SEASON AVERAGES: 9.4ppg/5.5rpg/0.4apg on .493/.328/.762 shooting. 1.4 ‘stocks’ (steals and blocks) per game.
Two seasons ago, in 2020-2021 Chris Boucher submitted his tape for: “guys who should be considered for sixth man of the year”. The lanky Saint Lucian-Canadian averaged 13.6 pts, 6.7 rebounds and just under two blocks a game, on .514/.383/.788 shooting splits– while also having an elite impact on opponent’s field goal percentages.
That, combined with Boucher’s incredible real-life story, going from being unhoused to the NBA, made him someone Raps fans could both root for and dream on; a good person who could make an absolute impact each and every night. The living embodiment of the potential of “Project 6’9”.
Two years later what are we to make of “Slimm Duck”?
The positive take is that Boucher more or less played exactly to his role’s specifications as an energy-forward who was strong on the glass, could block shots, and, when he was right, could credibly stretch the floor in a way few other Raptors can.
The negative take is that Boucher didn’t come close to his previous heights, and rather than bouncing back from a tough 2021-2022, Boucher’s counting stats more or less stagnated – suggesting that magical season of yore was the outlier and not the future.
Also, after two years of the Raps being significantly better when he was on the floor (+7 and then +5.1 per 100 possessions – close to elite numbers), Boucher’s on court impact tanked, as Toronto was outscored by just over three points per 100 possessions.
Now whether you think that’s on Boucher, or more to do with Toronto’s bench struggles overall, is the kind of question Bobby Webster gets paid to answer.
One thing we do know is that Boucher continued to struggle with consistency, leading to the Raptor’s coaching staff to yank his minutes around throughout the season when Boucher seemed to lack the requisite energy to impact a game.
Or do we? Afterall, Boucher’s best stretch of the season came over six games in November when he averaged 18pts 10.3 boards and over a steal a game on 30 minutes a night. Could the real issue have been Nick Nurse et al refusing to carve out a consistent role for the enigmatic Canadian?
Following a tough start, Boucher settled in to being a relatively useful scoring forward off the bench. He drained 36.9% of his threes after January 1st, and for the year, according to Cleaning The Glass, Boucher was slightly above average from both the mid-range and from the corners when compared to other “bigs”. Boucher was more likely to draw a shooting foul than other bigs as well.
Boucher also made an interesting stride in his ability to create his own offence – finishing in the upper third amongst bigs at getting buckets without an assist, while still almost never turning the ball over.
Finally, if you zoom out and look at Boucher’s per/36 minute stats, Boucher was more productive than last year – albeit with a slight uptick in Usage.
On the other hand, while Boucher was a strong shooter in the second half, overall, he was still below average on relatively low volume, and despite his ability to get points off of offensive boards, Boucher was, like so many of his Raptor teammates, relatively inefficient at scoring the ball. Boucher’s 55.8% effective field goal percentage put him near the bottom third in the league for bigs.
Overall, the Raps effective FG% plummeted when Boucher was out there, with the Raps mid-range looks spiking – perhaps because opponents didn’t honour Boucher as a shooter – making the Raps problematic spacing even more, uh, problematic?
When you take the whole picture it’s hard to peg Boucher as anything more than a relatively average offensive player, especially when you consider that he almost never created for the other four players on the floor.
On the defensive end, Boucher was well above average in collecting blocks and steals, and comfortably better than most in terms of rebounding on both ends of the floor.
Yet, something weird happened to Boucher – in that after two years of being absolutely elite, I mean in the 90th percentile and better, at making opponents shoot worse than expected, Boucher regressed to basically average.
At his best Boucher, has helped the Raps force opponents to shoot poorly both in the mid-range and at the rim, which compensates for the fact that the Raps’ defensive scheme typicaly yields copious amounts of threes.
This year, while Boucher was still a significant deterrent at the cup – in the 80th percentile for bigs - he was eaten alive in the “short midrange” area – finishing in the 16th percentile amongst bigs. He also saw his ability to harass three-point shots declining from the 90th percentile to dead average – mirroring his overall decline.
Now, we get to some chicken and egg. Were Boucher’s struggles indicative of several individual regressions that lead Toronto to underperform on defence? Were his close-outs on threes both not close enough, and yet also inviting drives leading to a plethora of floaters and short pull-ups? Or was this a function of other team’s figuring out former Coach Nick Nurse’s aggressive strategy? Leaving Boucher, and others, in consistently disadvantageous positions?
Given that we have only really seen Boucher in Nurse’s ultra-aggressive scheme the answer may become clear this season when a new coach takes over.
Assuming Boucher is a) still here and b) a new coach takes a liking to an admittedly odd player.
Chris Boucher is a weird cat. He’s such a unique player that it’s hard to parse whether he’s a consistent net positive or not. It’s clear though, that if Boucher can’t be a borderline elite defensive presence, his offence isn’t enough to make him a key piece of a good team – barring a full-season of shooting in the upper thirty-percent range from deep or a sudden uptake in playmaking, both of which, at this point, seem relatively unlikely.
And yet... hope springs eternal. What if Boucher’s second half shooting adjustment carries over? What if it was scheme and not player on defence? It feels like Boucher’s future in Toronto may very much be tied to how strong he comes out of the gate - because the 2020-2021 version of Boucher could play on any team.