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Is Chris Boucher ready for his potential NBA moment?

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The young forward has been tearing up the G League for the 905, but with an injury to Jonas Valanciunas, could this be Chris Boucher’s time in Toronto?

Meet Chris Boucher. He’s one of the Raptors’ two-way player this season. Boucher happens to be the NBA G League Player of the Month and the scoring and blocks leader of the league, clocking in at 29.3 points and 4.7 blocks per game. He’s also Canadian.

Prior to joining the Raptors, Boucher was signed by the Golden State Warriors as a two-way player last season, after going undrafted. Owing to the CanCon nature of his backstory, you can read up on Boucher in this new article from CBC and watch the video below:

Now that you’ve familiarized yourself with Boucher’s background, it’s time to learn more about him in the here and now as a rising talent running the table in the G League.

They say “One man’s loss is another man’s gain” and that’s how it works in professional sports in general. With Jonas Valanciunas taking some time off to recover from Draymond Green’s chop, the Raptors recalled Boucher to shore up the team’s frontcourt depth.

For the foreseeable future, Serge Ibaka is the starting centre. Greg Monroe will be the main backup. It’s likely Boucher will only see minutes should there be some foul trouble issues in the front court, or during garbage time — for now. That is until Boucher earns the trust of his coach and his teammates.

In truth, there’s a lot to get excited about with Boucher. Here’s a review of the skills he’s shown in the G League so far that should be transferable — and some things he’ll need to work on.

Strengths

Three-Point Shooting

Boucher can shoot the three-ball, and I’m not talking about how JV can shoot them. He approaches them as if he’s a three-point specialist, and can shoot it anywhere around the arc. Most likely he’ll play with Delon Wright (the Raptors captain for the initial garbage time minutes) and Lorenzo Brown (captain for the rest of the garbage time minutes), but it’s not inconceivable for them to run a pick-and-pop or drive-and-kick to Boucher for a catch-and-shoot trey. Boucher is also capable of just staring down at his defender to size them up before pulling up with or without a dribble.

It’s also worth noting that while Boucher’s shooting mechanics might not be like JJ Redick’s, he’s made a lot of subtle improvements to his stroke to become a better three-point shooter compared to his NCAA days. He’s incorporated the “hop/bounce” off the catch to spring into his shot, compared to his old NCAA videos where he’s flat-footed and it felt like a slow-moving slingshot every time he attempts a shot.

Pick-and-Roll/Pick-and-Pop Threat

Boucher would be an excellent pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop option as the screener. Most centres, especially bench players, are not used to seeing a centre pop to the perimeter with the same effectiveness of their roll to the rim. With Boucher’s height, quickness, and release point, it’ll be hard to contest his shot when he pops for a three-pointer.

Lob Threat

Delon Wright and/or Brown or whoever the ball handler is would know that Boucher is a really good lob target. He jumps quick and has a good vertical. When combined with his length, Boucher allows a big room for error on lobs. Even players his own size had a hard time fronting him in the post because he can just chase the ball up in the air. Personally, I’d like to see Boucher get some run with Pascal Siakam and Kyle Lowry, it looks like it’ll be a lot of fun.

Push the Ball in Transition

Fans who don’t know Boucher that much might get a heart attack if they see him do this, but Boucher is capable of grabbing the rebound and pushing the ball in transition. While his assist numbers are low, he’s demonstrated enough that he can make some good passes off leading the break. Not at Siakam’s level — but it’s a start.

Rim Run/Fastbreak Finish

One thing is for sure: Boucher is not your traditional flat/heavy-footed big man lumbering down in transition. He sprints (at not-quite-Siakam levels, but still) and runs like a wing. He’s also got the crafty bounce and touch to finish.

Moving Fast in Traffic

For all their skills, Jonas Valanciunas and Serge Ibaka have their difficulties catching the ball in traffic. They can’t always catch the ball mid-stride, and if they manage to, they have to gather to come up with a shot, which gives time for the defense to recover. Boucher can catch the ball and make the move in one fluid motion. Or if he’s catching the ball up high, he doesn’t need to bring the ball down to make a high percentage shot. The OKC Blues learned this big time as they tried to front him in the post — Boucher just made them pay.

Meanwhile, whether Boucher is driving from the perimeter or catching a short pass in the mid-range/short-range area, he is nimble enough to drive around defenders (i.e. using a Euro-step) and utilizes his length to get close to the basket. To cap it off, he’s got a soft touch around the basket.

And if big men come at him, Boucher can face up and get past them with his quick first step and long strides. From here, he’s got a variety of ways to finish — whether it’s a layup, floater, or a dunk. Boucher can get a swing pass from the perimeter, and if his defender closes hard on him, can blow by them. Just watch the tape: it doesn’t take many steps for Boucher to get to the basket.

Shot Blocking

If the opposing player doesn’t use their body to create some separation between themselves and Boucher, there’s a good chance that it will be blocked. If that’s not impressive enough as it is, what’s not being talked about is how excellent he is as a help defender — more like, how Boucher blocks a lot of shots as a help defender.

Boucher’s approach is different from, say, Hassan Whiteside, where the Heat centre would hang around close enough to get the block. Sometimes, it’s shocking how fast Boucher would cover the ground as a help defender. He could be guarding someone near the perimeter on one side, and often make the contest or the block on a layup that’s on the opposite side of the rim. Part of it is because he reads the play unfolding very well, and partly because of his length and quickness; Boucher can sag off his man and still be able to recover if necessary.

Weaknesses

Still, at the moment Boucher’s weaknesses will probably prevent him from seeing a lot of non-garbage time minutes in the NBA. There’s upside there, but as outlined below some elements of his game are keeping him from usurping Monroe as the backup centre for the Raptors.

Physical Strength

I doubt Boucher will ever be like Giannis Antetokounmpo or Thon Maker filling out their frame like crazy (and I hope legally). Not to get too crazy here, but Boucher’s build is similar to the Kevin Durant, Tayshaun Prince, Corey Brewer-types. They all got stronger, but their frame looks relatively close to how they looked entering the league.

However, at 25 (turning 26), Boucher will have to show that he can be strong enough to absorb contact on both sides of the court. At times, he has looked worse than Siakam’s first year whenever Siakam would try to finish through contact, which wasn’t pretty. On defense, the problem is similar — Boucher’s slight frame makes him an easy target for bullying. He can jump and is quick, but bigger players can just push him around in the post.

Positioning Fundamentals

If you follow my weekly Prospect Report covering Boucher and Loyd, I’ve been harping on Boucher relying too much on his length and letting his man get to their spot very easily in the post. The same thing applies when it comes to rebounding — Boucher can use his length and athleticism to grab rebounds in traffic, but if an opposing player beats him to the spot and provides a solid box out on him, he’s got no chance — even with a smaller player involved. Often, Boucher would get in foul trouble because his man would post him up, carve up space under the basket, and he would be out of position to block them.

No Traditional Post Game

Since Boucher won’t out-muscle any other bigs on the post, his usual move when it comes to absorbing contact while posting up is to resort to that KD one-legged turn-around fadeaway shot; or he tires to face up and drive for a short finish. Boucher tries this KD-esque move every now and then but it isn’t quite effective (there is, after all, but one KD).

That said, Boucher hasn’t demonstrated whether he’s got the footwork or even the triple threat vibe on the post. He needs some other go-to moves down there to be effective. With his length and deft touch, maybe he could develop a sky hook?

Question Marks

Can Boucher Be a Factor If He’s Not the Main Offensive Option?

Boucher has a high usage rate (top 3 in the G-League) with the Raptors 905, as the primary offensive option for coach Jama Mahlalela. Should he get some real rotation minutes, coach Nick Nurse won’t be giving him the ball from the perimeter to make a decision. Boucher would have to play off his teammates and find his spots — whether finding the gap for a spot-up three, filling up the passing lanes for cuts to the basket, or PnR/PnP options.

Ideally in this role, Boucher could give the Raptors some of the things Lucas Nogueira gave them last year — with some of the similar downsides. We’ll have to wait and see if Boucher would be effective though.

Can He Keep Up With the Wings on Defense?

Opposing teams target Boucher’s lack of physicality by challenging him in the post instead of testing him on 1-5 or 2-5 switches on the perimeter. Based on his length and mobility, he should have little issue against guarding the majority of NBA-level wings that would try to blow-by him. However, we just haven’t seen enough to judge whether Boucher can do this or not.

Pick-and-Roll Defense

From what I have seen so far, Boucher has been burned a few times in this situation. He’s often getting caught in between, either letting opposing guards find a lane to the basket or an angle for a drop pass or a lob. Still, it’s a small sample base — most guards seem to be intimidated by Boucher’s length so they tend to pass most of the time.

When Boucher looks out of position during the action, he relies on his length and quickness to be able to contest guards if they elect to shoot or to recover if a pass is made. There’s a question here as to whether Boucher would still be able to rely on his physical tools when the talent level increases. It’s one thing to defend a G League pick-and-roll, quite another when it involves star NBA players. It’s also a little bit harder to evaluate pick-and-roll defense of an individual player because so much of it comes down to the defensive scheme, scouting, and good communication between Boucher and his teammates (who would also be better at the NBA level.

What’s His Real Position?

Boucher primarily plays centre for the 905. As a result, Boucher is leading the G league in blocks and is in the top 10 in rebounds — despite even his time around the perimeter and being outmuscled inside the paint at times. On top of that, Boucher doesn’t look tall enough to be a full-time centre.

Boucher’s length and quickness masks the fact that he’s barely 6’9” without shoes. Based on the official NBA Draft Combine Measurement, he clocks in at 6’8” without shoes, albeit with a 7’4” wingspan. If you look past the physical size differences between Boucher and the big men that he’s played against so far (and the hair!), he makes Christian Wood (6’9.25”), Tyler Davis (6’9” with shoes), Chinanu Onuaku (6’9”) look like 7-footers out there.

While Boucher would probably not see time against Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid, Rudy Gobert, etc., he could excel against the likes of Meyers Leonard, Amir Johnson, Ed Davis, Mo Bamba. Those types of situations will be Boucher’s starting point to show he can stay on the floor against lower tier NBA big men.

Where Next for Boucher?

JV will be back, and when that happens there will be no minutes available for Boucher — maybe not even in garbage time. What’s important here is for Boucher to get a taste of NBA action, and learn what he needs to improve on with his game.

Boucher’s rapid development from a raw rookie with the Santa Cruz Warriors, to showing some pulse in Vegas Summer League with the Raptors, to killing it in the NBA G-League is impressive despite his age. Boucher strikes me as the type of person that has a sense of urgency and understands his limited window of opportunity.

Boucher’s confidence is growing, and he is developing at a rapid pace. But is it good enough to play at the NBA level? Who knows what a full month with the mother club could bring to his development. We’ll see these next few weeks.