Fan Duel Toronto Raptors

Chris Boucher has found new avenues to impact

Chris Boucher looks to be an above-average bench big again.

What’s more rewarding than finding yourself?

Chris Boucher came into the NBA through the backdoor with lots of hard work, and selling teams on the tantalizing prospect of realized potential. The 2020-21 season was Boucher’s coming out party. Sure, it came late compared to most players, but it was as loud as anybody’s. Coming off the bench, he reached double-digit scoring in over half of his games and went for 20+ in 13. He had a 38 & 19 game, which is one of the most explosive scoring + rebounding games in Raptors franchise history. This year, everything that fueled his breakout has been taken from him and he’s had to find new ways to succeed.

Taken from him? What could I possibly mean? Simply put, his 3-point shot fell off a cliff. Whether we’re talking college or the NBA, this is his worst shooting stretch. The other reason? Boucher was one of the very best roll men in the whole league last season, in large part because of Kyle Lowry’s ability to reward him for his hard charging rim-runs. And once delivered, Boucher was an accomplished finisher (nearly 60-percent on 2-point attempts on passes from Lowry).

This isn’t meant as a slight towards Fred VanVleet, he’s been picture perfect as the Raptors lead guard this year. But, he is significantly less capable of rewarding Boucher’s drives than Lowry was. The result for Boucher? One of the best pick n’ roll finishers became one of the worst, and it’s largely because he no longer has a viable partner to find him on the roll, where his field goal percentage has fallen from 50-percent on heavy volume, to 32-percent on a pittance.

I won’t belabour this point much longer, but Boucher’s rim-running contemporaries were the likes of Rudy Gobert and Bam Adebayo, and now they’re Taj Gibson and Thanasis Antetokounmpo. As a 3-point shooter? From Karl-Anthony Towns to Draymond Green. That is a profound drop off, and only half of it is within his control.

On the night of December 5th, Boucher sat down across from myself and a host of other media and said that, at the suggestion of Raptors’ athletic trainer Ray Chow, he’d begun to meditate pre-game in an attempt to simplify his thought process while playing.

“I just need to be the Chris that I’ve always been and for that I kind of needed to get all the stuff out of my head before the game,” he said. “Ray told me he felt like when I was playing there’s so much going on in my mind. So, gave me a little meditation, and that really helped out, going into the game flowing, and knowing that I’m able to do certain stuff and be confident with it.”

Since then he’s sustained a high-level of play that’s seen him work as a starter and bench piece. Over 50-percent from the field, 12 points, 7 boards, and 1 block per game. And most importantly a defensive rating, that if sustained by the team, would rank them 4th in the NBA. Prior to this stretch, he was shooting 55-percent within 5 feet, and since then he’s been finishing those same plays at 71-percent. In a halfcourt offense that suddenly had nothing to offer him in set plays (the flare screens and pin-downs gone, the pick n’ roll possessions gone) Boucher started to take in all the ways that didn’t center him. Suddenly, the Raptors player who didn’t know where he fit in, started popping up in all the right places.

Sprinting down the court, filling lanes in transition or pseudo-transition to create points out of nothing if anyone would find him on his way to the bucket. And even if he wasn’t found, he’d establish deep post position – not to ask for the ball, he wouldn’t – that made him increasingly dangerous as an offensive rebounder or dunker spot finisher in early offense. If the Raptors forego a set play and push for the rim, Boucher looms large. If the 3-point shot comes back around, he’ll be a much more well rounded offensive player.

Defensively, it never hurts to be part of the Funk Fest Quartet (read about it). A hallmark of basically any Boucher lineup on defense is the ability to turn teams over. And that has been turned up to the nth degree with Nick Nurse’s willingness to throw Boucher out in places he’s never been before. Coming into this season, basketball reference marked Boucher as a center in over 80-percent of his minutes as an NBA player, and none outside of the two front-court spots. This year, basketball reference says that he’s played the same amount of center as… shooting guard (6-percent). It also says he’s played 40-percent of his minutes at small forward (48-percent at power forward). So, obviously those numbers are flawed if you’ve seen the games, but the fact that basketball reference has such a difficult time tracking his position relative to years past is a nod to the diversity and complexity of his season so far.

Over this past month, Boucher has been on time as a rotating member of the Raptors defense. Whether it’s pinching in on drives to support others, stepping out on guards and wings in isolation, x-outs, closeouts, long-limbed rim contests, or closing out possessions on the glass – this is probably Boucher’s best defensive stretch of his career.

The Raptors have been winning a lot of minutes with Boucher on the floor, and it’s largely because of the humility and adaptability of his game. Are we waiting for him to emulate these performances against healthier opponents? Absolutely, and the Raptors upcoming stretch of games should help with that. But, you play who’s in front of you and Boucher has succeeded in doing that.

Have a blessed day.