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Chris Boucher – Season Review

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The following is the start of Raptors Republic’s pieces reviewing the seasons for the Raptors. You can find all the pieces in the series here. You can find a French translation of this article here

What an absolute pleasure it was, to watch Chris Boucher become essential to everything the Raptors did this season. Rather than seeking out opportunities that were taken away from him (mostly attributed to not running pick n’ rolls with Kyle Lowry anymore), Boucher decided to insert himself into virtually every positive action he could that didn’t involve him as the focal point.

If there was a cut to be made on offense, he made it whether or not the ball came his way. He displayed a voracious approach to offensive rebounding, and in doing so, delivered extra possessions to his team – a huge chunk of their desired playstyle. He cycled well defensively, using his length and activity to shrink the floor on defense, whether it was to block a 3-pointer, run someone off the line, or fly in late to contest at the rim. He is length, weaponized. A walking, talking representation of the Raptors vision.

The Raptors offense was better with him on the floor. Their defense was better with him on the floor. The shot contests that involve him sprinting the length of the floor and launching himself at 3-point shooters? Players shot over 4-percent worse than expected against his contests, which was the best number on the Raptors. The prevailing thought is that defense’s can only impact 3-point volume, not percentage, but when Boucher’s frenzied reach for the sky is giving you less and less space to shoot, how could that not creep into the mind of a shooter? And the positive rim-deterrence he provided was less about creeping into minds, and more about jettisoning into peripheral vision:

“The mystery of length isn’t a problem to solve, but a reality to experience.” – Frank Herbert talking about Chris Boucher, probably

Not to mention, the Kyle Lowry sized hole that was left in the Raptors charge drawing talents was filled by Boucher more so than any other player on the roster. Drawing charges isn’t automatically the best indicator of how a player reads the floor, but, at the very least, you need to be processing plays correctly to plant yourself in a path that an offensive player will rumble into recklessly. Boucher understood the scheme, and his role in it very well.

Had I told you last year that Boucher’s best season as a pro would include a sub-30-percent performance from downtown, you probably wouldn’t believe me. If I had also told you that his used possessions as a pick n’ roll man would drop from 3 per game, to 1 per game, you’d say I was living in a fantasy world. Boucher’s role on offense was completely altered. They gave him no structure whatsoever, rarely made him a major part of a set action, and asked him to simply make the best of a tough situation. He had just broken out to the tune of many explosive performances in the lowly Tampa year, and the Raptors hit the eject button on all of it. He faltered out of the gates in this new role (who wouldn’t??), but he came around in a big way.

I mentioned above that his cuts were well timed, but would you have ever expected that his reads off the baseline or from the ’45’ would weaponize the Raptors zone offense in a playoff series? When 5 players on the court are trying to work together to squeeze players out of the dangerous areas, and the other 5 on the court are trying to squeeze into them, Boucher was constantly winning the race to the right spots. He did this really well from December onward. If a defense was resting on their laurels, he was likely to punch through a hole and into a threatening area – where one of Fred VanVleet, Scottie Barnes, or Pascal Siakam could be relied upon to deliver him the ball.

Boucher grabbed more offensive rebounds and more contested offensive rebounds than ever before in his career. The Raptors love extra possessions, as Joe Wolfond wonderfully laid out in his piece on their pursuit of them:

“We’re always in a possession battle, right?” Nurse said last month. “So, just making sure we get more is always our No. 1 goal. Whoever has more possessions, more shots, is a huge determinant in winning. So, yeah, I would like the differential to be the focus.”

Nurse said the Raptors’ goal is to be plus-five in shooting possessions.

“Most of the analytics say that once we get to that number the chances of winning improve greatly,” he said.”

Adding punch to every offensive action with his cutting and offensive rebounding, Boucher was walking onto the court every game and enhancing large chunks of what the Raptors do – and he did it all without dictating any action from the Raptors. That’s how he crafted a 25-point, 10-rebound gem in the Raptors most important game of the season (game 6) – by being long, active, and reading the floor super well.

“Boucher is as much a part of this teams success story as many other players on the roster. In fact, he might even be able to claim that he is the most devout follower of the Raptors new ethos. The Raptors – through possession hunting, length, and many other length-adjace feats – have championed a unique brand of basketball, and while players like Siakam, Anunoby, and Barnes fit a lot of what the Raptors put in the tagline – they’re all trying to be stars. In the NBA, stars chart their own course to some degree, no matter what. Boucher is a rotation player who was caught in the shuffle, started succeeding in it, and at it’s most base level. The Raptors attempts at a new and forward thinking brand of basketball wasn’t just to unlock stars. They did it to unlock role players, too. Chris Boucher is the 2021-22 Raptors.” – from Chris Boucher is the Raptors vision

You may not have seen Boucher as a particularly cerebral, or high feel player before coming into this season, and maybe people don’t even see him as that guy now. But, he is. Despite some decision making gaffes, Boucher’s reads on the floor have been a tidal wave of successes.

Boucher’s process was simple this year, in a way: make winning reads, win your minutes, win games. He did. And now? He’s going to get paid to do it all over again.

Have a blessed day.

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