Ranking the Milwaukee Bucks’ rumored head coaching candidates: No. 1 – Nick Nurse
At this point, it’s really not a surprise, is it?
Nick Nurse was the head coach of the Toronto Raptors from 2018 to 2023. He was hired after the Raptors fired Dwane Casey following a disappointing playoff exit. Nurse had previously served as an assistant coach under Casey for five seasons.
In his first season as head coach, Nurse led the Raptors to an NBA championship. They defeated the Golden State Warriors in six games, becoming the first Canadian team to win the title. Nurse was named the NBA Coach of the Year for his efforts.
The Raptors fired Nurse after the 2022-23 season. He finished with a record of 277-163 in five seasons with the team, a tenure in which he led the Raptors to an NBA championship, two Atlantic Division titles, and one Eastern Conference title. To put it simply, the Raptors won a lot, and they did so in a convincing fashion.
More than anyone else on this list, Nurse is a proven winner. As mentioned, Nurse led the Raptors to an NBA championship in 2019. Even after Kawhi Leonard opted to take his talents to Los Angeles, the Toronto Raptors surprised the league by rolling out an offense designed around the talents of Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, and OG Anunoby. Most nights, they just looked like a cohesive and well-oiled unit that made do with what they had despite the lack of star power. And it worked. They won, and won, and won.
As for his coaching skill, his track record speaks for itself. Nurse just has that uncanny ability to get the most out of his players on the defensive end. He is a creative play-caller who is always looking for ways to create advantages for his team. The year they won the chip, the Raptors were consistently up there with the Milwaukee Bucks in defensive rating.
Perhaps the greatest strength of Nick Nurse is that he is an innovative defensive coach and possibly one of the best in the league to this day. Who could forget the basketball ingenuity that led to the vaunted Giannis Wall? That one adjustment likely tipped the scale in the Eastern Conference as a whole and set the Raptors past the Bucks after going down 0-2. It’s also a strategy that teams continue to attempt to mimic to this day in an attempt to stop the Greek Freak.
Later in that same postseason, it was also Nurse who pulled out the box-and-one to stop Stephen Curry in the finals. It’s clear he’s not afraid to try new things — especially little-known schemes — to try and put his teams in a position to succeed. They don’t always lead to success — just look at their sweep at the hands of Philadelphia last year — but there is certainly something to be said about his schematic creativity.
Nurse is a strong leader who is able to get the best out of his players. He is also a good communicator who is able to connect with his players on a personal level. The Bucks have a young roster, and Nurse would be able to help them develop into a championship team. Just look at the development of guys like Precious Achiuwa and Yuta Watanabe into bona fide shooters thanks to Nurse’s “shooting school.” It’s one well-documented feel-good storyline that has not gone under the radar in this league, and it’s clear Nurse is a very hands-on coach when it comes to individual player development, which should bode well for guys like MarJon Beauchamp and A.J. Green if Nurse does get the coaching job.
To be clear, Nurse still does have his flaws — some of which look a lot like Budenholzer’s. Ask any Raptors fan: Nurse has a certain willingness to stick to his guns, even when it’s not working. This can sometimes lead to him making the same mistakes over and over again. He also has a tendency to rely too much on his star players, even when they’re not having a good game.
In the 2020-21 NBA season, the Raptors were the only team with three players in the top 20 in the league in terms of minutes played per game. On top of the additional risk of injury, this can sometimes lead to his team becoming stagnant and predictable. It also means fewer developmental minutes for some of the Milwaukee Bucks’ younger pieces.
In 2023, the top-heavy Raptors missed the playoffs for the first time under Nurse, and the Raptors organization decided to let him go. Detractors point to his poor showings throughout that season as evidence of his decline, though it could also be argued that his roster in that final year just wasn’t the most talented.
For all his shortcomings, Nick Nurse is the only free agent coach remaining today that you can look at and say, “That’s our guy. He’s the one who can win us a championship.” Flaws and everything, Nick Nurse has the most proven track record with the on-court prowess to show for it. And it’s for these reasons that Nurse ranks number one for us in this list.
After the heartbreaks of the past five years, perhaps it’s time for a Nurse to heal the Milwaukee Bucks’ wounds.