The following is part of Raptors Republic’s series of pieces reviewing the season for the Toronto Raptors. You can find all the pieces in the series here
For much of Chris Boucher’s early career, he was fighting to solidify his place as a professional basketball player. From going undrafted after tearing his ACL in his senior season to dominating the G League to eventually carving out a consistent role in the NBA during the Tampa season, Boucher’s path to legitimize his NBA dream hasn’t been an easy one.
After the Tampa season, Boucher was no longer on the cusp of making an NBA roster. Instead, he had established himself as a rotational player in the NBA. But with that came new challenges. His play faltered to start the 2021-2022 season, an all important contract year. He was struggling to score efficiently on the offensive end (in the first 27 games of that season he averaged 7.4 PPG on 43.2 FG% and 21.4 3P%) and his defensive impact was inconsistent. As the calendar flipped to 2022, something changed with Boucher’s approach and mindset.
The shift to fully embracing his role brought Boucher and the Raptors so much success in the latter half of the 2021-2022 season. And that personal success carried over to this year. Looking at his season averages for 2022-2023, they are almost identical to his contract year performance. It seems the once up-and-down Boucher has settled in quite nicely as a high-impact vet and a legitimately good NBA role player. A model of consistency, if you will.
Continuing to Reign in the Offense
The 2022-2023 NBA season was a continuation of Chris Boucher thriving in a reduced offensive role. Boucher stuck to the low usage off-ball role from the start of this season and in his own words “just stopped jacking [shots]”. Diving into the numbers and this concerted effort to simplify his offensive game was clearly evident. His FG%, 3P% and TS% all rose compared to his 21-22 season. Boucher’s USG% of 18.0% was the second lowest of his career, and very similar to the 17.8% mark he achieved in the 21-22 season. In addition, Boucher only qualified for tracking (threshold was minimum of 10 min/game and 10 possessions per playtype) via NBA stats in 5 playtypes: transition, PnR roller, spot ups, cuts and putbacks — a playtype profile that screams low usage, off-ball player. Meanwhile, the more creation-based playtypes like isolation and post ups were few and far between for Boucher this season.
Interesting note: Boucher’s 3 most frequent playtypes (Spot up, Putback, Transition) were also his most efficient when compared to his peers (see his percentiles). The Raptors coaching staff deserve praise for identifying Boucher’s strengths and then putting him in situations and in a role that would amplify these strengths, while minimizing his offensive struggles as well. But even more so, Boucher deservers praise for the offensive maturation he has showed over the past 2 years. He’s bought in to the low-usage role, thriving on playing off the advantages created by Pascal Siakam, Scottie Barnes and Fred Vanvleet, and making his mark on games through pure hustle and energy.
And of course, we cannot talk about Chris Boucher’s offensive game without mentioning his relentlessness on the offensive glass. On almost every shot attempt from his teammates, Boucher would come crashing down from the corner, the wing, above the break, really wherever he was on the court, to try and get the Raptors an extra possession. The raw numbers reflect Boucher’s hustle and willingness to crash the boards. His 2.1 OREB per game and 10.9% OREB% both ranked 3rd on the team this year and Boucher was especially effective gathering contested offensive rebounds, recording 1.6 per game (2nd on the team) and a contested OREB% of 77.1% (first on the team). With the NBA trending more and more to hacking the possession battle via offensive rebounds (which Louis Zatzman uncovered here), Boucher becomes a more and more valuable player.
Dubbed the “King of Dunks” and one of the “NBA’s most entertaining in-game dunker[s]” by Samson Folk, Chris Boucher had quite the highlight package of dunks this season. Boucher finished 3rd on the Raptors with 69 total dunks, only trailing OG Anunoby and Scottie Barnes, both players who played over 2300+ minutes compared to the 1523 minutes Boucher logged. Whether they come off of putbacks, smart cuts and duck ins, or in transition, Boucher’s length and ability to rise up quickly without a dribble made him a dangerous threat to dunk the ball.
Interestingly, Chris Boucher was ridiculously efficient from the long midrange area this season. According to PBP stats, Boucher was 11/18 on shots from 14ft – 3pt line, an astounding 61.1%. Among all players in the NBA who attempted at least 15 shots from the long midrange, Boucher ranks 2nd in the league in terms of FG%. This is almost certainly just an aberration, one that was buoyed by a 3/4 night from the long midrange against the Pistons on November 14th, as Boucher has shot just 27.5% (14-51) from the long midrange for his career prior to 2022-2023. I just recall being shocked at some of the jumpers he took and made from this area this season and had to share it.
All that effort and chaos that Boucher brings to the offensive boards manifests itself on the defensive end as activity. Chris Boucher averaged 1.0 deflections per game to go along with 0.6 steals and 0.8 blocks this season, which are pretty in line with his career numbers.
Boucher is by no means a lockdown isolation defender. But that’s not to say he isn’t valuable on defense either. When he’s flying around the court, contesting shots on the perimeter and making rotations very few NBA players can make, he is a joy to watch on the defensive end. Boucher contested a total of 1.7 3PA per game and his 14 blocks on 3PA was tied for 2nd most this season, trailing only the physically mystifying Bol Bol who recorded 16. Defending 3PA may be an imperfect science, but Boucher has found a way to be elite at it as he’s finished in the top 4 for 3PA blocked in each of the past 3 years.
He’s even developed a new found skill — drawing charges. Boucher drew 10 charging fouls, tied for 30th in the league this season. Before the 22-23 season, Boucher had drawn a total of 17 charges in 5 seasons in the NBA (and 12 of the charges were drawn in the 21-22 season)! That’s a dramatic uptick in the last 2 seasons. Boucher has always had a tendency of biting on shot fakes and staying down to take charges should only help alleviate this habit. Boucher committed just 95 shooting fouls this season, down from 117 and 120 in the 2 previous seasons, so perhaps he is starting to develop a better feel of when to jump to contest and when to stay on the ground and just be vertical. Definitely a potential trend to keep an eye on moving forward.
Boucher was also quite versatile on the defensive end the past year, with Crafted NBA giving him a Versatility Rating of 86, which ranks in the 85th percentile among NBA players.
The Raptors defensive schemes reflect the high Versatility Rating Boucher earned as they were generally comfortable just switching every screen (on the ball or off) he was involved in, even if it meant he was switching onto some point guards. Personally, while I do think Boucher is versatile, conceding these switches onto point guards and other strong perimeter-oriented creators feels like a losing proposition for the Raptors. Boucher isn’t a great 1-on-1 defender and length can only do so much. I wonder if this schematic decision was made to simplify the reads he would have to make on the defensive end. Boucher has historically struggled in the more nuanced drop coverage (as covered by Samson Folk last year) and just having these sequences become auto switches surely helps make things easier for Boucher on defense.
Canada Basketball This Summer?
“Do I want to play for Canada this summer, I mean I would if they asked me”.
For those that don’t know, the FIBA World Cup is set to kick off on August 25th, 2023. Canada, who went 11-1 in qualifiers, will start group play in Jakarta, Indonesia, before moving to Manila, Philippines should they advance to the knockout stages.
The FIBA World Cup, though it isn’t as well-known and popular as its FIFA counterpart, is the premier international basketball competition, with direct qualification to the Olympic Games. If Canada is to clinch a berth to the 2024 Paris Olympics, they will need to place in the top 2 among all FIBA Americas teams at the 2023 World Cup. Michael Grange laid out the stakes perfectly in a recent podcast episode with Samson Folk.
Having Chris Boucher on the men’s national team would certainly help with our limited frontcourt depth, and his experience with Nick Nurse’s system and schemes would be helpful from a continuity perspective. There’s a lot of moving parts right now in terms of player commitments, so I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what the final 12 man roster looks like.
It’s a big summer for the program and I’ll have coverage of Canada Basketball throughout the WC on Raptors Republic, so stay tuned for that.