Nick Nurse and his Road to the 2020 NBA All-Star Game

Toronto Raptors' head coach Nick Nurse during the Toronto Raptors vs Boston Celtics NBA regular season game at Scotiabank Arena on October 19, 2018 in Toronto, Canada (Toronto Raptors win 113-101) (Photo by Anatoliy Cherkasov/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Nick Nurse will be one of the NBA All-Star Game coaches in 2020. These coaches are determined by the teams with the best record in each respective conference. This includes Frank Vogel of the Los Angeles Lakers, who had the best record in the NBA Western Conference.

Greg Budenholzer of the Milwaukee Bucks has the best record in the Eastern Conference. However, the same head coach is not allowed to be in two straight NBA All-Star Game. Therefore, the team with the second-best record in the East, Nick Nurse of the Toronto Raptors will be the head coach of the East.

Nick Nurse’s Road to the 2020 NBA All-Star Game

Nick Nurse – Toronto Raptors

This will not be Nurse’s first NBA All-Star Game appearance as he was an assistant coach to Dwane Casey in 2018. Nurse took over after Casey was fired a few weeks after losing to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Playoffs for the third year in a row in 2019.

It is important to look at Nurse’s journey to the NBA. Unlike most coaches, he started at a very young age. His coaching career began with the University of Northern Iowa as an assistant coach. He then was a player-coach in the British Basketball League with the Derby Rams before moving back to America.

His first-ever head coaching role came with Grand View College, making him the youngest coach in the country. After that, he coached in the United Kingdom for 10 years. He found success in England winning two championships along the way.

Nick Nurse in Great Britain

Nick Nurse is one of Great Britain’s most revered head coaches. His coaching career in Great Britain started with the Derby Storm in 1990 according to Ian Whittell of I News:

“I had just been appointed player-coach of the Derby Storm and we were playing at some obscure venue in the Docklands for our opening game,” Nurse said.

Nurse would excel in Great Britain winning the British Basketball League trophy twice. He won it with the Birmingham Bullets in 1996 and with the London Towers in 2000.

The Rise and Fall of Basketball in England and Scotland

It was then looking like Nurse had found a permanent home to stay in England. Nurse, who was then leading the British Basketball League’s Manchester Giants saw 12,000 people come to the arena according to Jake Fischer of Sports Illustrated:

“More than 12,000 fans poured into Manchester Arena. “And it was a walk-up crowd,” Finch says. “That’s basically unheard of.” Sky Sports broadcast the contest on national television. “That was pretty much the high point of the sport,” Whittell says.”

However, according to Fisher, the BBL abandoned a lucrative TV deal for an upstart digital network. The digital network folded seven months later. Nurse, then flew back to Iowa, trying to find where his next journey would begin. This time with the NBA’s D-League, now called the G-League.

G-League (formerly known as the D-League)

Iowa Energy

Nick Nurse was one of the founders of the Iowa Energy, now called the Iowa Wolves. Most coaches would enter a D-League team with an existing team. However, for Nurse not only was he part of an expansion team with the D-League team, but he was also the founder of his team in his local state. At the D-League, Nurse was one of the only four employees with the Energy. This meant doing many of the things that many D-League coaches would not think of doing.

Nurse and his friend Chris Makris (now a Memphis Grizzlies executive), who at the time was the Energy’s general manager, did lots of tedious jobs according to Fischer:

“Nurse and Makris were two of only four employees, and they had a hand in everything—designing jerseys, determining their color scheme, selling tickets, sponsorships and acquiring players in the league’s expansion draft.

However, Iowa Energy in retrospect was important for Nurse’s coaching career. This is according to Tommy Birch of Des Moines Register:

“The Energy job was probably the key,” Nurse said in a phone interview with the Register. “It kind of transitioned me back into the States. It gave me a link to the NBA. And I got to make some contacts and meet some players and get players set up, and learn the NBA game and terminology and coaching those type of players. It was certainly a huge, huge key to getting to the NBA.”

It also paid off with the Energy organization. Nick Nurse won the championship with his home state in 2011, his last year with the club. He would then go on to win with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers in 2013, before moving onto the NBA. This time to Canada with the Toronto Raptors.

Nick Nurse – Toronto Raptors Assistant (2013-18)

When Nurse came to the Raptors organization, they had not made the playoffs since 2008. In his first year as an assistant coach, he found success as the Raptors made it to the playoffs in 2014. This Raptors team was led by Casey, DeMar DeRozan, and Kyle Lowry. They finished third in the Atlantic Division that year. However, in-game seven of the first round, the Raptors suffered a tough loss when Lowry’s shot was blocked by Paul Pierce of the Brooklyn Nets. This eliminated the Raptors from the post-season, meaning they had only advanced past the first round once.

In the NBA, Nurse had an anonymous role as assistant coach of the Raptors. He was responsible for the improvement of the Raptors’ offense. An example would be him helping Patrick Patterson who then played for the Raptors. According to Steven Lebron of Sportsnet, he would watch endless film to help his players perform better under the bright lights:

“It’s pretty draining, the amount of games I watch on a daily basis,” Nurse admits. “It’s pretty much non-stop. I always tell people it’s like being in college and you’re studying for a final exam. You can keep studying forever but at some point you have to cut it off. At some point you have to say, ‘I’ve watched enough.’”

He would serve as a Raptor’s assistant from 2013-2019. This was the most successful period in Raptor’s history, including making it to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2016 against the Cleveland Cavaliers. The problem was LeBron James. After the Raptors took the Cavs to six games in 2016, they were swept in both 2017 and 2018.

Toronto Raptors (2017-18 NBA Season)

2018 was particularly difficult for Raptors fans as everything was going so well for them in the regular season. Not only did Lowry and DeRozan represent “We The North” in the NBA All-Star Game, but also Casey and his staff made it to the NBA All-Star Game. They finished first in the NBA Eastern Conference and took care of business against the Washington Wizards, beating them in six games. Lastly, Casey won the NBA Head Coach of the Year Award in 2018. However, James was a different matter as they were swept by him and the Cavaliers in the playoffs.

This ended with the unthinkable happening. Casey, who had been there since 2009 was fired. The person who would soon become Coach of the Year was a free agent and did not have a job. However, for Nick Nurse, this would just be part of the beginning and is a big reason why he is going into the NBA All-Star Game. Later that off-season, Nurse became the next NBA-All Star Game head coach.

DeMar DeRozan Traded

The opportunity finally was given to Nick Nurse. Going from coaching in England to coaching an NBA team was a great accomplishment. However, at the same token, Nick Nurse was under a lot of pressure. Firing Casey was not the only off-season transaction Masai Ujiri made.

The Raptors also traded fan-favorite DeRozan along with Jakob Pöltl and a draft pick. This was done to get Danny Green and San Antonio Spurs superstar Kawhi Leonard. It was clear that the Raptors wanted to win now. This likely put a lot of expectation on Nick Nurse.

The margin for error was small for Nurse and he needed to prove that his team could at least make it to the NBA Finals.

Nick Nurse Becomes Head Coach

NBA Championship (2018-19)

There was a lot of pressure on everyone for this Raptors organization. The load management of Leonard was managed perfectly by Nurse and his coaching staff.

Throughout his career Nurse was all about innovating and doing the unexpected. He was going to do that again with the Raptors organization. The coaching moves he made in the NBA playoffs should be pointed out once more.

This included utilizing Norman Powell against the Milwaukee Bucks and putting Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol at the five to provide a dominant 1-2 matchup in post matchups. Nick Nurse did it all and more. He then played a box-and-one on Stephen Curry in the playoffs. Most of the time Fred VanVleet was guarding Curry, who did extremely well in the NBA Finals and is the only player besides Leonard to get an NBA Finals MVP vote.

Lastly, Nurse made Pascal Siakam into a high-usage playmaker, giving the Raptors more opportunities to score. A lot of the credit on the improvement and emergency of Siakam should be given to Nick Nurse. Siakam went from averaging 7.3 points per game to 16.9 points per game. This resulted in the Cameroon native winning the Most Improved Player of the Year Award. It did not stop though as Nurse headed into the 2019-20 NBA Season.

Nick Nurse Becomes an NBA All-Star Head Coach (2019-20)

Toronto Raptors 2019-20 NBA Season

Fresh off winning a championship and ending the Golden State Warriors dynasty, it was a good year for Nurse. Even with Leonard and Green leaving, they still had a good enough team to finish second or third in the Eastern Conference.

However, injuries have plagued this team throughout this season. But in a way it was something Nurse was used to. In the G-League, many players are called up and down from and to the NBA. Nick Nurse was used to it and was no stranger to changing lineups several times in a regular season.

It would be wrong though to give all the credit to Nurse. The management did a good job of cultivating talented players in the G-League. This allowed players like Chris Boucher, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Terence Davis, and Matt Thomas to step up. With all the injuries the Raptors incurred many of these bench players have scored 20 or more points at least once.

Most notably, Davis scored 31 points against the Indiana Pacers on February 5th. Their deep bench, which also included Powell and Ibaka, was a big reason the Raptors are in second place in the Eastern Conference.

Heading into the All-Star Break

While the Raptors did well without a lot of their key players it resulted in them losing to teams with a record over .500. This included losses to the Milwaukee Bucks, Indiana Pacers, the Boston Celtics, and the Miami Heat. All teams that were competing with the Raptors for the second spot. Before their 15 game winning streak, the only team they had a winning record against in the Eastern Conference was the Philadelphia 76ers.

Now, however, the Raptors have turned on a switch and despite injuries to both Lowry and Powell, they seemed to keep winning. This resulted in Lowry and Siakam becoming NBA All-Stars. While a lot of the credit on Lowry’s growth should be given to Casey, the credit for Siakam’s growth should be given to Nurse.

Siakam once again improved his points per game from 16.9 points to 23.7 points. He also had an increase in the number of assists, steals, and rebounds per game. This allowed Siakam to become an NBA All-Star for the first time in his career as an NBA All-Star Starter.

Nurse is also a beneficiary as he is heading to his second NBA All-Star Game, but this time as head coach of an NBA team.

Nick Nurse at the NBA-All Star Game

This is only the second time a Raptors head coach made it to the NBA All-Star Game, with the first one being Casey in 2018. The Toronto Raptors will be well represented in Chicago. The only team with similar representation to the Raptors is the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers have head coach Frank Vogel, along with two NBA All-Star starters in Anthony Davis and James.

Nick Nurse has taken an unusual road to the NBA. However, it is also true that he started coaching at a very young age and has become much more experienced than other head coaches his age. That advantage and his hard-work in Belgium, the United Kingdom, America, and Canada have helped him become an NBA All-Star head coach in 2020.

He is also a winner, winning at almost every place he coached, including England, the United States, and now Canada. His pedigree of changing on the fly is now famous in the NBA and is a big reason why he is in the NBA All-Star Game this year.

 

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