The Toronto Raptors have had a distinct identity throughout Nick Nurse's head coaching tenure. They're a team with an unusual and hyper-aggressive defensive philosophy and an unrelenting work ethic.
For three seasons that's been part of what Nurse has preached as Toronto's coach. He wants fans to know that every time they tune in to a Raptors game they're going to get 48 minutes of competition and effort.
Now, as coach of the Canadian Senior Men's National Team, Nurse is bringing the same defense-first philosophy to the international game.
"I think we’ve got the personnel, the athleticism, the length, all those things to be disruptive defensively," Nurse said Saturday afternoon. "It’s got to be one of our focus areas. I believe in that anyway, it’s what really good teams are made of, in my opinion, it fuels offense, in my opinion."
So far, things have gone really well during the team's training camp, Nurse said. He's liked what he's seen from the usual suspects, R.J. Barrett, Dwight Powell, and the NBA guys, but it's not just the top-end talent that Canada has that's been so impressive. Nurse has been pleasantly surprised by a few of the lesser-known players like Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Mychael Mulder, and the young prospects, Bennedict Mathurin, Zach Edey, and Charles Bediako.
"I think the team’s taking shape very well," Nurse said. "I can’t be much happier, to be honest. We’ve really learned a lot through some practice, through some scrimmage time, through some film work."
What's nice about this year's squad — the most talented in Canadian history — is the defensive versatility and length it has. While it's lacking some high-end bigs, Nurse has a lot of flexibility on the roster with some guards and forwards who can play up a few positions.
Few players on the team embody what Nurse is talking about quite like Luguentz Dort, the 6-foot-3, 215-pound do-it-all defensive stopper.
"He’s really good, man. Defense, a lot of it's desire, right? He has a lot of desire to play it and that goes along with the gifts he’s been given, physically to do it and he matches those up together very well.," Nurse said.
The FIBA Olympic qualifiers are going to be Dort's first taste of international basketball. Unlike Barrett and a handful of others on the team who came up through the Canadian system, Dort didn't play any international basketball growing up. It's a different game, a more physical one, but nothing Dort isn't already accustomed to.
"I think I'm a pretty physical guy already, so I don't think it's really gonna bother me," Dort said. "I already play hard, so I can't go harder."
Dort's defensibility is going to be a key for Team Canada and what Nurse wants to do. His physicality and switchability has made Dort one of the NBA's and at the international level it's only going to make Dort even tougher to beat.