On November 25, 2020, the Toronto Raptors put their faith in Chris Boucher on paper, signing the St. Lucian-born Canadian to a two-year $13.5 million contract.
It had been a long road to get to this point. Boucher tore his ACL in his senior year with the Oregon Ducks, ultimately going undrafted in that year’s NBA draft. He went on to sign a two-way contract with the Golden State Warriors, spending nearly the entire season in the G League. He won an NBA championship with the Warriors, only to get waived two weeks later.
Later that offseason, Boucher inked a two-way contract with the Raptors and had the most successful season of his career to date. Dominating the G League circuit, Boucher was named MVP and Defensive Player of the Year of that league, and then to top it off, he rode with the Raptors en route to winning the franchise’s first NBA championship.
Suffice to say he’s worked really hard to get to this point, and Boucher will be the first to tell you that himself. “It’s been a long time coming,” said Boucher in an interview with Eric Smith and Paul Jones. “I’m probably at the point where it’s time for me to try to get to one of those players … [to] be one of those guys that you can believe and trust every night.”
It’s safe to say the Raptors expect the same down the road, and with so much progression to his game, Boucher’s ceiling is a lot higher than you’d expect.
Only averaging just over 13 minutes a game last season, Boucher was good for about six points, four rebounds, and a block to boot on a nightly basis. But with the departure of Toronto favourites, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka, the space for more minutes has presented itself on the Raptors — and Boucher is next in line.
After spending weeks waiting on the two big men to decide their future, Boucher’s fate was left in the wind. But then they left, Boucher re-signed in Toronto, and he was quick to mention his former teammates in his conversation with Smith and Jones, and what lessons he took away from them.
“When it comes to Serge, it’s being ready every day and being consistent — I think he was really consistent every day,” Boucher continued. “You knew what you were going to get from Serge every day. Every night being ready to help his team.”
Picking up the identity of consistency from Ibaka, and being available and ready on a nightly basis, is something the Raptors will surely hope to expect from their fourth-year centre. Meanwhile, Toronto hopes that Boucher also picked up some of Gasol’s habits and approach.
“When it comes Marc, it’s just his IQ — you want to be able to do all that stuff, you want to be able to be versatile, when you watch Marc and the plays he does, you’re like damn I want to be able to do that stuff.”
Gasol is the embodiment of a high IQ big man and being able to play fluidly and effectively is a skill-set that Boucher has proven to be one to pick up on. Spending his summer and offseason analyzing film, Boucher highlighted in his preseason media availability that he and the coaching staff are currently looking at ways to best use his skills and how he can be most effective to the team on the floor.
“I think we spent a lot of time during the summer watching clips and realizing the stuff that I can do because I might not getting super big, but I’m able to get stronger, and I’m also able to use my speed, use my hands and my athleticism.”
Boucher’s athleticism was on display already in the Raptors first preseason game against the Charlotte Hornets.
Chris Boucher doing Chris Boucher things. Also shoutout to Paul Watson & the G-league one time pic.twitter.com/D5g9Fvh4fz— Muad Issa (@Muadems) December 13, 2020
Despite his paint presence and blocking ability, Boucher’s weight has been a constant conversation his entire career. But after picking up 15 pounds prior to heading into the Bubble last summer, that discussion has slowly been put to bed as Boucher has focussed on being agile and using his pace to make an impact.
And with the addition of Aron Baynes to the roster, Boucher could find himself used more frequently in big rotations as a stretch four — a position he’s more accustomed to, having played power forward up until his NBA years. With a knack for connecting on long threes, the 6’9” big man isn’t the easiest player to contest on the perimeter and could give the Raptors the edge in a lot of swing possessions.
With more minutes on the table, every night could turn into a block party, but the next level for Boucher is still seamlessly stepping into a position-less role to provide the versatility the Raptors need. Staying ready on a nightly basis and getting more reps on the floor will help too. In this, the Raptors are banking that Boucher can make the leap to become a consistent player in their rotation.