As the Sixers return home, they have quite a difficult test ahead. The Toronto Raptors are in town for what should be a fascinating matchup to watch unfold.
I chatted with Anthony Doyle of RaptorsRepublic.com to gauge how he’s feeling about the Raps as they embark on a journey to make the Finals and convince Kawhi Leonard to stay at the same time.
Question #1: I’ve seen some frustration from Raptors fans recently in regards to rookie coach Nick Nurse. How would you evaluate the job he’s done so far?
I’d start by saying it’s really hard to evaluate Nurse, and it’s not completely fair to him as a first-year head coach with a veteran squad and a win-now environment like this. This Raptors team, especially with the personalities of Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry, and all the injuries, would be a tough job for pretty much any coach — there has been a lot that has been out of his control, and some issues that can’t be placed at his feet. Also, a 38-16 record at this point in the season isn’t as bad as it sometimes feels to Raptors fans.
That being said, Nurse knew what he was getting this season in large part. Kawhi resting frequently was in the cards from the get-go, the expectations were known. The injuries are rough, but that happens in the NBA.
Nick Nurse has largely been unremarkable as a coach, but there have been some interesting wrinkles. I’ve really enjoyed the way he’s deployed his zone defense and picked his moments to do so. He’s caught a lot of opposing teams off guard and created some runs through that, which has been nice to see. On the offensive end though, there has largely just been no difference from last year’s Raptors. This is a pick and roll offense that only has one roll man, and when Jonas Valanciunas got hurt the team struggled to adapt to the loss, and hasn’t really found answers to create those easy shots that he helps the offense generate. Lowry and Leonard each look like they fit better in the concepts when they’re separate rather than together, which remains a problem with the season more than halfway done now. He also relies all too much on Fred VanVleet as a ball-handler, often putting the ball in his hands instead of giving it to better playmakers on the floor, and that’s created some serious offensive lulls for the Raptors.
The expectation going forward with him to the playoffs at this point should be that he won’t really hurt the team, but the talent on the Raptors is what has to carry them, because Nurse isn’t the creative mind that was promised at that end, and is really just more of what the Raptors had under Dwane Casey.
Question #2: I asked Joshua Howe in December what the Raptors’ biggest weakness was, and he said it was that they were too reliant on Kyle Lowry. Now, about six weeks later, is this still their biggest weakness? If not, what is?
I’m not sure that I would say this is their biggest weakness, but it certainly remains a problem. To me, the reliance on Lowry is more of a symptom of their lack of developed identity than anything else, because Lowry is the only guy who can get the team working cohesively on offense consistently, despite his shooting woes. If the system caught up and created better shots, and the players fit better within that, it would mitigate a lot of the reliance on Lowry. But at this point in the season that’s a big ask.
Question #3: The Trade Deadline is in just a couple days. Do you anticipate the Raptors making any moves? If so, what type of player could they use to help put them over the top?
It’s really hard to read, because to me, there is a lot of sense in the Raptors chasing Anthony Davis, but I don’t think that’s terribly likely. That’s the kind of move that moves the needle for me, as I’m a big believer that most of their issues should be fixed through internal improvement anyways, so changing the players without making those other improvements is somewhat immaterial. A move like getting AD works even without that because of his immense talent.
Otherwise, I’d be comfortable waiting to say what happens in the buyout market if I was the Raptors, because they don’t have a lot of middling contracts that are attractive trade assets, so putting together a smaller trade, such as bringing in a shooter, is hard to figure out without either creating another hole in the rotation or jeopardizing the future, as the Raptors may have a rebuild coming soon if Kawhi Leonard doesn't stay after this season. In the buyout market, I’d probably look for a shooter for the bench unit.
Big thanks to Anthony for taking the time to chat with us!