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As university students slowly receive their final marks for their classes, we here at The Raptors Insider decided to grade the players of the Toronto Raptors.
From May 18th to June 3rd we’ll be releasing a report card for a Raptors player, giving our opinion on their individual performance.
Chris Boucher went into the 2020-21 season with barely any notoriety after one year with the Golden State Warriors and the last two with the Toronto Raptors, barely hanging on to a bench spot.
Today, he’s starting the off-season as one of the best sixth men and most improved players in the NBA.
The St. Lucia-born Canadian finished eighth in voting for the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year Award and sixth for the Most Improved Player Award. These award votes are coming after a breakout season for Boucher in which he effectively doubled nearly every statistical category he could.
He was also one of the more durable players on the roster, despite being out for multiple weeks with an MCL injury in late April. Boucher logged 60 games played this season, which is second among all Raptors behind Stanley Johnson with 61.
But what grades does Boucher deserve for what was an eye-opening season for him?
Let’s take a look.
As I mentioned, Boucher finished in the top 10 of all sixth men, behind Jordan Clarkson and a number of talented shooters — and for good reason.
He may not have reached Kyle Lowry or Pascal Siakam-like numbers because of his bench role for the majority of the year but his talent on the offensive side of the ball was noticed around the league.
During the 2018-19 NBA season — Boucher’s first year in Toronto — he averaged 3.3 points per game. The following season, it was 6.6. In 2020-21, he improved to 13.6.
It doesn’t take a mathematician to realize that Boucher has been doubling his offensive production each year.
His field goal (51.4 percent) and three-point (38.3 percent) percentage increased by 4.2 and 6.1 per cent, respectively. It’s also worth noting that Boucher’s accuracy has increased even while he’s doubled his shot totals since a year ago.
His season highlight came against the Chicago Bulls on April 8th, where he scored a career-high 38 points while maintaining a 58.3 percent field goal percentage. He was also accurate from beyond the arc, shooting 42.9 percent from three-point range.
That wasn’t even his only 30+ point game this season.
Boucher had three 30-point games — all of which came in the new year — which blows his 2019-20 performance, in which he had zero, out of the water; a great sign of consistent improvement.
Boucher has also spent more time at the foul line — he went from just under two attempts per game in 2019-20 to over three per game in 2020-21 — and has kept a consistent pace since last season, improving his free throw accuracy from 78.4 to 78.8 percent.
If it weren’t for his late-season MCL injury, Boucher could have been a top-five candidate for both the Sixth Man of the Year and Most Improved Player.
Although he only played in one game after his injury on April 21st against the Brooklyn Nets, Boucher’s play didn’t suffer in his return to the court as he dropped 16 points and grabbed seven rebounds against the Los Angeles Clippers.
While his scoring improved twofold this season, it’s been Boucher’s rebounding that sets his offensive skills apart from most of the Raptors roster.
Boucher had an average of 6.7 rebounds per game this season — second on the team behind Siakam among Raptors who played at least 40 games. Other than Khem Birch and Freddie Gillespie, who both played in 20 games or less for Toronto, no Raptors matched Boucher’s two offensive rebounds per game.
His rebounding averages improved by over two per game since 2019-20 but his offensive boards were right around the same.
Boucher’s assist numbers also jumped this year but only to 1.1 per game — one of his lower stat categories compared to the rest of the team.
With a higher volume of playing time this year, his turnovers per game did increase from last season but he’s still one of the best Raptors in this stat category, just trailing Yuta Watanabe for Toronto players who have played at least 40 games.
Boucher was considered for Sixth Man of the Year and Most Improved Player because he’s one of the better two-way bench players in the league, not just for his scoring ability as a big man.
Because he was mostly a bench player this season, I can’t quite give him a perfect score but if he continues to improve the way he has and makes his mark in a starting role, he’ll get my nod.
Like myself back in grade six three-on-three basketball, blocking shots has become Boucher’s specialty.
Not only did he lead the Raptors with 1.9 blocks per game this season, Boucher was fourth in the entire NBA behind Defensive Player of the Year candidate Rudy Gobert, Nerlens Noel, and Clint Capela. Fred VanVleet is the only other Raptor listed in the top five — he was third in the league with 1.7 steals per game — of any other major stat category.
Boucher was only averaging 0.9 and one block per game in his previous two seasons, respectively, with Toronto. He could likely push the two block average mark next season if he continues to log significant minutes like he did this year.
As mentioned, Boucher’s offensive rebounds increased from last season but it’s always been his defensive rebounds that take the cake — and that didn’t change this year.
Boucher’s defensive rebound average improved from 2.7 to 4.8 per game in just one year, making up around 72% of his total rebound average (6.7) this season.
Similar to his total rebounds, he only trailed Siakam in defensive rebounds in 2020-21.
Unlike blocks and rebounds, steals are not a staple in Boucher’s game.
While he has increased his steals per game average by 0.2 each year since he arrived in the league, Boucher is still sitting at just 0.6 and has averaged 0.4 over his career.
Comparing his steals to the rest of Toronto’s roster, Boucher is in the lesser half of the team, behind other bench players like Gillespie, Johnson, Jalen Harris, Malachi Flynn, and DeAndre’ Bembry.
But honestly, I don’t think he needs to worry about this specific stat category as long as he continues to develop his shooting, blocking and rebounding while others like VanVleet can clean up the steals department.
Ever since Boucher’s story — pushing through homelessness as a teen to winning two NBA championships — came to light, other young ballers, particularly in the Montreal North region, who are in the position he was in a decade ago have become inspired to reach the same heights.
Despite his new two-year, 13.5 million dollar contract, Boucher said in an interview with the Montreal Gazette, that he’s not going to let the money change him. In fact, he’s been able to help the rest of his family, especially his mother, get off their feet like they once did for him.
“[My mother] has done a lot for me. It’s my turn to take care of her. I’ll decide the rest in due course.”Boucher on helping his mother, per the Montreal Gazette.
Boucher has also been able to learn from Raptors leadership such as Lowry and Siakam.
In a recent press conference, Boucher explained that Lowry is “the ultimate leader” and that he “bring[s] the dog out of anybody.”
If Boucher can continue to take in knowledge from franchise players like Lowry, he’ll someday be the big dog on campus and the new generation of NBA players can learn from him.
As long as he stays humble, he’ll have no trouble adjusting to being a leader on and off the court.
Boucher’s scoring ability, especially for a big man, is something the Raptors need to capitalize on. More and more young athletes coming into the league at six-foot-seven or taller are learning how to shoot from outside the paint now and it’s a style that Boucher had no trouble adjusting to.
But I still don’t think he gets enough love for his defensive abilities.
It’s his shot blocking that should have put him on the map and what could have won him Sixth Man of the Year and Most Improved Player. His rebounding ain’t too shabby, either — on either side of the floor.
Can he continue to double his production, though?
It’s a tall order for someone who’s still seen as a sixth man but I don’t think we have to wait too long to see Siakam-like numbers or at least a 20-point season out of the young Canadian.