Skip to main content

At this time last year, Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse said he had no idea what to expect from his young group. Back then, the Raptors were coming off a disaster season in Tampa, had traded away Kyle Lowry, and were testing out an unorthodox new roster. It was a season for experimenting and growth.

Fast forward to today and things are looking very different in Toronto. Here are the biggest takeaways from Nurse's media day availability on Monday.

1. Lessons From Last Year

After a disappointing defensive start to last year, the Raptors turned it around and ranked fifth in the NBA in defensive rating after the All-Star break. Now, with virtually the same group back this season, Nurse is expecting the defense to look a lot better when action tips off next month. 

"I think we learned a lot of lessons," Nurse said. "I think we created a lot of things defensively that we’ll do again. ... I know there’s the question of how are we going to stop Embiid or the big centers when you don’t have somebody that can bang with them. I don’t think it’s that big a problem because I think there are some answers to that within our roster the way it is and we’ve gotta work with it and come up with ways so there are answers."

2. Point Scottie Barnes

The playoffs last season showed the Raptors they could lean even more into their unusual roster, handing the ball to Scottie Barnes and Pascal Siakam when Fred VanVleet is off the court. Having seen the success those lineups had without VanVleet in the playoffs, Nurse is prepared to use more point guard-less lineups this season.

"I think that there's a number of guys that can bring the ball up the floor but I would say when we’re in situations, you know, Freddy, Scotty, Pascal all those guys are good initiators of the offense," Nurse said. "(Scottie will) get some opportunities there. He likes it. He's kind of an organizing, pass-first type of guy. And like I said, he likes that position, point guard. He likes that behind his name. So we'll see if we can develop that out a little bit."

3. Better Shot Selection

Considering Nurse's background as an offensive efficiency guru, it was surprising to see the Raptors ranked fifth in the NBA in mid-range shots taken last season. This season, Nurse is hoping the squad starts taking more efficient shots at the rim, from the free-throw line, and behind the arc.

"What I do hope is that we hammer the front of the rim. I hope we hammer the free throws getting to the rim. I want to be better at that," he said. "I think getting to the front of the rim opens up the three ball, and we certainly want our share of catch-and-shoot threes. So, I would hope that concentrating or emphasizing the front end of our shot spectrum would kind of smooth out the overall shot spectrum."

Scroll to Continue

Recommended Articles

4. Adding Veteran Experience

Another season with Thad Young in the fold and the addition of Otto Porter Jr. should give the Raptors a little more reliable depth this season. The Goran Dragic experience didn't quite work out as planned last season, but Nurse is thrilled to have more versatile players to fill out his bench.

"He’s got some size, got some unique rebounding ability, rebounds really good for his position, and, obviously, he's a really good shooter," Nurse said of Porter.

Juancho Hernangomez should help too, Nurse said. While his spot isn't entirely guaranteed, it does seem as though Hernandomez will clinch the final roster spot ahead of Josh Jackson, D.J. Wilson, and Gabe Brown.

"He's a guy that can stretch the floor and shoot the ball. But I think more in general he knows how to play the game," Nurse said of the 6-foot-9 Spaniard. "I've seen him a lot internationally and he's played for some coaching friends I have in the league and he's got a good sense of how to play the game just in general."

5. Easing Fred VanVleet's Workload

Yes, Toronto will take it easier on Fred VanVleet this season. Nurse was reluctant to talk too much about it, but he knows it's important if the Raptors are going to make a deep playoff run this year.

"I’m gonna play him less minutes," Nurse said. "I think that he has played great and we need him out there but, again, we’ve got more depth as we learned in the playoffs we can move pieces and do some things. I think his biggest strength for us that’s maybe not as noticeable or talked about is he guards the other (team's) pick-and-roll every night. When you know the guys that are coming in here playing pick-and-roll 70 times a game, he’s the guy that’s guarding a lot of that. So, that’s something we’ve gotta make sure when we veer off and give him all this rest that we can have a seam in place – some people in place – to defend all that stuff."

Further Reading

5 Takeaways from Masai Ujiri's Media Day: From trade speculation to Scottie Barnes hype

Raptors Roster Breakdown: How Toronto's roster guarantees work

Raptors release broadcast schedule, new TSN radio analysts joins the team