If you were to graph Chris Boucher’s basketball progression the line wouldn’t take on a linear trajectory, but rather a steep exponential curve of growth. Many NBA players have been tabbed for professional success since early in their teenage years and became household names after years on the AAU circuit, however Boucher’s path has been a little more unorthodox. The Montreal native quickly went from playing in his first ever organized game as a 19-year-old, to junior college, to the University of Oregon, and then to the NBA. After being waived by the Golden State Warriors last year, Boucher continued his rapid ascent by signing with the Raptors and winning the G League Most Valuable Player and Defensive Player of the Year awards, playing 30 NBA games for the full team, and ultimately winning an NBA championship.
Simply put, Boucher’s career has moved at hyper speed. Where it goes to next is the question that the Raptors will hope to answer soon.
During the 2018-19 G League season, Boucher earned those aforementioned awards by averaging a mammoth 27.2 points, 11.4 rebounds, and 4.1 blocks per game and leading the Raptors 905 to a 29-21 record. The centre frequently put up eye-popping numbers, including an absurd 47 point, eight rebound, and seven block night against the Oklahoma City Blue in which Boucher frequently looked like a man amongst boys.
Boucher is undeniably talented. His freakish athleticism and timing as a shot-blocker, soft touch near and far from the hoop, and uncanny knack for cleaning up on the boards despite his slight frame has solidified Boucher’s status as a player that is above the tier of G League competition. Even in games where he looked slightly disengaged, Boucher was able to fill up the box score. Rim running bigs with a high motor can juice up their individual stats during the lightning pace of G League encounters, however Boucher’s ability to score in a multitude of ways sets him apart from those typical frontcourt players that often pan out as merely replacement level NBA guys with a low ceiling.
In actuality, it is hard to put a ceiling on Boucher’s potential. On one hand, he is already 26-years-old and is still incredibly raw with some glaring deficiencies. On the other hand, the guy only has one real year of professional basketball experience under his belt (Boucher’s year with Golden State was predominantly in the G League as well as rehabbing the ACL injury). Toronto’s player development infrastructure has no doubt aided Boucher’s progression even further, however next season he will have to prove himself a capable rotational player in the NBA. The team’s decision on what to do with Boucher must be answered soon because the guarantee date on his deal with the team kicks in on the first day of the regular season.
There a few obstacles that are impeding Boucher’s path to regular minutes with the Raptors. Firstly, his positional defence is suspect, especially in the pick-and-roll. Boucher frequently got lost in the two-man game and relied on his speed and length to recover, an attribute that led to plenty of blocks in the G League but far more buckets against stiffer NBA competition. Also, Boucher’s skinny frame makes it incredibly difficult to put him in the firing line of massive NBA centres for more than five minute spells. Throughout the Summer League, Boucher spoke to gaining strength and weight as keys to his NBA future.
An alternate option for Boucher is to slot into the power forward position. Pascal Siakam has thrived as a power forward despite not being much bulkier than Boucher. However, a key difference is that Siakam’s lightning footspeed more than makes up for his size deficiency and even creates a mismatch if opponents put a lumbering big on him defensively. Boucher does not have that speed nor a tight enough handle to be able to punish an NBA big off of the dribble in the same vein. Therefore, Boucher has to refine his offensive skillset in order to shift away from the centre position. During the Summer League he dabbled in pushing the ball up the floor in transition and although it bred middling results, it was a glimpse into a new dimension of Boucher’s game.
Another massive element that could determine Boucher’s fate regardless of position is his outside shooting. He shot 31.6 per cent on seven three-point attempts a game in the G League, a rate that is far too inefficient. However, Boucher’s shooting numbers depending on floor location may also point towards his shifting to the forward position. He only hit 28.6 per cent on above the break three-pointers, shots that typically are offered to a centre in pick-and-pop scenarios, whereas he shot 53.8 from corner locations. Granted, the corner shooting sample size is far too small to try substantive conclusions, however it is a spot on the floor that Boucher would frequent more often if he downsized to the four position from centre.
More important than any of this, Boucher repped arguably the dopest championship gear on the entire team: