Nick Nurse is building a defensive system for the playoffs, not November

yuta watanabe
Yuta Watanabe is the perfect Raptor. Photo from Japan Times.

When the Raptors started the season 6-3 and possessed one of the best defensive records in the NBA, many thought the front office’s vision was all coming together.

Positionless, switching and hyper-aggressive play to cause deflections and deny the ball in the post? Check.

But then the 2-7 run came and it all felt apart. Role players were shooting lights out from the corners and Toronto were conceding easy buckets due to missed rotations.

But fans calling for a simplification of the system are missing the bigger picture.

As Toronto showed against the Memphis Grizzlies, the system can definitely work.

They held the Grizz to 9-29 from three, while also frustrating the paint-reliant Grizzlies in the restricted zone.

It’s no coincidence that the return of Yuta Watanabe – the archetypal Nick Nurse player – came on the same night.

As well as length and speed, this defensive system needs basketball intelligence.


And as good as he was last year, someone like Chris Boucher hasn’t grasped the intricacies of the scheme yet.

But it’s fair to say the rest of the team are developing. Precious Achiuwa is the next who needs to switch on more defensively – he’s the closest this Toronto team has to a rim protector.

If Nick Nurse was to go to a more traditional defence, there’s no way this team could go further than the first round in the postseason.

There’s just not enough talent on either end. To make a dent, this team needs an innovative system which throws superstars off.

Think about it. Steph Curry is having a monumental season. He went 2-10 against the Raptors. Donovan Mitchell scratched his way to 20. De’Aaron Fox could only muster 17.

Come playoff time, the ability to shut down superstars will matter much more.

We broke down the Raptors’ defensive system and talked about Chris Boucher, Dalano Banton and Yuta Watanabe on our podcast, Balling In The 6ix – the number one Toronto Raptors podcast based in the UK.

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