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It took nearly two months, but the Raptors have found their next head coach. According to multiple reports, Toronto has chosen longtime NBA assistant coach Darko Rajakovic to replace Nick Nurse.

Rajakovic comes to Toronto after spending the last three seasons as the top assistant in Memphis, where he was a part of the team’s rise up the Western Conference standings. He now joins a Raptors franchise that is in search of direction after stagnating over the past two seasons.

Upon Rajakovic’s hiring, The Sporting News’ Scott Rafferty examined four ways in which he can help fix the Raptors’ most glaring issues. A closer look at Rajakovic’s coaching profile shows that he is especially suited to help this franchise in a few specific areas.

Here’s why Rajakovic is the right person for the job in Toronto.

MORE: Meet Darko Rajakovic, Raptors’ new lead man

Why the Raptors are hiring Darko Rajakovic

In his initial reporting, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski cited Rajakovic’s versatility as a coach. He is capable of working with a win-now team or a rebuilding squad.

Given that Toronto finds itself at a fork in the road, this versatility is key.

Player development

With respect to the young talent present on the Raptors’ roster, TSN’s Josh Lewenberg reported that Rajakovic has garnered a reputation as being one of the league’s best at player development.

After two years as the head coach in the G League with the then-Tulsa 66ers, the affiliate of the Thunder, Rajakovic moved to Oklahoma City, where he assisted Billy Donovan for five seasons. It was in OKC that Rajakovic first connected with Steven Adams.

He is credited with helping Adams improve as a free throw shooter thanks to some unorthodox methods.

“[Rajakovic is] just like one of those dudes you don’t know what to expect. … He’s just always wired,” Adams said in 2016. “So, when he’s trying to teach you something, he’s real serious and then he’s just like, boom! Just crack you. Yeah, he’s crazy.”

In 2019, Rajakovic left OKC for Phoenix, where he influenced the development of Mikal Bridges. In 2020, Rajakovic moved to Memphis, and he helped oversee the rapid development of Desmond Bane, among others.

And while Rajakovic is now in a head coaching role, he’ll oversee the development of Precious Achiuwa, Scottie Barnes and the prospect that Toronto elects to take with the 13th overall pick in the upcoming draft.

After winning the Rookie of the Year award in 2022, Barnes experienced something of a sophomore slump this past season. Achiuwa still has plenty of untapped potential.

On a secondary level, the Raptors also have another set of young players in Dalano Banton, Jeff Dowtin Jr. and Malachi Flynn. Their futures in Toronto aren’t as certain as the aforementioned three, but Rajakovic could have a vision for them.

MORE: Darko Rajakovic joins full list of Raptors head coaches

Offensive philosophy

As outlined by Rafferty, the Raptors’ halfcourt offense last season was uninspiring, with the team’s efficiency in the halfcourt ranking 25th among the NBA’s 30 teams.

A 2022 ESPN profile on NBA coaching candidates focused on Rajakovic’s offensive philosophy, specifically his mastery of the pick-and-roll.

How much does Rajakovic know about the use of the pick-and-roll? According to ESPN, he has authored a number of academic-journal style articles on the evolution of the pick-and-roll.

His familiarity with the pick-and-roll could explain the offensive success of teams with which he has worked. As pointed out by Raptors Republic managing editor Louis Zatzman, both the Grizzlies and Suns ran the fewest isolations per 100 possessions in the years in which Rajakovic was on the coaching staff.

If nothing else, you should expect much more pick-and-roll offense and ball movement from Toronto this upcoming season.

A player’s coach

As evidenced by the reactions from Bane, Tyus Jones and Santi Aldama, Grizzlies players connected with Rajakovic and were genuinely excited for him to get the opportunity to be a head coach.

Doug Smith of the Toronto Star added that a source within the Grizzlies organization described Rajakovic as a high-character person that has an innate ability to connect with players.

With Toronto hiring outside of the organization, it’s important that its new coach has the ability to immediately connect with the team’s established veterans like Pascal Siakam, who is under contract with the franchise through the 2023-24 season.

The Raptors have been one of the league’s most successful teams in the past decade. In addition to winning an NBA title in 2019, Toronto has experienced just one losing season in the past 10 years — the nightmarish 2020-21 season that was spent in Tampa.

Given recent success, the Raptors aren’t in need of a culture-shifter, but rather someone who will breathe new life into the locker room.



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