Photo Credit: Ernest Doroszuk/Toronto Sun
From teenage homelessness, to junior college, to being undrafted; Canadian Chris Boucher has overcome the most improbable odds in order to play in the NBA. His relentless energy and work ethic finally paid off this past year, as he put together a breakout season, resulting in career-highs across several statistical categories.
Boucher saw massive improvement and became one of the best bench-players in the league this past season, finishing top ten in both sixth man of the year and most improved player voting. The tall and gifted Boucher saw an increased workload, starting his first 14 career games and using his two-way play off the bench to vastly improve his overall output.
By now, everyone has heard of Boucher’s basketball story and unlikely rise from bench-player to earning a $13.5 million contract last year. As many are aware, Boucher also has two NBA Championship rings to his name – winning in his first year with Golden State, while also playing in two playoff games during the Raptors championship run in 2019.
Coming off of a surprise campaign last season, Boucher was finally able to put the league on notice, displaying his skill as a gifted big scorer and talented shot-blocker as he looks to carry the success of his past year into the upcoming season.
With Masai Ujiri again passing on a significant move in the front-court (no offence to Precious Achiuwa), Boucher should continue to see his role grow. As he enters his fifth full season in the association, the 6’9, 215-pound forward will be relied upon heavily when the season begins.
Boucher had one of the most surprising individual seasons last year in large part due to his offensive talent. Seeing action as a starter for the first time in his career and playing in 60 games, second to only Stanley Johnson on the team, Boucher saw massive improvement in his offensive game and nearly doubled his production.
Boucher recorded over 24 minutes per game, nine more than the previous season and averaged 13.6 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks per game, while registering 12 double-doubles. He also shot an efficient 51.4% from the field and 38.3% from the perimeter, both career-highs.
Playing 600 minutes more then the previous season and scoring over 400 more points, Boucher was still able to remain effective and was even able to improve on his shooting efficiency. In the past three seasons, Boucher has seen his point-per-game average rise from 3.3, 6.6 to 13.6.
In a disappointing season, Boucher was one of the lone bright spots for Toronto. With three 30 point games, Boucher was able to flash his potential at several moments, none better then a career-high 38 point, 19 rebound performance in April against Chicago, which was followed by a 31 point game against Oklahoma a week later.
Boards and Blocks
Aside from his offense, the skinny Boucher has developed into a solid rebounder and an incredible shot-blocker. Averaging 6.7 rebounds per game, he was one of the best on the Raptors last season alongside Pascal Siakam and Khem Birch (19 games).
With shaky frontcourt depth all season, and before Birch was acquired in the final quarter of the season, Boucher played a large role in rebounding and contributed greatly, pushing Alex Len and Aron Baynes out of the lineup.
If you at all watched the Raptors this past season, you probably saw a block or two from Boucher followed by Jack Armstrong screaming, “get that garbage outta here.” With what might be his best ability, Slim Duck has become one of the game’s premier shot-blockers.
Averaging nearly two blocks per game (1.9), Boucher was in the top five in the entire NBA, behind Myles Turner, Rudy Gobert, Nerlens Noel and Clint Capela, some of the best defensive centers in the NBA. Despite his tall and slender frame, Boucher has been able to prove himself as a force on the defensive side of the ball especially under Nick Nurse’s scheme.
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What to Improve
While impressive on both ends of the ball, Boucher plays at the center position and needs to improve on his strength. Whether starting at the five or coming off the bench for Birch, Boucher will need to develop a better post-game if the Raptors want so succeed against some of the better Eastern Conference front-courts. Stars such as Joel Embiid, Myles Turner and Bam Adebayo could easily exploit the smaller, weaker Boucher on any given night.
One of the biggest critiques on Boucher is his physical stature. While he continues to prove the doubters wrong, it remains to be seen if he will be able to continue his success with blocks and rebounding. Many critics believe he will have to hit the weight room and improve his strength, as well as his post-play, in order to continue that success.
Another area of improvement would be Boucher’s playmaking abilities. Averaging only one assist-per-game last year, Boucher will hope to be increasingly involved in the passing game this upcoming season.
After suffering an injury at the end of the year, Boucher took the off-season to rehab his knee. Expected to be fully healthy entering training camp, the question will be if Boucher is able to replicate the success of last year and continue to improve on his skillset.
Even with Achiuwa in the fold and Birch re-signed, Boucher will continue to see a large role this season. He will get a good opportunity in the early stages of the year with Pascal Siakam due to miss time recovering from shoulder surgery.
Much like Fred VanVleet, Boucher has “bet on himself” his entire basketball career and is finally seeing his work pay off. With a similar, and possible increased workload this season, he should be able to continue that success and improve into a core piece of the Raptors, whether that be off the bench or as a starter.