the second night of a back-to-back.

Every coach in the NBA is capable of drawing up plays or schemes to make life difficult for the opposing team. The great coaches in this league have the ability to also manage egos and push the right buttons when the team needs it. Nurse has done that this season, and it's a big reason why Toronto's ceiling has been adjusted in many's eyes.

How Toronto performs this postseason remains to be seen, but Coach of the Year isn't a postseason award.

It's Nick Nurse's award to lose, there's no doubt about that.

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

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