Nick Nurse Rumors
Change, in other words, would need to come from within. Enter Nick Nurse, a 50-year-old assistant coach who was charged with shaking up the offense. After a recent practice, Nurse was explaining the general importance of passing the basketball when he motioned to Jonas Valanciunas, the team’s starting center. Valanciunas, Nurse said, was no longer tethered to the low post. “This guy loves it,” Nurse said. “He’s touching the ball a lot more.” He added: “I think for a lot of the roster, it’s a lot of fun. It might not be as much fun for the guys who aren’t quite used to it yet.”
He completely and comprehensively took over the paint, in other words, and has the chops and versatility to keep it up. “If there’s issues with Valanciunas, foul wise or minutes wise or whatever, [Ibaka] is able to fill in as kind of a power five as well because he’s got the physical body to do that.” Raptors assistant coach Nick Nurse told VICE Sports. Ibaka’s influence bleeds all over Toronto’s game-to-game strategy, but his resurrected dominance on the defensive end is a necessary relief. The Raptors don’t need Ibaka to block shots as well as he used to, but they’ll need his physical skills—the versatility, length, speed, and strength that made him great, and that are matched by few defenders that ever played.
But even earlier than that, Ibaka rarely played center with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Approximately 83 percent of his total regular-season minutes in seven seasons was at the four, according to Basketball-Reference. In the playoffs, that number takes a slight dip down to 81 percent. Things were even worse in Orlando, but his time spent at the five nearly doubled after he was traded to the Raptors. “Obviously they won a lot of games in OKC, but he was clearly a, I don’t know, a fourth, fifth option possibly at the other end,” Nurse said. “And here we needed him at both ends. And I think he didn’t get as involved in Orlando…I don’t know where he ranked as far as where they were on getting him shots and using him at the offensive end so, we’ve been able to do that, too.”
There’s no guarantees many of his assistants will return with him. Andy Greer, Rex Kalamian and Nick Nurse have all had their names in the rumour mill. Exec Bobby Webster is in demand as well.
Speaking again of the Raptors: Nick Nurse, one of Dwane Casey’s lead assistant coaches, might get a look from the Pacers for a lead assistant spot alongside Nate McMillan, sources say. Whether Nurse would view that as a lateral move worth taking is unclear.