Boasting the joint-best record in the league and a team on a mission to rule the Eastern Conference, Nick Nurse has started his career as a rookie coach with the best record in the last few years. The Toronto Raptors are currently the top seed in the East with a 10-1 record to start this campaign.
The previous record holder of the best start by a rookie coach in recent years was Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr, who had a 9-2 record in his first 11 games in 2014-15, a season which yielded an NBA title.
Tyronn Lue also had an impressive start to his Cleveland Cavaliers reign, after replacing David Blatt in January 2016, and commanded an 8-3 record in his first 11 games in charge of the Cavs in the 2015-16 season. Nurse has managed to surpass Lue and Kerr’s records and has the Raptors playing at an elite level. It’s still early in the season but they have the makings of a team ready to make their first-ever appearance in The NBA Finals.
Nurse’s team is averaging 117.4 points per game, the fifth-best scoring record across the league. They are also the fourth-best team in terms of making field-goal shots with a 49.2-percent rate. They are also one of only four teams yet to taste defeat at home so far this season, with a 6-0 record in their backyard.
What Nurse is doing right
Reviving Kyle Lowry: Kyle Lowry had a solid season averaging double digits again, but his 16.2 ppg rate was his lowest in four years for the Raptors. This season he started off on a better note with an average of 17.9 ppg. He is also leading the league in assists with 11.5 dimes per game. At this point last season he had recorded single-digit points on three occasions, with no 20-point games in his first 11 outings. This season he has already recorded five 20-point games and only one single-digit-point game in the first 11 fixtures. Lowry looks a lot happier and more productive in Nurse’s system.
Aggressive starts to every game: The Raptors have started every game aggressively, enabling them to take control of games a lot earlier and helping them to win. According to NBA.com, the Raptors are 8-0 in games in which they led at halftime. They were in rampant form against the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday as they commanded a 71-49 halftime lead. Their aggressive start enabled them to create an untouchable cushion which proved too much for the Lakers.
Switching centers: With no definite starter at the center position, Nurse has created an unpredictable situation for his opponents. He has switched Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas depending on game-day situations and duels, and both players have thrived in this situation without any of them feeling inferior. Ibaka is tallying an average of 18 points while Valanciunas is averaging 13.6 points per game. This gives Nurse an edge as his opposing coaches will not know what to expect.
Trusting Siakam: Last season Siakama was a useful rotation player (averaging 7.3 ppg and 4.5 rebounds off the bench) and he showed signs of developing into a reliable player. Nurse has entrusted the Cameroon star with a starting berth and the results have been devastating for the Raptors’ opponents. He is currently averaging 11.7 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game. He’s also recorded three double-doubles this season, compared to last season’s none.
Only time will tell if Nurse is on the right path, but the earliest indications are that he might lead them to greater heights.
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