Raptors905 Columns

Chris Boucher takes another step towards greatness

The Raptors 905 have a significant lack of size. Their starting center and power forward, Chris Boucher and Deng Adel, don’t weigh 400 pounds combined. Though Boucher is endlessly long and a havoc-wreaking shot blocker, he may lack the strength to cover NBA centers.

Bulky centers have hurt the 905 in the past. Against the Delaware Blue Coats, assignee Jonah Bolden used his extra size to finish with 28 points and 17 rebounds. He was unguardable, and he knew it. He used his superior strength to out-muscle Boucher for rebounds, and he was a load in the post. At one heated moment in the game, Bolden drove towards the rim and a whistle blew. It didn’t stop the play; Bolden still rose to dunk, and Boucher decided he was going to block it. Both leaped – with no actual points in the balance – and Boucher was posterized. (It’s possible that opposing centers don’t like Boucher so far this young season.)

The Long Island Nets beat the 905 by outrebounding them 67-40. Three separate Nets starters finished with double-digit rebounds. Boucher is terrific at blocking shots, but if he can’t reach a shot with his hands, he has trouble bothering it. He doesn’t get his body into opponents who are shooting near the rim, and he’s easily bumped off of his defensive spots. Boucher also frequently jumped himself out of rebounding position chasing highlight blocks, which allowed easy offensive rebounds to the Nets. Size and muscle have been revealing themselves as kryptonite to the supremely talented – but extremely thin – 905 frontcourt.

All that phooey was laid to rest Tuesday against the Erie BayHawks, at least for one night. Terrence Jones is by far the most accomplished player the 905 have seen yet this season. His talent in the NBA has never been a question; he’s dropped 30 points or more on four separate occasions in the NBA. Jones also has 40 pounds on both Boucher or Adel. It seemed like he might present a problem.

“We’ll start Deng on him,” said coach Jama Mahlalela before the game. “It will be a great learning game for Deng, to figure out a player who’s as crafty as Jones is, his ability to shot-fake, get into the paint, use his left hand. It will be a real challenge for Deng to try to figure him out. We’re going to put a lot of people on him, though, tonight. Chris will get a chance on him tonight, and we may even go a little bit bigger as well, and see if some size can deter him. But he’s a real problem.”

Adel and Boucher had no problem dominating Jones. In only four Jones post-ups against the two, one ended in a Jones basket and two in missed shots. His drives were similarly haphazard, and he finished 4-for-14 from the field. Both Adel and Boucher got low against Jones, forcing tough misses over outstretched arms. On the other end, he couldn’t run with either in transition or keep up with them all way out to the 3-point line.

Boucher multiple times blocked Jones on one end before sprinting the court and dunking in transition.

By the time the dust had settled on the 905’s 145-103 massacre, Jones had the worst plus-minus on his team (-39), and Adel (+43) and Boucher (+40) had the best plus-minuses for the 905. It was clear who won the matchup.

After the game, Mahlalela credited his bigs’ smarts instead of their brawn: “Our guys figured out the scouting report and did a good job. They followed it.”

“Yeah, he’s [got] 40 pounds on me,” said Adel, agreeing. “You know, he likes to go left and he loves to shot-fake, so it’s more of a scouting thing, and then once he gets a body into me, it’s trying to hold my ground, not foul him, and try to be as vertical as I can. He missed a couple layups, but he’s a great player and it was a good challenge for me.”

Significantly, the 905 only gave up five offensive rebounds to the BayHawks. Boucher and Adel held their own on the glass, combining for 15 defensive rebounds. They found the right bodies whenever shots went up, and importantly, Boucher didn’t have to shy away from blocking shots. He finished with six in the game, bringing his season average to an unprecedented 4.4 blocks per game. It would seem (incorrectly) like those blocks would keep Boucher off his own defensive glass, but a small tactical change allowed Boucher to have a runway towards missed shots.

“We’ve been adjusting our position on him with pick and roll,” said Mahlalela “Earlier we had him on more of a drop. And [now] we have him a little bit higher which allows him to gauge the guy coming towards him a little bit more. So a small little adjustment in terms of his stance and positioning. But a lot of it’s effort. We want to be the hardest working team, and he worked hard to play that dance of when he retreats and when he shot blocks. He did a great job today.”

Consider Jones just one stepping stone on the path to Boucher’s (and to a lesser extent, Adel’s) G-League greatness. The two combined for 4 made triples, which stretched Erie’s defence past its breaking point. Opponents’ size has been an issue for the talented 905 frontcourt, but Tuesday night in Mississauga proved that it doesn’t have to be. Boucher is supremely talented, yet he has work yet to do to understand the game fully. The G-League is the right place for him to learn. However, if he can thrash opponents like Jones, before long there won’t be much even in the NBA that can stop him.

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