Lurking amidst all the success that the Toronto Raptors have enjoyed this season has been one frustrating constant – injuries. These injuries, big and small, have accumulated quickly, and as a result it still feels as though the Raptors are yet to hit their ceiling. Lowry, Siakam, VanVleet and Valanciunas all missed Sunday night’s loss to the Denver Nuggets.
Injuries are frustrating, but they’re unavoidable. The NBA stops for nobody. The Raptors have no time to waste lamenting their losses; they need to be looking for opportunities. Where should they start searching? Well, the end of their bench would be a great start. Chris Boucher looks like he might have all the answers.
Don’t recognize that name? I can’t say I blame you. After all, it has been a very eventful few months for Raptor fans. Let me bring you up to speed.
More than a footnote
Masai Ujiri and the rest of Toronto’s front office spent part of this summer overseeing a small competition. The end prize for winning this competition? A two-way contract with the Toronto Raptors.
As you can imagine, the participants weren’t exactly marquee names.
Still, Kay Felder’s and Christian Wood’s names carried a lot more weight than Chris Boucher’s did. Boucher was a total unknown; a 25 year-old with one unspectacular G-League season under his belt. He has great size and length, standing somewhere between 6’9 and 6’10 with a far larger wingspan, but size alone is not enough to make a NBA career.
The fact that Boucher is a Canadian made him a small interest story throughout training camp. He was given a standing ovation as he checked into Toronto’s lone preseason game in Montreal, his hometown, right before he proceeded to knock down consecutive three-pointers. He overcame some long odds and steep competition as he played his way into a two-way contract with the Raptors. This unexpected training camp success made for a nice feel-good story, but ultimately became an obscure footnote of Toronto’s looming 2018-2019 campaign.
Well, it was a footnote.
Pounding on the door
We’re back in the present, where Chris Boucher has gone supernova on the G-League. No exaggeration.
In 20 games with the Santa Cruz Warriors last year, Boucher averaged 11.8 points on .525 TS%, 7.5 rebounds, and 2.2 blocks. Decent for an unknown rookie, but nothing special.
In 14 games with the Raptors 905 this year, Boucher is averaging 29.6 points on .616 TS%, 11.6 rebounds, and 4.6 blocks. Those are MVP numbers. When you factor in the blocks and the efficiency, there’s literally no one else in the G-League close to his level right now.
The numbers speak for themselves, but the on-court play has been just as astonishing. Just last week, Boucher dropped 47 points – a 905 franchise record – and 9 blocks in a loss. Below are the highlights.
There’s a lot to love about his game. His length naturally makes him a rim-protecting force. His motor is very evident. Most players of his size are hesitant with the three but he’s very confident – his quick trigger from range is on display multiple times in the video above. This makes it very difficult to contest his shot, especially at his size.
Notable weaknesses? Well there’s one that’s obvious just by looking at him; his strength. He’s extremely lanky, and there’s a concern that he won’t be able to handle NBA-level athletes unless he bulks up.
If you’re looking for a more in-depth look at his strengths and weaknesses, then I recommend this great write-up from JD Quirante at RaptorsHQ.
“How am I supposed to get excited about a 25 year-old G-Leaguer?”
Admittedly, Boucher is pretty old for a NBA prospect. But, as Raptors fans should already know, the path to NBA success is not linear.
Chris Boucher, much like Pascal Siakam, had a very late introduction to basketball. He started playing in parks as an 18 year-old, and never played an organized game until he was 19. Once on a team, he quickly ascended the college circuit, playing for four schools in five years. However, in March of 2017, just over three months before his potential draft day; he tore his ACL. He then went undrafted.
It’s been a long, difficult road for Boucher just to get where he is now. CBC’s Peter Mandelsohn goes more in-depth with that here.
So, again, why should you be excited about a 25 year-old G-League player? Because you’re a Raptors fan, and you’ve seen the Raptors 905 pump out several NBA-level players in the last few years. None of them, not Siakam; VanVleet; Wright; Powell or anyone else, were close to as good in the G-League as Chris Boucher is looking right now.
By no means am I saying that Boucher is bound for NBA success. He may never see it at all. Former G-League MVP Lorenzo Brown is proof that talent alone doesn’t make a NBA-level player – finding and understanding your role within a team is as important as anything else.
In other words, Danny Green isn’t capable of dominating the G-League at the same level as Chris Boucher currently is. What makes Green a proven, quality starter in the NBA is that he knows his limits, and he executes his assigned responsibilities consistently. We don’t know if Boucher can do that. All we know is that he’s been dominating lesser competition as a first-option.
Still, it’d be a disservice to Boucher and to the Raptors’ development staff to not give him a chance at least. With Valanciunas out for the next month, Nick Nurse has plenty of time to experiment with his big man depth. There will never be a more perfect time to throw Boucher into the fire and see what he can do.
If it doesn’t work; it doesn’t work. If it does work; the Raptors add yet another NBA-level talent to arguably the deepest roster in the league.
Sink or swim, Chris Boucher. Sink or swim.