How Nick Nurse can bring Joel Embiid to the next level

FILE – Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse speaks to reporters at the NBA basketball team’s media day availability in Toronto, Monday, Sept. 26, 2022. Nick Nurse was fired Friday, April 21, 2023, as coach of the Toronto Raptors, four years after he led the franchise to its first and only NBA championship.(Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP, File)

Nick Nurse is the new head coach of the Philadelphia 76ers, joining the team after parting ways with Doc Rivers. Nurse comes to Philadelphia after he and the Toronto Raptors parted ways following this year’s play-in exit. Despite the separation, he is still one of the best, if not the best, coaches in all of Raptors history, bringing them their first and only championship in 2018.

Nurse’s Journey to Philadelphia

FILE – Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse directs his team during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Charlotte Hornets in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, April 2, 2023. The Philadelphia 76ers hired Nurse on Monday, May 29, 2023, following his exit from the Toronto Raptors, a person with direct knowledge of the decision told The Associated Press. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond, File)

Nurse began his Toronto Raptors coaching career in 2013 as an assistant coach under Dwane Casey. After the eventual dismissal of Casey, Nurse was promoted from head assistant coach to head coach in 2018. That very year, after a trade that sent long-time Raptor DeMar DeRozan to San Antonio, the Raptors and Nurse won a championship with the addition of Kawhi Leonard and some excellent coaching from Nurse. He started his coaching career at Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa, which isn’t super relevant, but I am also from Iowa, so I have to show some love for that.

Nurse chose Philadelphia over teams like the Milwaukee Bucks and the Phoenix Suns in large part because of the Sixers reigning MVP, Joel Embiid, as well as his ties to President of Basketball Operations Daryl Morey. Last season, Embiid put in his second consecutive 30-point season, leading the league for the second year in a row. His caliber as a player and sheer ability seem to have been a large push for why Nurse chose the 76ers.

Nurse’s potential impact on Joel Embiid

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) watches from the bench as the 76ers fall behind the Boston Celtics during the second half of Game 7 in the NBA basketball Eastern Conference semifinal playoff series, Sunday, May 14, 2023, in Boston. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

There were some slight concerns about how Joel Embiid and Nick Nurse would gel together. Embiid was reportedly a fan of Doc Rivers as a coach and didn’t expect him to get fired following the Sixers’ game 7 defeat at the hands of the Boston Celtics. Embiid and Nurse also seemingly had beef over the past few seasons, with Nurse and Embiid arguing about foul calls and the referees on numerous occasions.

However, all concerns seem to be put to bed as both Nurse and Embiid met before the hiring, which evidently went well. It appears that the beef was nothing more than opposing teams simply being competitive with one another. With 33 games against the Toronto Raptors in his career, it was bound to happen at some point.

As far as why Nurse would want to work with Embiid, it’s easy to see. Joel Embiid may be one of the most dominant players, if not the most dominant player, in the entire league when he is locked in. The reigning MVP just averaged 33.1 points per game, leading the entire league in scoring for the second consecutive year while continuing to shine on the defensive side of the court as well, registering 1.7 blocks and 1.0 steals per game. Embiid led the Sixers to a 54-win season and showed just how special of a player he is.

As far as Nurse’s offense goes, it is built to operate around a true star player. Since the loss of Kawhi and Kyle Lowry, the Raptors haven’t been able to recapture their championship form, despite the terrific play of Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet. That now changes in Philadelphia with superstar Joel Embiid.

With Embiid on the team, Nurse is able to run plays that highlight Embiid’s versatility and pick-and-pop potential from beyond the arc or from the mid-range. Over the past few seasons, Joel Embiid has been one of the best mid-range players in the entire league. He has also been able to consistently knock down threes from beyond the arc as well. Nurse was able to develop and deploy Serge Ibaka as an incredible pick-and-pop guy in Toronto for years; just think about what he could do with someone as demanding of respect as Joel Embiid.

Another way that Nick Nurse’s offensive scheme is going to help Joel Embiid grow is going to be with his passing. In Nurse’s offense, he runs tons of inbound plays to his big men, allowing them to make reads based on off-ball screens set by the guards and forwards. He also runs similar sets in his half-court offense, allowing for open lanes for driving, open shooting on the wings, and open-cutting lanes for the bigs. The added benefit of having a center that can pull up from anywhere on the court, along with 3 point shooters at every position, means the 76ers will have an incredibly active and deadly offense next season.

With Toronto last season, Nurse didn’t have the same level of players that he was used to on the offensive side but did have many excellent defensive stoppers to employ. The Raptors finished top 10 in the NBA in blocks per game with 5.2 and 1st in the NBA with 9.4 steals per game. While the 76ers don’t have OG Anunoby or Fred VanVleet on their team, they do have defensive-minded leaders like De’Anthony Melton and P.J. Tucker, along with one of the best rim protectors in the league in Joel Embiid.

The last time Nick Nurse ever coached a player the quality of Joel Embiid, he won a championship with Kawhi. Here’s hoping that Nurse is able to replicate that here in Philadelphia.