TORONTO — Nick Nurse is faced with a dilemma and there’s no real solution in plain sight.
On the one hand, the Toronto Raptors coach is trying to set the tone for a franchise that is the defending NBA champion. He wants all the new faces to understand that there is now a standard to uphold, and if that can’t be maintained, there won’t be any playing time for you.
Then there’s the other hand, which shows he’s playing some of his main players way too many minutes. And if that trend continues, well, there will likely be some ramifications come playoff time. Compounding both of those things is foul trouble for his emerging star Pascal Siakam, and if he can’t find a way to stay on the court, then Nurse is left mixing and matching with options he doesn’t really want to go to right now.
“He hasn't been very smart, if you want me to be honest with you,” Nurse said after practice Tuesday. “Most of those have been fouls. And they're touch fouls that they're not calling on everybody and they're not calling every trip up and down, but, if you go back and you say, ‘Hey, he's got two hands on him.’ So he's got to take the two hands off of him and that's what we're working on.
“We're poring over the film. We're showing him just a little bit and that's OK. That's something he can change quickly and I'm expecting him to change it tomorrow night.”
Nurse is a little perplexed as to where the foul trouble is coming from since he doesn’t remember Siakam being the type to be so foul prone. After averaging two fouls per game his first two seasons, the Cameroonian averaged three fouls in an expanded role last season. Through six games this season, he’s up to 4.5. What gives?
“He needs to knock it off,” Nurse said. “For some reason all of a sudden he's picking up two early in games and most of them are silly. It's not like he's being put in difficult situations. A lot of them are 30 feet from the basket and he's just got his hands on (the opponent). He's got to adjust.”
To Siakam’s credit, he’s taking full ownership of the situation. He acknowledges that he’s been caught off guard a few times and that he must do better as far as his readiness is concerned. For those wondering if the offensive load is burdening him, at the very least, he won’t admit it.
“I’m good enough to be a great defensive player and a good offensive player. That’s what I think.”
I’ll have a more expanded piece on Siakam’s foul trouble Wednesday, so I’ll leave it at that for now.
When asked about the chances of anyone cracking the short rotation, Nurse didn’t sound too enthused but did provide a somewhat encouraging update.
“I think they're all kind of raising their level a little bit,” Nurse said. “I think from Matt (Thomas) to Chris (Boucher) to Terence (Davis), they're all trying to carve a niche. They all want to play and they're all working very hard. You guys see everyday they're over there and they're working on their defence. They're getting there. We're going to have to use a couple of them here a little bit more regularly soon.”
From the sounds of it, Nurse wants to see that they can hold their own defensively before anything else. Earning playing time starts on that end of the floor and whatever comes offensively is gravy.
“We can't put you out there and make you make mistake, mistake, mistake, because there's four other guys let's say doing everything right and then you have a breakdown and that ends up, well, not being very good for us,” Nurse said.
“So, we want them to be able to hold their own and execute, get on the game plan, and then whatever offence they give us becomes a bonus.”
With regards to Patrick McCaw, Nurse said there is no update as of yet after he saw a specialist Monday to address the pain in his left knee.
Kenny Atkinson out-of-the-box thinking
In case you missed, Brooklyn Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson turned to an extremely creative method of getting his team’s attention and ensuring everyone was on the same page late in the fourth quarter against the Houston Rockets.
this is incredible Kenny Atkinson going college football defense play-calling with giant symbol cards. he wants somebody canceled. pic.twitter.com/ZYkdyZZrYF— Rob Perez (@WorldWideWob) November 2, 2019
“It’s just a defensive coverage we have, and we’ve had trouble communicating it to guys in the past,” Atkinson explained after the game. “We have to find a way to communicate so everybody knows, and sometimes you have a little humour in things and it sinks in a little more with the guys.”
On some level, you almost wonder why no one’s ever tried this before. Yet, you then realize it would only be a matter of time before it’s just a dead giveaway and opponents can, essentially, steal signs and know what’s coming.
For Nurse, he understands the desperation in trying to get the message across but hasn’t reached a point where he’s had to consider going that far out the box.
“We certainly are in those situations a lot, where it’s loud and things are happening really fast and you’re trying to change the coverage, etcetera,” Nurse said. “We’ve considered a number of different options on how to communicate to our team but, for the most part, we’ve been able to do it through verbal or hand signals.”
West Coast respect
Toronto will embark upon a five-game trip out west beginning Friday but even the team they take on Wednesday night at home, the Sacramento Kings, are one of those up-and-coming squads in what’s widely considered the better conference.
“The West is really good, Phoenix is playing really good basketball right now,” Siakam said. “Obviously the Lakers and Clippers. A lot of teams are playing well. For me, just being a fan of basketball and watching all the games from the east to west, it’s amazing how the game is growing.
“As a competitor, that’s fun. That’s what you look for, to be able to compete against these great players. For us, as a team, it’s a test early to go out on the road and try to get some wins there. It’s exciting to watch, and I’m definitely looking forward to it.”
It’s worth noting, though, that while nine of the 16 teams with a positive net rating as of Tuesday morning are from the West, per Cleaning the Glass, the top two and five of the top eight — including the Raptors — are from the East. The Golden State Warriors and Kings are tied for the worst net rating.
More Raptors coverage from Yahoo Sports