There was a time in the not-so-distant future when it would have been unfathomable for the Raptors to go 1-3 in a week against the Bulls, Cavs, Knicks, and Hawks. Winning, believe it or not old heads, became the new norm for Toronto fans to expect. Which brings us to this season, this pandemic and, more granularly, this week, in which the Raptors sit in 11th place in the Eastern Conference, two games back from the Bulls for the final play-in tourney seat with a hot — relatively for the East — Washington Wizards chasing them down.
It has not been pretty, but, despite the losses, the injuries, the rest days, the suspensions, the fines, and the health and safety protocols, the Raptors did manage to put up some big performances. Without further delay, let’s take the temperature.
Chris Boucher, Earning His Chips
In a night where the Raptors only had eight available bodies against the Chicago Bulls, somebody had to step up to carry the load for the team. That somebody was Chris Boucher.
Chris Boucher tonight:— Hoop Central (@TheHoopCentral) April 9, 2021
Check it: 38 points, 19 rebounds, and a Whoa Boy from Skeets?! While it might have stung to have been one field goal and one rebound away from a 40/20 and to have lost on a career night, Boucher continues to showcase that Masai did right by giving him his extension. So right in fact, though you might not know it at first glance, that Chris Boucher has very quietly been one of the best Raptors this season. It’s shocking to write, but Boucher’s Per/36 and advanced numbers illustrate a wholly unsurprising story. From a Per/36 perspective, Boucher is second on the team in scoring (20.8 to Pascal’s 20.9), 1st in rebounds, 1st in blocks, 2nd in 2P% all while leading the team in ORtg, DRtg, BPM and WS. Boucher is also fifth in usage percentage, which, perfectly encapsulates his season.
If all of those incredibly surprising stats surprise you, wait until you see him completely ignore Collin Sexton’s approach with what could be considered an olive branch after his purportedly disrespectful language directed at or to Fred VanVleet.
Boucher and the Raptors are not about that life — now if they could only be about some consistent winning, maybe Boucher would get the mainstream recognition he deserves.
Gary Trent Jr., Balling out of Control
Hey, how about a fun and insane stat to start this one off?
44+ points scored on 89+% shooting in NBA history:— Joseph Casciaro (@JosephCasciaro) April 11, 2021
Jerry West: Jan. 25, 1967
Mike Woodson: Feb. 20, 1983
Gary Trent Jr.: April 10, 2021
What a whopper of a game for Gary! Putting up a big game against the hapless Cavs isn’t the calling card it used to be, but the Raptors will take all of the feel good vibes they can muster these days and nothing conjures vibes like winning and winning with a categorically insane performance. Look at that tweet up there again. Trent Jr. joined some illustrious company (and Mike Woodson) with his extremely rare game against Cleveland and has very much looked worth the price of dearly beloved Norman Powell.
And yes, Trent Jr. did put up a couple of stinkers in the 1-4 week for the Raptors. And yes, Trent. Jr has had some issues adjusting to the rhythm of both the offense and the defense at times. And yes, those are all natural when joining a new team, especially in a condensed season that provides little of the creature comforts that NBA players are used to — like, oh, I don’t know, practice time! It’s going to be exciting to see what Trent Jr. turns into with a full off-season under his belt with coach Nick Nurse and his staff.
Khem Birch, Coming Home
Canadian Raptors fans have been waiting for a moment like this for a very, very long time. Through the annual Jamaal Magloire signing in his hometown rumours and the calls to tank for Andrew Wiggins to the more recent thirsting over the entire Shai Gilgeous-Alexander family, Lu Dort, and the unfortunately sidelined Jamaal Murray — Raptors basketball finally got their Canadian centre. Yes, Boucher is on this team, but Khem Birch wasn’t drafted by the Raptors and chose to sign with Toronto when the Orlando Magic graciously bought out his contract this week.
And it’s that right there, Toronto was chosen by a Canadian free agent. Finally.
While Khem Birch isn’t a world-beater by any stretch, he is a centre who can catch, rebound, and know his role. And while we were having a nice run of career-highs there, it’s worth mentioning: Birch’s 13 points on Tuesday night was just one off his own personal record.
(On this note, the week has been so positive for the Raptors, despite the losses, that we don’t even have enough space to address rookie Malachi Flynn setting his new career-high by scoring 20 points vs. the Knicks, and then breaking it a couple nights later with 22 points. Not bad!)
BONUS: Raptors Social Media Team, Dark Man X
A huge shoutout to the Raptors social team for having each tweet they put out against the Knicks be DMX lyrics. It’s the little things like this that go a long way in building fandom and the Raptors are consistently very good at it.
Stanley Johnson & Aron Baynes, Out of the Rotation
Not only was the Khem Birch signing huge for Canadian Raptors fans, it was also huge for Raptors fans tired of seeing Aron Baynes on the court. Baynes’ tenure with the Raptors has gone about as poorly as possible, but since Birch’s arrival, Baynes hasn’t seen a single minute of action. While a certain popular Twitter account will lead you to believe that’s a bad thing, the presumption here is that every single Raptors fan is breathing a sigh of relief.
Raptors record in April with Aron Baynes: 3-2 (49-33 pace over 82 games)— Unofficial tAronto Baynes Fan Club (@BaynesFanClub) April 14, 2021
Raptors record in April without Aron Baynes: 0-2 (0-82 pace over 82 games)
The same is true of Stanley Johnson, who has lost his minutes to the now healthy Rodney Hood and, thanks to his continued steady play, Yuta Watanabe. Another safe presumption to make would be that once Paul Watson Jr., DeAndre’ Bembry, Fred VanVleet, and Kyle Lowry return from their absences, there will be even fewer minutes available for the soon to be free agent Stanimal. Like Baynes, Johnson is a nice guy. But also: one can hope.