• International Spotlight: Chris Boucher

    Welcome back, Hoop Ballers, to our International Spotlight weekly feature where we will be taking a look at two times NBA Champion and Raptors’ mystery man Chris Boucher! I bet most of you have already been hit by the brutal wave of injuries this year and Boucher has been a popular pickup in recent weeks so let’s see what’s his potential and whether he can be a short or long-term solution for your teams.

    The long journey to Canada

     Boucher arrived as a kid with his mom in Canada from the Eastern Caribbean island of St. Lucia and the future didn’t look very bright for him when at 16 he dropped out of high school and had to work as a part-time cook and dishwasher at a St-Hubert restaurant in Montreal. Even though his father didn’t see a purpose in his son spending time playing basketball, he was offered a spot on a local tournament, and a couple of coaches in the crowd noticed the lanky teen and offered him a spot on their AAU team. And yes, the AAU is an institution that gets a lot of slander these days but, like it or not, it’s one of the reasons kids coming from a poor background get a shot at accomplishing their dream of playing professional basketball. The size and length of Boucher couldn’t go unnoticed and the years that followed included stops at Mexico Junior College, Northwest College in Wyoming, and finally the University of Oregon. As a Duck, he created a ton of highlights playing over the rim while spreading the floor (1.1 triples) and blocking shots from the weak side (2.7 blocks) in 69 games, before his college career was cut short in the Pac-12 tournament semifinals when he tore his ACL. Boucher was far from being an NBA-ready player but he attended the NBA combine a few weeks later, participating in team interviews only, as he was unable to work out with teams due to his injury. Not surprisingly, he went undrafted, but he was signed by the Warriors to a two-way contract. Here is an excellent short movie the G League run on him last year, visualizing his long journey to the spotlight.

    G League

    Golden State took a flier on Boucher with the intention of developing him and over the course of 20 games with the Santa Cruz Warriors, he averaged 11.8 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 2.2 blocks in 22 minutes per game, solid numbers, but not the kind of production that suggested he would have anything to offer at an NBA squad, especially since his 3-point shot didn’t materialize (0.6 makes on 2.5 attempts). Entering the 2018 offseason, with exceptionally limited amounts of money to spend, Warriors GM Bob Myers made it clear that the team would seek to fill their two-way spots with players that are ready to contribute and the writing on the wall was there for Boucher who was released by the team in June of this year. The Raptors then offered Boucher a two-way contract following his performance with the team in Summer League and he simply exploded, becoming the 2018-19 NBA G League Most Valuable Player and the 2018-19 NBA G League Defensive Player of the Year after averaging 27.2 points, 11.4 rebounds, 4.1 blocks, 2.2 triples and 1.3 steals in 28 games with Raptors 905, becoming the first player to win both awards in the same season. His performance was definitely not a fluke as he passed the eye test and looked stronger while improving his ball-handling and decision-making.

    The challenge of a unique body frame

    At 6’11” with a near 7’4″ wingspan and above average bounce, Boucher is a natural rim protector but he is still learning how to pick his battles and avoid silly fouls and unnecessary goaltending calls. Look at Mario Hezonja smartly hesitating while driving to the basket and drawing the easy foul against him.

    The level of competition in the NBA is significantly higher and opponents can either overpower him or catch him leaving his feet, which leads to the main question as to whether he can excel as a stretch power forward or a center. Here is what Nick Nurse had to say about that at the beginning of the season: “We played him mostly at four (in two games against Houston) in Tokyo. I think he knows the five and has some advantages there, obviously has some strength issues to deal with sometimes when a big five is on the floor, but he’s made a lot of progress at the four, two years ago, he couldn’t really play that position much at all, now he’s able to do that.”

    Along with his skinny body frame, which has been Boucher’s biggest barrier to getting a real opportunity, Boucher is an overeager defender and can sometimes be too focused on the ball and blocking shots rather than keeping his feet on the ground and playing sound fundamental defense. Look at Willy Hernangomez

    Hernangomez easily getting in his comfort zone and finishes over Boucher who is looking at just blocking another shot.

    The Canadian big has been working out with either a college or professional training staff for the past six years but he still hasn’t gained the necessary weight to play center and, at this point, it seems that the lack of lower body strength won’t change anytime soon, further making him a liability at the defensive rebounding end. Here is JaMychal Green putting a body on him and rebounding the ball with Boucher simply unable to establish position which leads him to fouling.

    The genius of Nick Nurse

    I have previously talked about Nick Nurse and how his coaching philosophy seems to be a perfect match in the modern era of NBA basketball and the recent emergence of Boucher seems to be a product of his work as well. Nurse believes that the secret in becoming a successful coach lies in making clear that each player’s “business” is directly tied to them being shown a path to their best basketball selves. And instead of trying to figure out what position best suits his lanky forward, Nurse has made Boucher’s life easy by instructing him to focus on rebounding and blocking shots while following his natural instincts. Just the same way Nurse did with Pascal Siakam last year, Boucher appears to have been given the green light to play to his strengths. The result has been him being aggressive all over the floor, wreaking havoc to opponents with his length and activity while running for easy transition points and hustling for putback highlights. This was more than evident in a game against the Magic this week where Boucher had clearly one of the best games of his short NBA career, finishing with 14 points, 11 rebounds and one block on 5-of-10 shooting in just 20 minutes. Look at him meeting Al-Farouq Aminu at the rim and then running all the way back for the transition putback jam.

    Sometimes we’ve got to get him to quit thinking so much and just let him play with his instincts and chase the ball,” said Nick Nurse after the game.

    The Raptors are 2nd in the league in defensive rebounds with 38.2 per game but they have been struggling on the other end with just 8.4 offensive rebounds per game, which is good for 26th out of the 30 teams. Boucher has had six and seven offensive rebounds in the last couple games, clearly outplaying his opponents (hello Mo Bamba!) and I’m pretty sure that this has to do with Nurse instructing him to go after loose balls and attack the rim. After all, his energy and hustle has been the alpha and the omega of his game since he started hooping and the Raptors surely don’t mind having him run the floor with a bunch of veterans who are not as quick and agile as him. Look at this putback opportunity against the Clippers on what seems to be a lost possession after Siakam launches a long triple.

    Additionally, as a result of Nick Nurse’s adjustment, the “Swatterboy” (which apparently is his nickname according to Basketball-Reference) seems more relaxed on the floor, free from the burden of scoring the ball. If you’ve watched Raptors games from earlier this season, it was clear how he was getting trigger-happy behind the 3-point line. He has a high release which, combined with his length, is almost impossible to block but he is still adjusting to reading the game and having the right shots come to him instead of launching from all over the floor. A good example of this was the game against the Clippers about 10 days ago where he went 3-of-5 from behind the arc but one of his misses was this shot, too early on the shot clock and with JaMychal Green quickly closing on him.

    Fantasy Implications

    Boucher is not a kid as he is about to become 27 years old and he came into the season with many question marks as to whether he can be a regular contributor for a veteran Raptors squad, regardless of the hype he was generating in the fantasy community. The injury of Serge Ibaka opened up the window of opportunity and, even though the sample size is small, it seems that Boucher has capitalized on the opportunity, earning the trust of the coaching staff and slowly integrating himself into a very successful program. Nick Nurse is a system coach that adjusts his plan to the personnel and to the players’ strengths and not vice-versa while Boucher fits right into the mold of providing an above-average level of activity and hustle. Don’t forget how the Raptors coach was not shy of throwing Stanley Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson under the bus in the preseason because of their lackluster effort, an area where Boucher thrives. The Swatterboy does resemble Pascal Siakam in many ways but he doesn’t appear to have another level to his game and I can only see him become a rotation piece where he can provide a spark off the bench. The potential for money-counting stats is there and if he is able to stabilize his percentages he has the potential of closing in on top-125 value in standard leagues. The return of Serge Ibaka will really show us whether he can maintain a role in Toronto, but rest assured, he will provide many more highlights in the upcoming years, whether that happens in Canada or the US.

    I hope you enjoyed this week’s article and try to keep an eye on Chris Boucher as he is making a push to establish himself with the Raptors. Feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @philysstar and stay up to date on all the breaking news and rumors posted on our website and on our Twitter account @HoopBallFantasy.

    Stats are courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com and are accurate as of November 23rd.

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