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Player Preview: Can Slimm Duck Chris Boucher take flight?

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After a year in which he completely dominated the G League, can Boucher make the leap to the NBA and fill a role on the new-look Raptors?

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Toronto Raptors John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Slimm Duck!

It’s a nickname and a game to get excited about (even if Basketball Reference is still holding on to the tired ‘Swatterboy’ moniker). The question for the only Canadian player on Canada’s team is: “how much will we get to see Chris Boucher fly for the Raptors in 2019-20?”

So far, Boucher has played just 164 minutes of NBA action in his career, and despite being a newbie to the league, he’s already 26 years old. His time to make an impact in the NBA is starting to run out. Despite having a tantalizing combination of (theoretical) shooting and rim protection, there are very clear reasons why Boucher has yet to earn real NBA minutes.

Had he been able to play in the World Championships we’d have received some valuable data-points on Boucher’s ability to handle the big front-courts of Australia and Lithuania, and then later Germany. But without that it’s still a mystery if the extremely skinny big man can actually hold up against NBA-quality size and skill.

Still, the first player in G League history to win MVP and Defensive Player of the Year is too intriguing for Toronto to just let slip by without granting him an opportunity.

Role On The Team

In a perfect world, Boucher would ride that combination of shooting, and length to a spot in the Raptors’ big man rotation. The first three spots — Pascal Siakam, Serge Ibaka, and Marc Gasol are locked up — but with the latter two both due to become free agents, there is an organizational need to see what they have in the former Oregon Duck.

Boucher’s greatest strength is his ability to alter shots. He led the G League with 4.1 a game last year, set an Oregon single season record in college, and led the Pac-10 in blocks in another.

The other intriguing part of his game is that long-range shooting. Boucher hit 34.4 percent of his threes in college, and 32.4 percent last year for the Raptors. Those aren’t great numbers, even for a centre, but if Boucher can refine his shot further, he provides the Raptors with an opportunity to play inverted “four out” lineups.

Coach Nick Nurse has also talked up Boucher’s ability to grab a rebound and lead a break, Siakam-style. While we haven’t seen much of it in real life, if it’s true, it would fit into Toronto’s ethos of trying to be as position-agnostic as possible.

Realistically though, Boucher will be in a dog-fight for minutes. In addition to the three guys I’ve already named, OG Anunoby, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and Stanley Johnson could all soak up minutes at the power forward position — which is most likely the spot Boucher should fill. And what if Dewan Hernandez, or even Sagaba Konate blow-up?

Boucher’s most realistic path to minutes might be in getting rotation time during Gasol’s (assumed) load management days, and anytime Ibaka sits, or is hurt.

Needs Improvement

The most obvious issue for Boucher is his thin frame. Listed at 6’10”, 200 lbs, Boucher is a string-bean, and that might be mildly insulting to string beans. That lack of strength allows opposing centres to dig into his chest and flip shots over him. Having long arms, and great instincts doesn’t help you at all if you’re back-peddling after being knocked off your feet.

That lack of strength has contributed to Boucher being a mediocre rebounder for his size, an issue for a Toronto team that has struggled to pull in boards. It’s a situation that will likely be worse without Kawhi Leonard.

The more worrying weakness in Boucher’s game is the thing that’s supposed to be a strength: shooting. While his college numbers are intriguing, and his NBA results are fine, a look at his G League numbers show a player whose hit less than 30 percent of his career threes at that level.

Meanwhile, Boucher’s free-throw percentages (historically a better indicator of shooting than small sample shooting numbers), present a slightly rosier picture, as Boucher shot just 64 percent from the line in college, but 73 percent in the G League and 86 percent in the NBA last year — admittedly in an extremely small sample size.

If Boucher can find a way to keep from being pushed around, and hit the three at a 35-36 percent clip, then the potentially shooting-poor Raptors will find a way to get Boucher minutes.

Expectation

Boucher will play a career-high in minutes, but by the end of the year we won’t really be any closer to knowing if Boucher is truly an NBA player.