The Toronto Raptors have had a fairly smooth start to the 2018-19 season. The Raptors had the task of integrating a new star player in Kawhi Leonard. They had to adjust to a change, in their head coach, switching from Dwane Casey to his former assistant Nick Nurse. Nick Nurse also brought further adjustments to the offense he introduced to the Raptors roster last year under Dwane Casey.
LeBron James is playing out west, for the Los Angeles Lakers. This season could be great for the Toronto Raptors. They are currently the NBA's best team sporting a win-loss record of 23-8. Flaws have shown up in the Raptors style of play. They include an inconsistent bench, inconsistent performances from Kyle Lowry, their three-point shooting is off, and they cannot rebind at the defensive end of the basketball court.
Inconsistencies can be corrected over time. Players will shoot or play better. However, one flaw is a direct result of the philosophical style and system the Raptors new head coach wants the players to implement.
It centers around the center position. Toronto’s management and coaching staff have convinced themselves that they are a better defensive team with Jonas Valanciunas and Serge Ibaka playing apart.
This belief or philosophy is costing the Raptors defensive possessions. Last week they were ranked in the bottom three of the NB in defensive rebounding. The Raptors last 6 games (up to Sunday, December 9th, 2018) have seen them give up 79 offensive rebounds. Serge Ibaka 's natural position is at power forward. He is undersized playing as a center. Pascal Siakam is not yet muscular or strong enough to battle bigger power forwards under the boards.
Valanciunas has been sitting on the bench waiting for Nick Nurse to call his number. This has been an issue, for years. Under head coach Dwane Casey, Valanciunas would be left out of games in the fourth quarter deemed too slow and a liability defensively.
The time has come for Nurse to put his money where his mouth is. The Raptors are armed with a plethora of good perimeter defenders. There is no excuse for not devising a defensive scheme allowing Valanciunas to stay on the floor. However, in a loss to the Nuggets last week, Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets recorded 15 offensive rebounds against the Raptors, but Valanciunas did not start.
If the Raptors truly want to be a defensive powerhouse, then Nurse needs to recognize the defensive resource he is squandering on his bench. There have been rumors for several seasons that the Raptors may try to trade Valanciunas, but here are three reasons they will not: