There are many questions surrounding how Nick Nurse will approach his first season as an NBA head coach — let alone how he will fare as a rookie coach at the helm of a team that, with Kawhi Leonard at the forefront, should have fairly realistic Finals aspirations in 2018-19.
But one thing we know is that Nurse will emphasize that three-point shot. As a G League head coach, his teams finished atop the league in three-point attempts, and effectively utilizing the long bomb is a cornerstone of how he has maximized his offence in the past.
With Nurse in charge of implementing Toronto’s offence last season, the team attempted nearly nine more three-pointers per game than the season prior — and you can expect that number to continue to grow now that he has free reign to push those boundaries even further.
In the wake of the Leonard trade, which also netted noted long-distance shooter Danny Green, the Raptors roster stands to make a significant impact from beyond the arc; under Nurse the 2018-19 Raptors have the makings of a three-point juggernaut.
When it comes to three-pointers — a clear focus of teams league-wide in today’s NBA — clubs are particularly emphasizing the corner three, with good reason. At a shorter distance than any other spot on the floor, it’s the most effective three-point shot there is.
It’s why you see fundamental changes to the way teams attack offensively, with wing players fleeing to the corner in transition when they traditionally bee-lined to the hoop.
In 2016-17, the Raptors attempted 563 corner threes and that number ballooned to 690 last season.
Teams that emphasized that shot found success.
All but two of the teams that attempted 600 or more three-point attempts from the corners were playoff teams — including the first-overall seeds in each conference, Toronto and the Houston Rockets (who shot an absurd 818 corner threes, 119 more than the next team on the list, Cleveland).
What makes this good news for the Raptors is the fact that their roster proved to be especially effective shooting from the corners.
Here’s a closer look at the Raptors’ corner-three production last season:
|CJ Miles||46||94||48.90%||53.3% from left corner|
|Kyle Lowry||33||69||47.80%||58.3% from right corner|
|Kawhi Leonard*||29||63||46%||53% from left corner|
|Danny Green||43||96||44.80%||49% from right corner|
|Serge Ibaka||20||45||44.40%||50% from right corner|
|OG Anunoby||47||107||43.90%||50% from right corner|
|Fred VanVleet||35||81||43.20%||45.7% from right corner|
|Delon Wright||14||34||41.10%||47% from left corner|
*Note: Leonard’s stats are from 2016-17
With that abundance of lethal shooters it means that on any given possession you can expect at least two — and often more — of those players to share the floor, allowing the team to maximize its spacing and drive-and-kick potential under Nurse.
(Also, it’s worth noting that Norman Powell, who will get his opportunities from the corner if he can earn playing time this season, shot 54.5 per cent from the right corner last season. From the left? Just 15.9).
This roster, bolstered by the additions of Leonard and Green, is the best-suited to the modern NBA that the Raptors have ever had. More importantly, it’s the best to execute what Nurse wants out of his offence.
It’s a unique position for the organization.
Dwane Casey came to Toronto as a hard-nosed defensive-minded coach but never got a roster fit to play the style he wanted. The same goes for Sam Mitchell and others.
Nurse’s tenure stands to be a notable exception to what seems to have been the rule when it comes to the legacy of Raptors coaches forced to make the best out of a roster not perfectly tailored to their on-court needs and wants.
And both the coach and his team are poised to benefit as a result.