I still remember the summer of 2018 like it was yesterday. I would go to work, play countless hours of 2K, and gawk at my phone awaiting the news of the Toronto Raptors’ new head coach. It was a big decision; the Raptors former coach, Dwane Casey spent a seven year tenure with Toronto, a very successful one at that. The season before Casey was hired as head coach, the Raptors posted a 22-60 record under Canadian Jay Triano. By Casey’s last year, the Raptors set a franchise record of 59 regular season wins, which rewarded Casey with coach of the year.
Someone reading this, who has no recollection of the Raptors consistent playoff failures under Casey, would read that paragraph and wonder, “Why was Casey fired?” Actually, quite a few Raptor fans wondered the same thing as Casey walked across the stage to receive his coach of the year honor as a member of the Detroit Pistons.
I was never in the boat of keeping Casey. Frankly, I wanted to blow the entire team up. After countless years of defending the Raptors on Twitter, I was done. The sweep at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2018 had placed me on the bandwagon which believed the Toronto Raptors could not compete.
I knew it wasn’t all Casey’s fault. I blamed the roster more than anything. As much as I love DeMar DeRozan for his countless loyal years in Toronto, he wasn’t the guy, and the Raptors needed a change. Luckily, it was that season where superstar Kawhi Leonard demanded out of San Antonio, and Masai pulled off his magic once again; completing the deal which brought Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green to Toronto for DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl, and a first-round-pick.
Approximately a month before this, I was anticipating the hiring of current Milwaukee Bucks head coach, Mike Buldenhozer. After seeing what Buldenhozer did with the Atlanta Hawks in the 2014-2015 season, I was sold on him being the best coach on the market.
At this point I had heard about Nick Nurse, and the narrative following him which was that he was the reason for the Raptors’ offensive turnaround under Dwane Casey. However, I can’t say that I had ever watched a D-League game, and I knew even less about the British Basketball League, where Nurse spent some of his tenure as a player-coach.
Being one and a half seasons in, I am pleased to say that once again, Masai made the right decision, and in fact knows more than I do. After winning the championship in his first season, and being the inventor of some of the most creative defenses in the league, Nurse has become regarded in NBA circles as one of the best coaches the NBA has to offer.
Nick Nurse has only coached 170 games in the NBA, but has built quite the resume for himself. Since it’s been quite a few weeks without any games, or NBA action, let’s reflect on how much of an amazing 170 games, it has been.
Nurse is 1-0 in NBA championships
Yes, a skewed statistic if there ever was one, but nevertheless a factual statement. Nurse joins a list of only eight other NBA coaches to win a championship in their rookie season. This includes of recent, Steve Kerr and Tyron Lue. If the season had continued, there is a strong chance Nurse would have a 50% winning percentage on championships, which is still impressive. As long as the season holds out, Nurse remains the only NBA coach to win 100% of his seasons.
Nurse has the highest winning percentage in NBA head coaching history
Another stat where Nurse becomes the beneficiary of only coaching one and a half seasons, but still impressive. After the Raptors lived up to high expectations in the 2018-2019 season, the majority of people were expecting a major drop-off after losing Kawhi. In fact, a lot of people were expecting a complete blowup and rebuild from Masai. Nurse, had other plans. Even after losing his finals MVP, Nurse led a Raptors team who had lost 219 man-games due to injury (per sportrac.com) to a 46-18 record.
Nick maintains a .712 winning percentage in regular season games, which places him first in NBA history, and a .667 winning percentage in the playoffs, placing him sixth in NBA history.
Only team to beat the Warriors in a playoff series since 2016.
After Kevin Durant joined forces with the best regular season team in NBA history, the Warriors seemed virtually unstoppable. After winning the championship in 2017, and 2018, the Warriors were coming in hot, and looking at a likely three-peat. Nick Nurse, and his Raptors were the only team to get in their way of that.
Since acquiring Durant, the Warriors held a 44-10 playoff record heading into the 2019 finals against the Raptors. One could make the argument that the Raptors didn’t play the “Durant-Warriors” in the finals, and it would be a fair one, due to Durant only playing 12 minutes that whole series.
However, let’s not forget a little article titled NBA Finals experts’ predictions: Warriors-Raptors and Finals MVP. This article was released prior to last years finals, and it showed only 2/21 ESPN writers predicting the Raptors to win, knowing Kevin Durant was injured and likely out all series. I don’t say this to throw these predictions back in the writers’ faces, but I say it to showcase that the Raptors still weren’t even close to favorites to win the championship last year.
Nick Nurse came up with some elaborate schemes, and even some simple ones like his “janky” box-and-one, which all came together in an effort to beat the Warriors in the finals; their first series loss since 2016.
Nick beat the 7% odds
No, 7% is not the chance of becoming an NBA head coach, in fact those are significantly lower. 7% is the chance of winning a seven-game playoff series in the NBA, according to NBA history. Only 20 out of a potential 282 teams have ever done it (per oddshark), and Nick and his Toronto Raptors became 21.
The Milwaukee Bucks looked like the absolute cream of the crop in the 2018-2019 season. Winning 60 regular-season games, and blowing through their competition in the playoffs, just to find themselves up 2-0 in the Eastern Conference Finals. According to history, Milwaukee was going to the NBA finals. As everything else in Nick’s career, he had other plans. Nurse and the Raptors rattled off four-straight wins to beat the powerhouse Bucks, and advance to the finals. It also feels even more impressive knowing that this series didn’t extend to seven games.
By the end of the 2020 season, Nurse was sure to be in the conversation for the Coach of the Year award, and still very well might win it. Nurse has led the Raptors to the third best record in the NBA to-date, while experiencing an extreme amount of injuries, and without a legitimate top-five MVP candidate.
As an NBA coach, Nick has defeated all the odds, and made all Raptors fans proud. With his contract up at the end of the 2021 season, he will most definitely draw interest from a multitude of teams in need of a head coach. I would very much expect Masai to cough up the bag for him, especially if he continues what he started.