Demanding DeRozan defend only one wrinkle of Nurse Era for Raptors

LAS VEGAS — When Nick Nurse replaced Dwane Casey as Raptors head coach there was a lot of bellyaching about how much change could really result from the move.

After all, Nurse was Casey’s long-time assistant and had considerable input on how things were done, especially on offence.

Well, as Public Enemy said, don’t believe the hype. Change is coming and it will arrive in a variety of ways.

From being more aggressive and physical defensively, to picking up the pace offensively (partly as a result of creating turnovers), to finding schemes that don’t leave big men on an island or guards defending down low, to increased accountability on defence, Nurse has a lot of ideas.

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The league has gone smaller, but the fact remains that two of Toronto’s four best players, Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet, only stand six feet tall (if that), which will present some challenges defensively.

“I think I’ve got something stirring here in my head,” Nurse told Postmedia in a wide-ranging 1-on-1 interview after Toronto beat Denver 85-77 late Wednesday night in Vegas.

“Kyle’s going to be on the floor, Fred’s going to be on the floor a lot, so we’ve got to be able to come up with something defensively, where we’re protecting not only them but our bigs. So we don’t end up coming down the floor and just after a couple of (opposing screens or movements) Kyle and Fred are inside and Jonas (Valanciunas) and Serge (Ibaka) are outside,” Nurse said.

“We’ve got to come up with something (to prevent that) and I’ve got some thoughts and ideas on that and I’m going to have to polish that up, experiment with that a little bit and try to do some things maybe we haven’t done in the past.”

Nurse has made no secret in making the media rounds that part of that includes challenging third team All-NBA guard DeMar DeRozan, by most metrics one of the worst defenders in the league, to at least be passable at that end.

Nurse says DeRozan is completely on board with the idea and in fact is eager to keep proving the naysayers wrong, which he tends to do every season.

“I wouldn’t make the comments if I thought he was shying away from it,” Nurse said. “We sat down, he’s on the edge of his seat saying, ‘What do you got for me.’ I was like, “Well’ … and I start in and he finishes my sentence: ‘I know, I’m better than that, I want to work at it.’”

From there, Nurse gave DeRozan a plan and added: “I don’t expect you to be Bruce Bowen (by) Game 1, but by the time the playoff hits, we’ve got to have you because there’s no place we can hide you,” Nurse said.

“And he’s totally down, he’s got the ability physically, he knows what he’s doing. We’ve got to make a plan and a long-term plan and stick with it a little bit.”

Another issue the team faced in the past and will still have to manage is some of the duplication across the roster. Valanciunas and Jakob Poeltl are centres only and Ibaka’s regression, particularly in terms of his mobility, make him a far better option as a centre than a power forward in most cases. Pascal Siakam’s rapid improvement and push for minutes there also factor in here, as does OG Anunoby’s likely offensive advantage as a power forward over when he’s playing small forward. Nurse sees Anunoby defending guards and both forward positions so where he slots in defensively isn’t an issue. But on offence, Anunoby should be able to out-quick bigger and slower power forwards. Nurse said he’s still pondering these questions but recognizes that Anunoby, like most players these days, wants to play a position down on offence if given the chance, not up (ie. small forward, not power forward).

As for Ibaka? “He’s going to have to play both (centre and power forward, even if that’s not ideal),” Nurse said.

“I think he wants to be a spacing (power forward), but spacing guy, four, five, it doesn’t matter to us.”

With all that said, this corner has repeated all summer that while firing Casey and handing Nurse the reins were reasonable decisions by Masai Ujiri, making them the only big moves of the off-season (and symbolically laying all of the blame for playoff failings at Casey’s feet) is simply not enough. Even with Nurse set to mix things up significantly and even with LeBron James defecting to the West.

Nothing has changed. Ujiri and Bobby Webster can and should do more.

And if they don’t, all of Nurse’s manoeuvring had better work.

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ANUNOBY GETTING CLOSER TO 100% EXPLOSIVENESS

LAS VEGAS — OG Anunoby was a revelation for the Raptors as a rookie despite not being all the way back from a torn ACL suffered while he was playing for the Indiana Hoosiers.

Initially expected to be out until late-November or December, Anunoby instead was in the lineup for the pre-season and suited up for 74 games, starting 62 of them. He emerged as the team’s top defender and also shot 37% on three-pointers. By the time the playoffs rolled around, Anunoby was looking more explosive.

Here in Vegas he has been even bouncier, rocking rims and taking opponents off of the dribble. He scored 19 points (hitting four three-pointers) and blocked two shots in a loss against Oklahoma City, then had 22 points and another block against Denver on Wednesday night.

Asked by Postmedia when he will be all the way back and how he will know, Anunoby indicated that that time isn’t far off.

“Yeah, (his explosiveness) is coming back. I think I’m just gonna wake up one day and it’ll be 100. I think I’m 100 right now but I’m sure I can do more,” Anunoby said.

Source:: Toronto Sun – Movies

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